Cash-Strapped Northern Ireland parents are turning to moneylenders in order to fund back-to-school costs for their children, according to a survey commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU).
More than a third of parents questioned expected to be hundreds of pounds in debt due to the expense of kitting out their children and other costs.
The survey - conducted in June by research company iReach Insights - revealed that parents of primary school children expect to go into debt to the tune of £252.
- Shopping for my son has taught me a real lesson
- Editor's Viewpoint: No easy answers on back-to-school costs
For secondary school parents, the average debt expected was £291.
More than three-quarters of parents (76%) who participated in the survey said back-to-school costs are a financial burden.
For half of the respondents, costs are their biggest back-to-school worry, well ahead of concerns that children won't settle or make friends (13%).
And six in 10 parents at primary school level and eight in 10 parents at secondary school level reported feeling pressured to buy branded goods and items for their youngsters.
Worryingly, more than a third of respondents said they will be forced to deny their children certain school items because they cannot afford them.
Parents expect to spend £754 per primary school child, while for secondary school children, the anticipated cost per child stands at £1,160, according to the ILCU.
The biggest spend facing parents of primary school children as they return to school is after-school care at £114 per child, followed by uniforms at £112 and school lunches at £102.
Parents of secondary school pupils expected to have to pay £220 for school trips, followed by uniforms at £168 and school lunches at £158.
Of concern is the finding that of those parents in debt, well over a third (38%) said they had turned to a doorstep lender/payday loan company in an effort to cope with the costs.
Of this group, almost a quarter (24%) said they have borrowed between £400 and £500, the researchers reported.
When asked why they chose a moneylender, almost half of this group (48%) said they felt they had no other option because of a bad credit history.
In the online research, 500 parents were contacted with 174 responding.
Paul Bailey, ILCU head of marketing and communications, said: "Despite the current recovery of our economy, families continue to struggle to cope with the cost of sending their children to school.
"We are seeing increasing numbers of parents saying they are in debt, and a rise in the numbers saying they are turning to doorstep lenders and payday loan companies.
"I would really encourage these parents to talk to their local credit union, even where they feel they have a poor credit history."
SDLP Education spokesman Colin McGrath MLA said last night: "It is unfair that it costs so much to prepare children for school.
"From blazers to lunch boxes, shoes to sports gear, it all mounts up and can be a real challenge even for working families, and especially where there is more than one child in the house.
"It is dreadful that in the 21st century people are getting into debt and in some cases, turning to doorstep lenders or taking out payday loans with exorbitant interest rates, simply to kit their children out for school."
UUP MLA Rosemary Barton, a former teacher, described the survey as "very worrying" - especially the expected uniform costs.
"These exorbitant prices are unreasonable for many families, and indeed do not provide good value. Returning to school must not be seen as a financial burden on parents," the Fermanagh MLA said.