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No uniform prices when parents buy school clothes

CASH-strapped parents are facing a huge variation in the price that they pay for children's school uniforms.

The back-to-school costs soar when primary schools insist that uniforms are bought from a designated shop.

A Herald survey published today also reveals the gaping difference in the price of school uniforms when sold in supermarkets compared to the expensive department stores.

The study focused on Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Debenhams and Arnotts.

Our main findings include:

•Up to €18.50 in the price difference of a pair of generic school trousers for a five-year-old boy

•A plain white polo T-shirt costs €3.50 in Dunnes Stores but this soars to above €10 in Arnotts when a school crest is added

•Traditional shops are unable to compete with supermarket chain Tesco, which is selling school jumpers from €2.50. There is a marked difference in price between branded school uniforms and generic school clothes.

For instance, a typical embroidered jumper for pupils attending a national school comes in at around €17.99. While parents are struggling to pay for jumpers with school motifs, the cheapest option without a crest is on sale in Tesco for €2.50.

When children move on to second-level, the price of school jumpers and blazers particular to specific schools go through the roof.

For instance, the tartan school skirt for girls attending Our Lady's Templeogue in Dublin is priced at €72 in Arnotts while their crested jumper is €45 -- and they even have a specific scarf at €15.

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) has appealed to school boards of management to allow parents to buy the uniform and school crest separately in a bid to help them save money. NCA has published research that shows that 80pc of parents of primary school children who wear a uniform are forced to purchase it from a specific shop -- and this increases to 87pc for secondary school students.

"We are strongly in favour of primary and secondary school boards of management allowing parents to purchase the uniform and school crest separately rather than in a designated uniform shop as this could lead to significant savings and we have raised this matter with the Minister for Education," an NCA spokesperson said.

The NCA has also published budgeting advice for cash-strapped parents on www.itsyourmoney.ie.

Many low-income families, including those on certain social welfare payments, are entitled to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA). This was previously administer by the Health Service Executive but The Department of Social Protection is now in charge of the fund.

The applicant's total household income must be below a certain amount per week to apply.

For instance, a couple with two children must be earning less than €593 a week to qualify. A lone parent with one child must be on €410.10 a week or less to get the allowance.

The amount paid for each eligible child from two to 11 years is €200.

The deadline is still open -- and parents can apply for the assistance until September 30.

Forms are available from social welfare offices, health centres or by texting 'form BTSCFA' followed by your name and address to 51909.