The practice of selling school uniforms only through designated retailers creates a £45 million a year ‘tax’ on parents, the competition watchdog has concluded.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) scrutinised state schools and found that 84 per cent of schools which have compulsory uniforms restrict where at least one item can be bought.
It estimates that parents forced to buy secondary school uniforms from exclusive suppliers are worse off by around £32 million a year. That figure falls to £13 million a year for parents buying primary school uniforms from restricted suppliers.
The report also found that compulsory school clothes and other items cost around 150 per cent more from ‘designated’ suppliers than they do in supermarkets and are 23 per cent more expensive than at other retailers generally
But some schools argued that the restrictive arrangements made buying uniforms more convenient for parents and ensured the quality of the clothes.
OFT Chief Executive John Fingleton said: ‘This study has shown that parents have to pay higher prices for school uniforms where exclusive agreements exist.
‘This restriction on competition acts as a “tax” on parents, which mostly goes to the chosen retailers. We call on school governors to eliminate these exclusive agreements.’
Complaints from parents
The watchdog launched its probe into the school uniform market for state schools in July after receiving complaints from parents about lack of choice, high prices and poor quality in cases where schools limited the availability of their uniforms to designated suppliers. The OFT said it hadn’t received any complaints from parents concerning uniforms at private schools.
The OFT will pass its findings to the Department for Education and Skills, which is responsible for providing guidance to state schools in England on their uniform policies.