Bishop of St Albans asks Government about Free School Meals Voucher Schemes

On 26th May 2020 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, received a written answer to two questions asked on Free School Meals Voucher Schemes.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: HL4324 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they can take to encourage all food shops to accept food vouchers.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: HL4323 To ask Her Majesty’s Government (1) what assurances they have sought from Edenred that the food voucher scheme will work for all those who require them; (2) what plans they have to provide emergency aid to those who are unable to benefit from the scheme; and (3) what plans they have to seek financial compensation from Edenred.

Baroness Berridge: As both my right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, have made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19.

During this period, we are asking schools to support children who are eligible for and claiming benefits-related free school meals, by providing meals or food parcels through their existing food providers wherever possible. We know that many schools are successfully delivering food parcels or arranging food collections for eligible children, and we encourage this approach where it is possible. However, we recognise that providing meals and food parcels is not a practicable option for all schools. That is why on 31 March we launched a national voucher scheme as an alternative option, with costs covered by the Department for Education.

Through the national voucher scheme, schools and families could initially access e-gift cards for Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. On Monday 27 April, we added Aldi to this list and on Wednesday 29 April, we added McColl’s. We recognise that it may not be convenient or possible for some families to visit one of these supermarkets and we have been working with a range of retailers to see if they can be added to this list. This would involve them having the right infrastructure to deliver e-gift cards across all their stores.

If schools wish to provide vouchers through a supermarket that is not part of our national scheme, they can make their own voucher arrangements locally. Our guidance for schools sets out that they can be reimbursed for costs incurred where the national voucher scheme is not suitable for their families, and this can include alternative voucher arrangements with supermarkets that are not part of the national voucher scheme.

In terms of the financial arrangements with our supplier, Edenred, we can confirm that we are only paying for the face value of goods delivered – in this case, vouchers.

Voucher codes are being processed through the national scheme and many thousands of families are redeeming them. As of Friday 22 May, Edenred reported that more than £101.5 million worth of voucher codes have been redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families. As of Tuesday 12 May, Edenred reported that 17,000 schools had placed an order. We have been working closely with Edenred to improve the scheme, and we thank schools using the system for their patience while it has been upgraded to meet increased demand.