On April 1st LACA wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon Gavin Williamson MP and School Food Minister, Vicky Ford MP seeking clarification on the voucher scheme.
Below are the questions and answers.
Further guidance can also be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools
Questions from LACA to the secretary of State for Education on 1 April 2020
Q1. What guidance is provided on the voucher to the parent?
A FAQ document has been prepared for all parents receiving vouchers. This will either be emailed to parents with their code, or should be printed and posted with the physical voucher. A copy is available at: tinyurl.com/w5r9Q7k.
Q2. Can a parent insist on a voucher if a meal or equivalent is available?
It is up to the school to decide on the best provision for its parents and children.
Q3. Are academies and individual schools bound by public procurement regulations and the detail provided within the PPN?
All schools and local authorities should follow the Cabinet Office Procurement Policy Note 02/20, as flagged in our guidance.
Q4. Should schools be asked to issue funding, from budgets already received, for the provision of holiday meals?
It is for schools to decide locally how their arrangements for free school meals will operate. For the Easter holidays, we indicated that if there was a local arrangement to supply food that the school and the supplier intended to continue over this period then that could be agreed and managed locally and schools would be compensated for these costs up to the value of £15 per eligible pupil. We also indicated that schools would also be able to continue using the national voucher scheme during the Easter holidays.
Q5. Is the value and cost of the voucher scheme definitely new money (guidance suggests yes) with the DfE covering all costs at £15 per week for each registered FSM pupil?
Yes, the national scheme is being provided through additional money.
Q6. Is it the expectation that schools can simply subsume current devolved budgets for school catering (FSM via Pupil Premium and UIFSM Budgets) into general school budgets or the expectation that they should use it to support their school caterer (avoiding furlough and maintaining a service for key workers children, FSM/UIFSM on site or at home and school staff)?
Funding for schools to cover school meals is not ringfenced. We are asking schools to follow the Cabinet Office guidance Procurement Policy Note 02/20 in relation to payment of suppliers that are at risk. We advise that schools speak to their catering provider(s) to determine arrangements that follow this PPN.
Q7. The guidance indicates that the money can be rolled over, does this not contradict the idea of social distancing by encouraging multiple trips to the supermarket?
We are encouraging schools to provide weekly vouchers to eligible families so they have access to the support they need, when they need it. Parents can decide how frequently to use these vouchers. The government has provided advice on social distancing to individuals and schools. This also applies to those schools who provide meals or food parcels. The guidance is available at: tinyurl.com/uu6fhza.
Q8. What is the time limit on the scheme?
The purpose of the voucher scheme is to ensure children eligible for free school meals will continue to have access to hot food while schools shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak. It will be in place as necessary alongside other government measures.
Q9. Families of children currently taking UIFSM may well be eligible for FSM but haven’t registered because it’s “free”. How can these be captured and provided for within the voucher scheme?
We have always strongly encouraged the registration of these pupils for FSM, and we provide an eligibility checking service and model registration forms to make this as easy as possible for parents and schools. Schools receive additional funding where these pupils are registered, and take-up among eligible children is strong. Parents continue to be able to register for free school meals where they are eligible.
Q10. A number of schools have pre-empted the DfE scheme and delegated provision to another provider of vouchers. Can they back date a claim for expenditure? What is the position in the event that they have issued vouchers of a higher value? (or less?)
On 7 April, we published guidance setting out how we will compensate schools who incur these additional costs in providing free school meals or vouchers to pupils affected by coronavirus. This covers a) costs to schools arising before the introduction of the national voucher scheme; and b) costs where schools are providing free meals to children for whom the national voucher scheme is inappropriate (for example, because there are no participating supermarkets locally or schools are providing meals directly).
Q11. Many of the major supermarkets listed tend to be located in town centres or in out of town shopping centres. If people live in rural areas or outside of major town centres these supermarkets are not accessible without public transport. Furthermore, many of the recipients of these vouchers will not have cars. In this case, what should they do?
We recognise that it may not be convenient or possible for some families to visit one of these supermarkets, and we are working to see if additional supermarkets can be added to this list. Some of the vouchers can be used for online delivery. If families are unable to visit one of these supermarkets, we encourage schools to continue with a local solution to supporting pupils eligible for free school meals.