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Parents hopeful Competition Commission guidelines will make uniforms more affordable

The costs of school uniforms defers at different retailers.

The costs of school uniforms defers at different retailers.

Published Jan 16, 2022

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Cape Town - As the academic year get underway, parents are hoping that the Competition Commission’s guidelines on uniform pricing will make them more affordable.

The commission issued the guidelines in 2021 after receiving complaints from parents and guardians about spiralling cost of school uniform since 2010.

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The commission said parents also complained about some schools which compelled them to buy uniforms and learning material from specific suppliers, which often left them out of pocket at the start of each school year.

The guidelines aim to help schools, parents and school governing bodies (SGBs) understand the benefits of competition in the sale of school uniforms and learning materials.

Director and National Head of Competition Law at Cliff Decker Hofmeyer, Chris Charter said although the guidelines were not legally binding, they encouraged behaviour change among stockists and schools.

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"The commission wants to create greater competition in the supply of school uniforms. The more competition there is, the more options there are for parents looking for value for money. Stockists will now compete to offer better quality or lower prices," said Charter.

A parent of three children who attend different schools in Milnerton said it cost up to R5 000 to kit one child with uniforms for winter, summer, and sports.

"The guidelines will help lower the costs. My children's schools only have two stockists for branded items including jerseys, shirts and blazers. The prices are similar.

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"I keep them at the same school to cut costs so the older ones can hand down some of the items to the youngest. Also with shirts for winter I buy generic ones as I don't see the logic in buying branded ones as they wear jerseys and blazers," said the mother who did want to be identified.

Some primary schools require pupils to wear branded blazers which parents said could cost up to R800.

Vuyo Magasela whose son will start Grade 1 at a school in the southern suburbs, said she hoped the Competition Commission guidelines will bring prices down.

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"I spent more than R1 800 on generic items from a retailer. I have not yet bought the branded summer shirts, a branded blazer and sportswear. I will probably have to fork out an additional R3 500," said Magasela.

A winter tracksuit could cost up to R800, she added.

Charter said the guidelines would help "break the monopoly" of some school uniform suppliers, offering parents increased options.

In terms of the guidelines, schools are advised to:

* make their school uniforms as generic as possible so that parents are not forced to purchase from specialist suppliers;

* appoint or designate as many school uniform suppliers as possible so that customers have more choice;

* ensure that the number of exclusive items appearing on a school uniform list are limited to the bare necessities;

The guidelines also put an obligation on parents and SGBs to ensure that schools adhere to the guidelines.

"Most parents like school uniforms both in public and private schools - they regard it as a symbol of pride and identity, and status. But what the Competition Commission has done is to open up the market to new entrants, fostering competition and an inclusive market. It also empowers parents in their purchase decision-making processes,“ said Charter.

Regarding exclusive school uniform items such as branded blazers where there's usually only one or two stockists and little competition to reduce the price or improve quality, Charter said the guidelines encouraged schools to go out on tender when the contracts are due to expire.

"This will encourage competition. And the duration of the exclusive contracts can be limited to allow for competition," he said.

The Commission signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) which represents more than170 SGBs countrywide, to streamline the logistics of handling complaints that might arise.

NASGB General-Secretary Matakanye Matakanya said the body had rolled out information and awareness campaigns to handle complaints before channelling them to the commission.

"Now that schools and SGBs are aware of the guidelines, we expect that they will adhere to them and in the long run end the practice of ever-green contracts with stockists.

“This practice was introduced as far back as 1948. And some parents who could not afford to buy the school uniforms from the prescribed stockists felt that their children were being victimised", said Matakanya.

While some exclusive suppliers might see a decrease in margins as a result of the guidelines, Charter said the new move could foster robust competition and lead to new entrants to the market.

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