I have been contacted by a number of parents in relation to the free school meal vouchers during school closures. One parents stated their child had not received a voucher for over 3 weeks!
The Government allocated the contract for the free school meal vouchers to French company Edenred to ensure that families with children who are classed as vulnerable and entitled to free school meals, receive a £15 voucher each week to exchange in a supermarket to ensure they receive a lunchtime meal.
I recently checked in with all schools within my constituency to make sure everything was OK and to ask if they have an issues with the scheme. The responses I received were shocking, with only one small school saying they were using the scheme with no issues.
Many schools are reporting that they are no longer using the scheme and have resorted to issuing food hampers. One school said “we are just hoping the Government will reimburse the cost”.
Schools have had issues accessing the website or suffering from the system crashing whilst trying to place their order. Some parents have then either not received the vouchers whilst others with only access to the internet via smartphones have struggled to access the vouchers. Some parents have even had their vouchers refused at the supermarket checkout as they appear invalid when scanned.
One School Admin Administrator told me “I just want to ensure my families get their vouchers”, another said “It’s clear Edenred are unable to cope with the high demand, this does not help parents provide food for their children”.
Jo Bell, Headteacher at Lawnswood School told me “I was unable to upload bulk orders (the vouchers) to be sent directly to parents so have had to do all the administrative task of sending out individual codes myself.”
David Cooke, Headteacher, Rufford Park Primary School in Yeadon shared with me his experience of the website crashing and vouchers not being received. He also explained that because there is a £200 limit for each supermarket, some vouchers are issued for supermarkets not near where his pupils live. This is a big problem for many families who are stuck at home without access to transport. He has had no reply at all from Eden Red customer support to either phone calls or emails.
It is deeply disturbing to think that a scheme which has been implemented by the Government to help some of our most vulnerable children has managed to fail so badly.There has been an MP hotline set up by Edenred. Whilst we are grateful for it and continue to use it, it does show that these problems are not unique to my constituency.