Free school meal problems resolved ‘shortly’

Essex County Council has said it is hopeful delays some parents are experiencing in receiving free school meal vouchers will be resolved “shortly”.

Hundreds of pupils from low income backgrounds are eligible for free school meals across Essex.

They qualify if their parents receive Universal Credit, provided the annual net earned income isn’t above £7,400 (£616.37 per month), Income Support, Income based Employment and Support Allowance, Income based Job Seekers Allowance or Child Tax Credit, so long as they meet conditions.

The importance of free school meals to children has been highlighted with teachers across Essex previously reporting the number of children coming in hungry at the start of the day.

One anonymous head teacher said:  “Some children go to breakfast club, but then you get those that come in and at about half nine, they are saying they are starving or have a tummy ache.

“When you ask if they have had breakfast, they say no. If I ask if they had dinner last night they often said they have had a microwave meal.”

In providing assistance with free school meals during the lockdown, head teachers can decide which options will be best for families in their area.

Schools can provide food on site, arrange deliveries or order a voucher to be given to the family.

However, there has been some delay in the issuing of free school meal vouchers that have been ordered by their child’s school through the government’s national scheme.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “Schools are being asked to offer free school meals to eligible children throughout this period of school closures, including during the Easter holidays. This applies to those attending school as well as those able to stay at home. It extends to those children who would usually receive universal infant free school meals but who would be eligible for benefits-related free school meals.

“Individual schools can choose how they offer free school meals. This could be through the government’s national voucher scheme, arranging meal deliveries through their usual catering supplier, or another local initiative.

“We are aware of delays some parents are experiencing in receiving free school meal vouchers that have been ordered by their child’s school through the government’s national scheme. We are monitoring the extent of the issue and have escalated to the Department for Education and the government’s supplier, Edenred, on behalf of Essex schools. We are hopeful that this will be resolved shortly.

“Further information on eligibility for free school meals can be found on our website essex.gov.uk/free-school-meals. We would encourage any parent with concerns regarding feeding their child during these closures to get in touch with their child’s school.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter