One in four parents is having to borrow money to pay for their child's school uniform, according to a survey by Citizens Advice.
Almost two thirds of parents face costs of over £70 for a new school uniform for each child this term – and 19% will fork out more than £150 per uniform.
Despite the major supermarkets beginning to promote budget uniforms, Citizens Advice found that just 11% of parents expect to pay under £30 for a new school uniform.
But while a third of parents have saved for their child's school uniform and a fifth already earn enough to absorb the cost, a quarter will resort to borrowing money – rising to a third among unemployed parents. Over one in five parents (23%) told the charity they do not know how they will pay for it.
Parents told Citizens Advice that school mergers often led to the introduction of a new uniform, while branded school clothing and/or a change in uniform policy can also bring added costs to parents.
One parent told the charity that her child's school had changed the uniform for the second time in three years. Many pupils face sanctions from their schools if they fail to wear the correct uniform.
In October 2012, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) wrote to 30,000 state primary and secondary schools in the UK to ask them to review their uniform policies. An OFT survey had found that families are spending "tens of millions of pounds" more than they need to on clothing.
There is no legislation that deals specifically with school uniform. Instead, schools' governing bodies decide which rules to apply. However, Department for Education guidelines state that a school's governing body "should be able to demonstrate to parents how best value has been achieved and keep the cost of supplying the uniform under review".
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: "Mums and Dads are anxious about the cost of going back to school. Some parents are borrowing money to pay for school clothing because they fear their children will face punishment from teachers or bullying from other kids.
"It is worrying that many parents are forced to buy school uniforms from a specific shop. This puts unnecessary pressure on already tight budgets by prohibiting choice which stops people shopping around for the best deal."