MANY parents are being forced to pay out hundreds in "hidden" costs as their children return to school over the coming weeks.
In their schoolbags along with their new text books, many children will also have an envelope with cash to hand over to the school, for their use of materials like arts and craft equipment and photocopying during the year ahead.
And a number of schools also ask that 'voluntary contributions' are also paid over early in the school year.
Pippa Woolnough, advocacy campaigns officer at Barnardos said: "Certainly, we are finding that more than four in five of primary schools, and almost two thirds of secondary school children are being asked to pay for classroom resources like stationery and photocopying."
Other costs for parents can include extra curriculum activities like speech and drama classes, and also voluntary contributions, she said.
"The only support available is the back to school allowance, which is €100 for primary children and €200 for secondary, so how the parents spend that money is obviously at their discretion," she pointed out.
But parents will have to fund essential items like uniforms out of this money.
"The only room for discretion is around the voluntary contributions and that comes down to the school."
Barnardos does a schools costs survey every year.
In relation to voluntary contributions, this year, about 20pc of parents of primary school students were asked for €50.
However, that figure can go up to €100 to €150, whereas the average in secondary schools seems to be €100 to €150. And some are in excess of €200, she said.
"It is the lack of standardisation that is the problem.It has become a post code lottery. It's very, very unfair," said Ms Woolnough.
Some parents have to pay out for crested uniforms, high voluntary costs, and stationary costs, whereas the next nearest school may have no crested uniform and no voluntary contributions, or a very low one, she pointed out.
"There needs to be some guidance from the Government that really standardises this and that makes it more transparent for parents, because it is just otherwise a ghastly time for them to find all this money," the advocacy campaigns officer said.
It comes as figures from a new survey carried out by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) (see panel above) shows that parents rank uniforms and clothes as the most expensive item to purchase for their school going kids, but extra curricular actitivies rank in second place.
The ILCU survey found that monthly income continues to be the most common way in which parents finance back to school expenses, in relation to 40pc of primary school parents and 41pc of secondary school parents.
Using savings is the second most common way in which back to school costs are covered, for 23pc of primary parents and 19pc of secondary school parents.
Meanwhile, the back to school allowance is the third most popular way in which back to school costs are met, for 13pc of primary parents and 15pc of secondary.
However 1pc of primary school parents and 2pc of secondary parents will be forced turn to unscrupulous money lenders.
YOUR CHANCE TO WIN THE ULTIMATE BACK TO SCHOOL PACKAGE: SEE PAGE 27 FOR DETAILS