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Sundaytimes

Money Made Easy, Your 5 minute guide to back to school costs

The country's free education system was called into question last week as childrens' charity Barnardos published its 2015 back to school costs survey. - Mark Channing

More than 1,400 parents participated in the survey which outlined the costs they face sending their children back to school in September. As in previous years, the costs of books, uniforms, footwear and voluntary contributions continue to put a financial strain on parents.

 We look at how much back to school costs are in 2015 and give you some tips on how to ease the financial burden.

HOW MUCH ARE PARENTS PAYING THIS YEAR?

According to the survey, average back to school costs for a senior infants child is €365, while for a primary school child, the average cost was €490.

Back to school costs jump when your child starts secondary school, which Barnardos put at €785 per child.

The cost of uniforms remains the biggest expense for parents of primary school children. For parents of secondary school children, textbooks are the number one expense

HOW HAVE BACK TO SCHOOL COSTS CHANGED?

Parents are paying more to send their children back to school this year compared to 2014. The cost for sending a child back to primary school is up 3% while the cost of a child returning to secondary school is up 7% on 2014 figures.

Comparing 2015 back to school costs to those of 10 years ago presents a mixed picture for parents. Primary back to school costs have fallen by 19% since 2005, but this is offset by the rise in back to school costs for secondary children which are up by l7% over the same period.

The drop in primary back to school costs over the past decade is likely due to the impact of parent pressure. Barnardos said this had resulted in the expansion of school book rental schemes which are up 50% since 2012, while some schools also reviewed their uniform policy.

HOW MUCHWOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS ARE SCHOOLS ASKING FOR?

Despite the Irish education system supposedly being free, parents continue to be asked to make so-called "voluntary contributions" towards the running costs of schools. According to Barnardos 85% of parents of primary schoolchildren are asked to make average annual voluntary contributions of €90, while 73% of parents of secondary school children are asked to contribute an average of €150 per child. The contributions schools are asking for in 2015 are 20% higher than last year.

IS THEREANY SIATE HELP?

Yes. The back to school clothing and footwear allowance is paid once a year to help with the cost of uniforms and footwear for school children. The allowance is worth €100 for each eligible child aged 4 to 11, or €200 for children aged 12 to 22, on or before September 30, 2015. To qualify, you or your spouse must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment, such as jobseeker's allowance/benefit, and also satisfy a means test. If you received the allowance last year and your children are still eligible, you shouldn't need to apply again this year and the payment should be made automatically by the Department of Social Protection. If you are claiming the allowance for the first time you should apply by September 30.

TOP TIP

You can recoup a big chunk of annual back to school costs by using the time as a reminder to switch your household utilities. According to price comparison site Bonkers.ie you can make combined savings of €333 over the course of the year by switching your electricity to Energia and gas to Flogas. For more immediate financial help Bord Gais Energy is running aback to school bundle bonus which gives 10% on standard electricity rates as well as a €75 Tesco voucher which you spend straight away on back to school costs.

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