Third of NI families in debt due to back-to-school costs

A third of parents in Northern Ireland say they are getting into debt to cover the expense of back-to-school costs

A THIRD of parents in Northern Ireland say they are getting into debt to cover the expense of back-to-school costs, according to a new survey.

The study of the financial burden faced by parents reveals those with primary school children are in £252 in debt, while secondary school parents reported debt of £291.

The findings, revealed in a Northern Ireland school-costs survey commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU), also found parents in the north spend on average £754 per primary school child and £1,160 per secondary school child.

Half of those questioned said costs are their biggest back-to-school related worry, well ahead of concern that children won't settle or make friends (13 per cent).

The study also reveals 38 per cent of parents in debt turned to doorstep lenders and payday loan companies for help, with a quarter of this group borrowing between £400 and £500.

A substantial numbers of parents reported feeling pressurised to buy branded goods and items with a third saying they would be forced to deny their children certain school items because they cannot afford them, including new school shoes or extra-curricular activities.

Thirty-seven per cent also said they would have to sacrifice spending on family holidays to meet school costs, while 20 per cent would reduce money spent on household bills and 18 per cent said spending on food would have to suffer.

The biggest spend for primary school children is on after-school care at £114 per child, followed by uniforms at £112 and school lunches at £102.

For secondary-school, the most expensive item was school trips at £220, followed by uniforms at £168 and school lunches at £158.

The study also found 62 per cent of parents say Northern Ireland schools are not doing enough to keep costs down.

More than a quarter said the option of generic, cheaper or even free school uniforms would help, while 16 per cent said reducing prices of books and stationary was needed.

Paul Bailey from ILCU said: "Despite the current recovery of our economy, families continue to struggle to cope with the cost of sending their children to school.

"We are seeing increasing numbers of parents saying they are in debt, and a rise in the numbers saying they are turning to doorstep lenders and payday loan companies.

"Using doorstep lenders and payday loan companies, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates, will lead to a recurring cycle of unnecessary debt and irrational borrowing, and we would seriously urge parents to reconsider going this route.

"Credit unions are responsible lenders who will ensure that their members do not borrow beyond their means and will work with them so that repayments are realistic for their circumstances."

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