School threatens mother of four with collection agencies over £ 32 unpaid bill for canteen lunches

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A school has threatened a mother of four with debt collection agencies for an unpaid bill of £ 32 for her children’s daily lunches in the cafeteria.

The unnamed woman said she was upset with the letter from the school headquarters, admitting that she had found it difficult to keep track of payments.

She said she was told that if she didn’t pay the money she owed, the debt would be passed on, North News and Pictures reported.

‘I was raging. I wrote them a strongly worded letter pointing out that we are in the midst of a global crisis.

“You know you owe it, but can’t they just wait until the end of the month my husband gets paid?”

The woman told the point of sale that the school principal later called to apologize.

“She said she didn’t mean it that way, but it’s really painful to get a letter saying that if you don’t pay, they’ll send it to a collection agency.”

A school has threatened a mother of four with debt collection agencies for an unpaid bill of £ 32 for her children’s daily lunches in the cafeteria. The unnamed woman said she was angry with the letter from the school headquarters and admitted that she had found it difficult to keep track of the payments [Stock image]

The woman, who has four children ages eight, nine, 12 and 16, said she had to spend about £ 200 each month on school meals, which amounts to 13 percent of the family budget.

“We don’t qualify for universal credit because my husband works and the kids don’t get free school meals. We make it, but the dinner situation is quite expensive.

It would make a huge difference if the government changed the rules for free school meals.

“You don’t have to worry about it.”

The woman said her youngest child was in the second year of the coronavirus outbreak and would normally be eligible for free school meals, but she didn’t even get any vouchers.

Feeding four kids during shutdown was expensive – they just went back and forth to the fridge.

‘Because my husband is paid monthly, you owe, you owe.

“Extending free school meals would just take the pressure off,” she said.

How much should the free school meals really be worth?

Free school meal allowances are usually £ 2.34 per student per day, an additional £ 3.50 per seven days is added in lockdown, equating to £ 15.20 per week.

The government has told schools to work with their school catering team or supplier to put together the food packages, especially if the kitchens are open.

Unlike the initial lockdown, vouchers are not considered until all efforts to deliver the supply boxes have been exhausted.

Government guidelines suggest “you may want to consider other local schemes, including, for example, vouchers to local shops and supermarkets.”

The school fees for issuing the vouchers can then be reimbursed by the government in the amount of £ 15 per week.

A school catering source told MailOnline: ‘The staff have never experienced anything like it. They work through a pandemic to make the food boxes for the parents, some don’t even pick them up.

“For those in school, still 120 expected children from key workers and vulnerable children for free school meals, 40 showed up.”

The mother’s story comes as a report reveals that more than 35,000 students in the Northeast living below the poverty line are not eligible for free school meals under current law.

The new report, The Cost of Missing Lunchtime, reveals that one in four children from poorer families in the region is not entitled to a free, nutritious daily meal at school.

The data also shows that an additional 4,000 Northeastern students, living in families without recourse to public funds, due to their immigration status, could also miss out if the temporary extension of school meals to these households is not made permanent.

Luke Bramhall, from Children North-East, who conducted the study with the Child Poverty Action Group and the North East Child Poverty Commission, said:

‘It is clearly not correct that many thousands of pupils in primary and secondary education in our region are being deprived of that vital food.

“We believe the current threshold to qualify for free school meals is too low, so we call on the government to restore the previous threshold that included all families with Universal Credit.

“This should be extended to everyone on equal benefits,” said Bramhall, adding, “We want the temporary extension of free school meals to become permanent for those households without resorting to public funds.”

In 2013, the government introduced a temporary measure that made all families receiving Universal Credit eligible for free school meals.

This was to protect families from losing claims during the early stages of the rollout.

As of April 2018, families had to have an income of less than £ 7,400 to be eligible.

Children North East, CPAG and the NECPC say this has resulted in many students living in poverty falling through the free school meals.

According to the report, poorer children not only miss out on nutrition, but they also don’t get extra help in the classroom, because the use of free school meals is directly linked to the funding of Pupil Premium.

Alison Garnham, CEO of CPAG said: “We know that free school meals help families survive and improve their children’s health and educational outcomes.

But many in the North East are missing something, exposing children to hardship.

‘The government needs to act urgently and expand the right to free school meals to ensure that no child goes hungry.

The woman, who has four children ages eight, nine, 12 and 16, said she had to spend about £ 200 each month on school meals, which amounts to 13 percent of the family budget. [Stock image]

The woman, who has four children ages eight, nine, 12 and 16, said she had to spend about £ 200 each month on school meals, which amounts to 13 percent of the family budget. [Stock image]

“Schools and local authorities can also play an important role in ensuring that already eligible families receive free school meals: this benefits eligible children, but also increases school funding that benefits all students.”

The three organizations have calculated that it would cost £ 38.1 million to extend free school meals to all households in the North East that

Universal credit or equivalent benefits on top of the current status quo.

Amanda Bailey, director of the NECPC, said this is cost-effective: “Research shows that free school meals have a number of proven benefits and are an effective measure against child poverty.

Free school meals have been around for over 100 years

The origins of Free School Meals (FSM) date back to the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906, when local authorities were empowered to provide food to the poorest children through local taxes.

This system lasted until World War II, when dietary reference values ​​were established in 1941, followed three years later by the 1944 Education Act requiring local authorities to distribute FSM to the poorest students.

In 1986, during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Social Security Act required local authorities to outsource supplies to private companies.

A new, stricter set of dietary reference values ​​was implemented in 2013.

They can boost children’s learning and performance levels and support their health by providing a balanced meal every day.

Children also benefit from the social experience by sitting together, eating the same foods, and sharing the dining room experience. For families, the right to free school meals can ease the pressure on family budgets and free up money for other living expenses.

Expanding free school meals to more children can also help tackle inequalities by reducing the number of children in low-income families who are missing out, and it can reduce the stigma associated with justice. ‘

Recommendations in the report, which is being sent to Northeastern MPs, local authorities and schools, include that local authorities should review their policies, processes and practices for free school meals to ensure they maximize the number of families consuming their free school meals. straight.

Data suggests that the current use of free school meals in the Northeast is 89 percent (116,000 eligible students of which only 103,000 are claiming).

Authorities should also make information about free school meals easily accessible and link directly to Covid response pages / other financial inclusion information on their websites.

Schools should identify and address existing policies or practices that either prevent students from exercising their right to free school meals or further disadvantage them.

Local authorities and schools should provide school staff with child poverty education to raise awareness of the problem and help schools find practical ways to increase support for struggling families.

Neville Harrison, head teacher of St Bede’s in Lanchester, who was not the school that issued the letter to the struggling mother, said: “It is great that these organizations are keeping the debate about free school meals public.

‘The more MPs, local authorities and schools can discuss this, the better the outcomes for the children and families in need.’

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