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Schools use debt firms to recover $2m in unpaid fees

WA public schools were forced to call in debt collectors to recover almost $2 million in unpaid fees last year, with a growing number of parents failing to pay compulsory charges.

Education Department figures show that 47 schools referred a total of $1,903,352 in uncollected fees and charges to debt collectors last year.

This was an increase on the previous year, when 45 schools brought in debt collectors to recoup about $1.5 million in unpaid charges.

Public schools can request voluntary contributions of up to $60 a year for primary school students and $235 for secondary students up to Year 10, which some parents choose not to pay.

But fees for Years 11 and 12 courses are compulsory. Parents are also required to pay for optional activities for all year groups, such as excursions, camps or visiting performers.

The department said the outstanding fees were predominantly for compulsory charges for Years 11 and 12 courses and optional extras for younger children.

Acting deputy director-general for education business services Jay Peckitt said that schools were expected to take a reasonable approach when collecting money owed to them by families for compulsory course and subject charges and extra-cost optional components.

“If all means of collecting money have been exhausted, then it’s appropriate for schools to consider using a debt collection agency to recover funds owed to them,” he said.

“Under the department’s policy, schools must tell debt collectors not to refer to legal action or credit agencies in their letters to families. Payment plans can be arranged to suit individual circumstances so families experiencing difficulty can pay off the course cost over time.”

WA Secondary School Executives Association president Armando Giglia said charges for some high school subjects could range from $50 to $500. “The cost of the subject is explained before the beginning of the next year, before they sign up,” he said.

“The schools end up running the courses because they don’t want kids to miss out, but unfortunately some parents end up basically subsidising the ones who say they’re going to pay and then don’t. Schools are obligated to do as much as they possibly can under the (department’s) policy to recover the costs.”

WA Council of State School Organisations president Kylie Catto said Years 11 and 12 students should be offered low-cost educational options.

“We understand that schools have to meet their costs, but calling in debt collectors really should be an absolute last resort that we would prefer not to see,” she said.

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