OFT wades into the 'school uniform tax' debate

1 November 2012

school uniformAfter sausage rolls, rotisserie chicken and Grannies comes the new, catchy, School Uniform Tax. Well, sort of. Of course there is no actual tax on school uniforms* but the OFT have decided to wade into a rumbling debate over the cost of school uniform, with some parents paying £5-10 more for items of school uniform clothing than they should.

This, of course, is not a tax, but profiteering by school uniform manufacturers who are named ‘preferred’ (i.e. only) suppliers of uniform for around 30,000 state primary and secondary schools. The parents are over a barrel, the uniform supplier makes a packet, possibly reduced only by a small donation into school funds.

But why is it being called a tax and what have the OFT got to do with it? Well, some time ago the Labour government introduced guidelines that said State schools should not require pupils to buy uniform from any given supplier, but that pupils should be allowed to wear supermarket uniforms (in the appropriate colours of course). However, the current coalition Government abolished these guidelines, thereby allowing certain schools to reintroduce exclusive uniform deals, and premium prices. The OFT are getting involved because they say schools are not ‘shopping around’ to find the best supplier for their exclusive uniform. And by requiring schools to do this, the prices should come down.

Susan Oxley, assistant director in the OFT's goods and consumer group, said: “When schools require that uniforms are bought from a preferred supplier or shop it can act as a 'tax' on families, which mostly goes to the chosen retailers. We know schools don't want families to be left out of pocket and we have written to schools across the UK asking them to review their policies and supplier arrangements.”

The OFT surveyed schools across the UK and found that schools claimed to use a single supplier because they demanded “consistent, good quality uniforms”. It was also believed that specifying a retailer was more convenient for parents. A massive 74% of schools placed “restrictions on where uniforms can be bought”, an unsurprising increase from 2006 figures.

But supporting the OFTs assertion, fewer than 40% schools who specified a named supplier used a proper selection process when appointing the retailer, making it likely this was not the cheapest option for parents and pupils.

A Department for Education spokeswoman told the Telegraph: “It is down to schools to set a uniform policy that is right for parents and pupils. Schools must ensure that uniforms are affordable for all.” No passing of the buck there then.

*not even VAT, being zero-rated children’s clothes.


  • Boring B.
    What's the point in having a 'uniform' if you are allowed to buy any item of clothing that is close to the right colour in one of the supermarkets? If the school decides that it would prefer pupils to wear a uniform, then it should specify the supplier too. If you don't like this, join the school committee. The government hasn't decided to make people wear uniforms (or even make them go to school), so it's none of their business.
  • Idi A.
    Can't see anything wrong in being able to buy clothes of an acceptable colour at a supermarket/Primark and then buying the badges (at minimal profit, if any) from the school office.
  • Chewbacca
    Riiiiggghht... But school uniforms are not compulsory in any case, so parent should just buy as close as they can get from m&s etc and tell the schools to fuck off. I don't see the issue here. If I had to buy something and I was adivsed that "xxx" was the "preferred" supplier, I'd take that to mean other suppliers were available and I wasn't necessarily required to buy from them.
  • Chewbacca
    …and does anyone think that little girl looks like the Aphex Twin doing Windowlicker? pman-online.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/aphex-twin-widowlicker-renaissance-man.html (not my blog) And BW, gonna stop moderating links already?
  • Raptorcigs

    I think Teachers should be in uniform too

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