Poor IT deals "could cost schools millions"

schools

Schools running up huge debts in "predatory" leasing schemes

British schools are being ripped off to the tune of millions of pounds over mis-sold laptops and other IT equipment.

According to an investigation by the BBC, many schools have been left in hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of debt after signing leasing agreements for laptops.

Some schools now owe more than their entire budgets to companies that supplied equipment, in a scandal that could have cost UK schools "tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds".

The schools were "mis-sold" equipment as being free, the BBC investigation found, while schools were often paying ten times the going rate for equipment.

The Five Live probe cited one school as having been duped into accepting 100 "free" laptops, which later cost thousands because the company had persuaded the school to sign a long-term lease agreement.

A laptop that has a price of between £350 and £400 is charged at £3,750

"They came to us and said we were going to be a flagship school so we'd get priority on various pieces of kit that came up or any promotions," James Loker-Steele, head of IT at Glemsford Primary in Suffolk, told the BBC.

"The sales person phoned us up and said: 'We've managed to source about 1,000 laptops, would you like any?'"

The school was given the impression the laptops were free, but was later left with a debt of £500,000 when the supplier, Direct Technology Solutions, went into administration and left the school exposed to liabilities.

When we phoned Direct Technology Solutions to ask for details, we were told that the company no longer existed, and the firm had also not responded to the BBC's request for comment.

Overcharged

An accountancy firm looking into the situation on the behalf of one of the banks with debt exposure told the BBC that the school was one of dozens of victims.

As well as facing crippling bills, the accountant also said schools were being overcharged. "For example, a laptop that has a price of between £350 and £400 is charged at £3,750," an accountant told the BBC. "Some schools were having 100-200 laptops delivered at this price."

In a statement, the Department for Education blamed the issue on "very poor decision making from schools and opportunistic/predatory sales tactics from suppliers".

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