Unpaid-for school meals costing councils thousands

An investigation has revealed that local authorities in Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross are owed thousands due to parents and carers not paying for their children’s school meals and snacks

Just one day after we reported that families in Wales are not taking advantage of school meals, the Evening Telegraph has released a story stating that Scottish families are running up thousands in debt due to unpaid school meals.

At least two councils in these areas have written off the debts with parents being unable to pay them, even when legal action has been taken.

As of the end of August this year, more than 1,700 families in Dundee owed a collective £40,111.90 to the council.

In Angus, as of just two weeks ago, parents owed £23,000.

A further £40,000 was owed by parents in Perth and Kinross at the end of 2017/18.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said:

“It is vital that all of Dundee’s children have access to healthy snacks and lunches whatever their family circumstances, and charging and payment collection policies need to recognise the extraordinary financial pressures so many families are under.

“Our Cost of the School day project in Dundee schools found that the online Parent Pay system reduces the risk of pupils losing or forgetting lunch money, but several schools report that it has led to some families falling into lunch debt.

“This means following up with families for late payments, with risk to home-school relations.”

Parents at Forthill Primary School in Broughty Ferry owe the highest amount of money to the council, at £9,552.99. The most owed to a nursery is £190.40, at Jessie Porter in Downfield.

In the last five years, Dundee City Council has written off £6,376 owed for snacks or meals.

A spokesperson said:

“The council has a school meal debt protocol which has been operating in schools for almost a year.

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“This recommends, among other things, that head teachers and administration staff should meet fortnightly to discuss lunch debt.

“Given that the schools know the pupils and their families, they are best-placed to determine if they need signposted to organisations who may be able to support them if they are struggling.”

Angus Council sends letters and texts to parents if they fall into debt of £10.50 or more.

A spokesperson said:

“Where parents or carers highlight any difficulties they are experiencing to us, we will always work with them to ensure that a solution is found to ensure no child goes without a lunchtime meal.”

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