Recently, forty-five public schools in Western Australia called in professional debt collectors to help recover millions of unpaid school fees.
According to the State Government, parents had short-changed them in unpaid charges for the 2016-2017 school year. Approximately $ 1.5 million of this said debt was the result of parents’ failure to pay compulsory Year 11 and 12 subject fees. This amount also included costs for optional extras such as camps, curricular activities, and excursions for all year levels.
When interviewed about the matter, Department of Education deputy director-general Jennifer McGrath indicated that hiring the debt collectors was done as a last-ditch effort. She said the schools were expected to use all other methods available to obtain the money owed to them before calling in the professionals.
“These are courses which parents have enrolled their children into, knowing the cost upfront,” McGrath added. “Payment plans can be arranged to suit individual circumstances so families experiencing difficulty can pay off the course cost over time. If debt collectors are used, under the department’s policy schools must tell them not to refer to legal action or credit agencies in their letters to families.”
The Education Department has also indicated that the matter is being handled with delicacy and they are making efforts to adjust to the special circumstances of each family involved.
The school principals analysed the specific situations of each family and certain unpaid amounts were written off in accordance to relevant accounting and legislative requirements.
As a result, the schools were left with $940,000 to collect. This amount is owed by immigrant families who failed to pay all or a portion of the $4,000 fee they had to pay for enrolling their children in public schools.
This particular fee was introduced back in 2015 by the previous State Government in an effort to cope with the high number of children from migrant families entering the public school system.
The Education Department’s 2016-17 annual report shows that 2,302 families holding 457 visas had paid a total of $4.6 million in school fees in 2016. Despite this fact, there is still more outstanding debt that the department must deal with.
A spokeswoman for the department said that as of June 2017, only 139 families provided partial payments for tuition fees. An additional 250 families still have outstanding charges in various public schools in West Australia.
Plus, the Education Department has a further $820,000 to collect from 257 families for school fees accumulated in 2015.
However, the spokeswoman said debt collectors were not hired to collect these outstanding fees from 2015. In addition, the children of the aforementioned families were still allowed to attend school despite their parents’ non-payment.
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