Coronavirus: Frustration over free meal vouchers grows

As schools struggle to access government's free school meal voucher website some are forced to send families to food banks

Catherine Lough

lunch bag

Headteachers and school business managers have expressed frustration over delays to free school meals vouchers being approved through the government's online supplier, Edenred.

After the Edenred site was taken offline over the bank holiday weekend, schools reported disruption to their ability to provide meals for pupils eligible for free school meals and their families.

Many heads and school business managers were reporting continuing issues with the website all morning and into the afternoon. 


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In a previous statement, a Department for Education spokeswoman said the website would be taken offline over the Easter bank holiday to upgrade its system but would be back on "immediately" after the weekend.

However, many school business managers have reported ongoing issues with the site, with one stating they had had to signpost parents to local food banks as an alternative source of help. 

They told Tes that, having placed an order for food on Friday 3 April, vouchers arrived on the following Thursday, and that the Edenred site subsequently went down, meaning that families could not access food.

"Throughout the week, we had to provide reassurance that vouchers were coming," they said. "We had to signpost to local food banks and provision.

"Parents receive the vouchers but then the system used to claim went down meaning no one could claim, so all weekend we have been trying to help reassure parents but in fact there was little we could do.

"It is such a difficult and frustrating situation for parents and for us as school leaders trying to manage it without any support.

"I worked throughout the weekend emailing parents etc while constantly checking the site. Sometimes it would be up for a few minutes giving you time to check a few details, but then would go back down."

Many school business leaders reported that the site was still not fully operational this morning. 

School business manager Emma Norman said she had spent 40 minutes this morning "just looking at a whirring screen".

Others said their orders were still pending and that they could not find a way of contacting Edenred for help.

 

Others described a lack of communication from the government as "frustrating".

 

The news comes after Tes reported last week that headteachers and school business managers were struggling to obtain free school meals vouchers a week after the launch of the scheme.  

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know that the free school meal voucher system is delivering for thousands of schools.

"We continue to work closely with our supplier Edenred to resolve any outstanding issues quickly and we thank schools for their patience while the system was successfully upgraded over the Bank Holiday weekend.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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