Back to school costs concern as third of NI parents sent into debt

Back to school costs are a financial burden for Northern Ireland parents with more reporting going into debt, according to new survey.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 12:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th July 2021, 9:40 am
Are back to school costs getting you down?

Despite the lockdowns and children being home schooled for the early part of the year, back to school spending is already on the minds of parents as they prepare for the new school year in September.

The latest Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) survey on back to schools costs shows that families in Northern Ireland are getting into more debt to meet those costs.

An average debt of £256 reveals an increase of £34 from last year. 14% have debts over of £500, which is an increase of 5% from 2020.

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The ILCU have been carrying out back to school research in Northern Ireland since 2018 and have presented evidence that there has been a steady increase in the average debt parents are getting into. In the past three years, there has been an increase of £64 in the average debt.

The overall spend on school items is down slightly for both primary and secondary schools. The cost of sending a child to primary school this September is coming in at £866, down £5 from last year, while for secondary school parents the average spend is £1,034, down £42 on last year.

The most expensive item this year for both primary and secondary was school uniforms at £126 for primary, a decrease of £5 from 2020 and £181 for secondary, an increase of £4. Spending on shoes has increased for primary school to £74 (up £11 from 2020). Spending on gym gear/sports equipment has increased for secondary (£113, up £14 from 2020).

Cutting back on family holidays remains one of the biggest sacrifices that families make to cover back to school costs at 33%, an increase of 10% from 23% last year. Significantly, 39% are forced to deny their child/children school trips because they cannot afford them.

Commenting on this year’s findings, ILCU Head of Communications, Paul Bailey said: “Since we began carrying out our back to school in Northern Ireland, we have seen a steady increase in the amount of debt parents are getting into. Over a third get into debt covering the costs of back to school, with an average debt of £256.

“For parents with more than one school going child, back to school costs place huge financial pressure on a family. While the overall spend is down slightly this year, our survey shows that 14% of parents are getting into a debt of over £500. If parents are unable to pay for back to school from their household income or through their savings, I would encourage them to explore cheaper forms of finance, by talking to their local credit union or bank, rather than using a credit card or going to a moneylender.

“For the second year in a row, we asked parents how COVID-19 had impacted their family life. One third of parents found home schooling and working a struggle, with over two thirds worried about the impact on their children’s overall educational performance. While many parents expect their children to return to school in September, they are concerned about the effect of further lockdowns and their child’s exposure to the COVID virus. Many households incurred extra costs as a result of home schooling such as buying more food and having to invest in laptops and tablets to support their children’s education. Again, I would encourage parents to talk to their local credit union to see how they can help.”