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OFT calls for an end to exclusive school uniform retail arrangements

135/06    13 September 2006

The OFT has announced the conclusion of its fact-finding review of the UK school uniform market today.

Download School uniforms review: summary report (pdf 80 kb).
Download School uniforms review: full report (pdf 2.5 mb).

The review sought to establish the degree to which schools restrict the supply of uniforms by requiring them to be bought from designated retailers or from the schools themselves, and whether this causes financial detriment to parents. It found that 84 per cent of schools that require students to have a uniform impose restrictions on choice of supplier for at least one item of the uniform.

Compulsory items purchased from designated retailers or schools were found to be on average 23 per cent more expensive than in uniform retailers generally, and 150 per cent more expensive than in supermarkets. Some schools claimed that these restrictive arrangements benefitted parents in terms of convenience and the quality of uniforms.

By comparing prices at exclusive outlets and retailers generally, the OFT estimates the total yearly detriment is £32m for parents buying secondary school uniforms, and £13m for primary school uniforms.

A third of schools operating exclusive contracts with retailers reported benefiting financially from them. Yet the detriment figure to parents is several times the amount schools say they make from these restrictive arrangements, which suggests that schools are not the chief beneficiary of higher prices paid by parents.

The findings of the study will be passed to the Department for Education and Skills, which is responsible for providing guidance to state schools in England on their uniform policies.

John Fingleton, Chief Executive of the OFT 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 governers to eliminate these exclusive agreements.'

NOTES

1. The OFT received complaints from parents regarding lack of choice and high prices/poor quality when schools restricted the supply of uniforms to particular retailers through exclusive contracts, as well as from retailers claiming that these arrangements foreclose the market to them. Self supply of uniforms from schools also provoked complaints.

2. The complaints could not be addressed by the OFT under the Competition Act 1998. There is no legislation that deals specifically with school uniforms. Exclusive relationships are determined by the individual school's board of governors. Section 5 of the Enterprise Act 2002 gives the OFT the power to carry out a fact-finding study to gauge whether exclusive contracts between schools and retailers have an adverse effect on the prices paid by parents.

3. The study was announced at the start of July (see press release 110/06). The OFT sent letters and questionnaires to 10,000 schools. 2,110 questionnaires were returned (21 per cent response rate).




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