But the Department for Education and contractor Edenred said the backlog is being dealt with.
School staff have told Left Foot Forward that they’ve faced major delays in the Free School Meal voucher system.
The Department for Education (DfE) have enabled parents to claim food vouchers during the holidays and while schools are closed, to cope with the additional costs of the coronavirus crisis.
Schools are distributing the vouchers, with the costs of the scheme reimbursed by the DfE. But it is a private company, Edenred managing the e-voucher system. The vouchers are worth £15 a week for each eligible child, mostly those with parents on very low-incomes or benefits. School workers have previously spoken out about initial delays but they appear to be continuing.
One primary school office manager told LFF: “We are in quite a deprived area with over half of our pupils on Free School Meals. These vouchers were set up on 6th April and they were only received [Thursday 17th]…
“The scheme is not working, its taking too long for these parents to receive these vouchers, they are also being told any problems contact the school. We have been unable to get hold of [Edenred]. I have emailed several times and no reply.”
LFF also heard from another school administrator on Thursday who described the system as a ‘complete mess (putting it mildly)’: “I am spending a sizeable amount of each day on their [Edenred’s] website trying to resend codes to parents and on the phone trying to chase missing codes.
“They are also running four days behind on each order so parents are getting Monday orders on a Thursday. This week four families have received nothing,” the school worker said.
In a statement, a spokesperson from Edenred said: “In the two weeks since launching the new scheme to deliver food vouchers for the 1.3m children eligible for free school meals on behalf of the Department for Education, thousands of schools have been registered successfully, placing orders to deliver vouchers to the families that need them.
“We have delivered hundreds of thousands of codes those families since April 1. We have also made changes to the system which mean that, every day, average waiting times on the site are falling significantly and eVouchers are being fulfilled and delivered within 24 hours.
“We continue to make daily improvements to reduce the impact of surges in demand which may increase these times and we are listening to feedback to improve the process for schools so that families receive their vouchers as quickly as possible.”
A Department for Education spokesperson told LFF ‘outstanding technical issues’ were being dealt with:
“We continue to work closely with our supplier to resolve any outstanding technical issues quickly and we thank schools using the system for their patience while it is upgraded to meet increased demand.
“We are providing additional funding to schools, on top of existing budgets, to cover unavoidable costs incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak that cannot be met from their existing resources – including free school meal costs which are not covered by the national voucher system.”
Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
Have you had any experience of the free school meal voucher system? Get in touch [email protected]
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