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Back-to-school costs hit hard
Heavy burden: Back-to-school costs hit parents hard. Picture: Astrid Volzke/The West Australian

Welfare groups are reporting an increase in demand for help from families struggling with the cost of sending their children back to school today - despite millions of dollars handed out to parents under Labor's schoolkids bonus.

The Smith Family charity said it had had 25 per cent more calls for assistance this year than last.

General manager Greg Ryan-Gadsden said most calls to its office had been requests for financial support to help cover uniforms, shoes, books and excursions.

"Families are reporting an increase in the cost of rent and utilities in particular," he said. "Families are also saying that sometimes they are making a decision between food on the table or buying a new uniform."

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Irina Cattalini said it was a difficult time of year for many families, but single parents who had been moved from parenting payments to the Newstart allowance for the first time would be hardest hit.

"There is anecdotal evidence there is an increase this year (in calls for help) because of the number of parents who are now on reduced income," she said. "It's the parents that are being moved from parenting payments to Newstart who are particularly anxious and that we're very concerned about because, from January 1, they started receiving less income."

Ms Cattalini said research into the cost of living in WA had found that single parents were now about $30 worse off a week, even with the schoolkids bonus.

But Anglicare executive general manager John Berger said it was too early to tell if the bonus was having an impact. The charity normally did not receive requests for help until after school started. Last year it helped about 400 children with back-to-school costs.

The schoolkids bonus, which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said he will axe if the coalition wins government, gives families on Tax Benefit Part A cash payments of $410 for each child in primary school and $820 a year for each high school student.

Since its introduction, about 1.2 million families across Australia have received $588 million in bonus payments to spend on school equipment, such as shoes or sports gear.

A record 273,220 students are expected to attend WA public schools today, up from 267,266 at the start of last year. About 143,000 will attend private schools.