Delays see families left without free school meal vouchers
PUBLISHED: 16:38 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:38 21 April 2020
Children are going hungry and schools are being forced to give emergency food parcels to families because of delays in the system to supply free school meal vouchers.
Under the government scheme, families eligible for free school meals should receive vouchers worth £15 a week per child.
Parents have been left waiting up to 10 days to receive the vouchers they need during the coronavirus lockdown because Edenred, the company appointed to manage the scheme, has struggled to meet demand.
MORE: Children “going hungry” due to free school meals voucher confusion and delays
Over the Easter break the company revamped its website to try to meet demand but the temporary shutdown led to more delays for schools with staff spending hours trying to log-on to order vouchers.
Ashley Best-White, executive headteacher at The Nebula Federation, which includes Horsford Primary School, Frettenham Primary School, Hainford Primary School, Old Catton Junior School, White Woman Lane and St Faith’s Primary School, wrote to parents to explain the frustration schools were facing.
She said: “Each of our school offices ordered three weeks’ worth of vouchers to cover the Easter period and the first week back at school.
“We have heard that some of our families have received their three weeks’ worth of vouchers all at once, ignoring the delivery dates that we specified, and other families have yet to receive anything. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to any of this!”
Some parents have also experienced problems redeeming vouchers at supermarket check-outs due to confusion about whether a code was needed, she added.
“If the system does not begin to work efficiently for all our families I may have to consider an alternative such as food boxes. I will review the situation at the end of next week.”
Some schools are supplying food parcels or buying their own vouchers for desperate families.
MORE: Pupils given laptops and food parcels to ensure ‘no family is left behind’
Friends of Hewett, the Hewett Academy’s dedicated charity, has teamed up with teaching staff to deliver food packages which not only contain food for the child but fresh fruit and vegetables for the whole family.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said she is to raise the problems with ministers as a matter or urgency.
“This is not a good situation and nobody wants to be in this position. This has to be got right and I will be doing my bit by talking to ministers about that,” she added.
The Department for Education has said it is providing additional funding to schools to cover unavoidable costs during the coronavirus outbreak, including “free school meal costs which are not covered by the national voucher scheme”.
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