Question from: County Councillor Matthew Dorrance Subject: School Dinner Debt
School dinner debt in Powys is spiralling. Figures I have seen shows that families in Powys have more than £88,000 of school dinner debt.
I understand schools have been advised that they will be made to pay from their existing budgets and children should be refused food until the debt is cleared.
Will the Cabinet:
1. explain how it failed to properly manage the system; and
2. reconsider its punitive approach and work with families to find an alternative that ensures children can still access a school dinner?
Response by the Portfolio Holder:
1. With the introduction of the cashless system in schools from March 2016, parents can use the ParentPay online payment provider or make cash/cheque payments via Pay Point facilities in local shops. Parents are sent reminders via email or letter if their account balances go into debt. Parents have also been sent user guides from within the ParentPay system to set up their own automated alerts, which will automatically send them an email or text message when their child's balance reaches a minimal threshold.
Parents with debt balances are sent weekly reminders with the debt balance and available methods to pay. There is also a contact number on the reminder to call, if they believe their child is entitled to school meals.
Schools have not been advised that the school meal debt will come from their budgets. The catering and cleaning manager pointed out in a recent meeting with the primary heads that this is the procedure other local authorities have taken. This has been misinterpreted by some cluster heads.
2. We understand that this is not the child's fault, and that parents must take responsibility for paying for their children's school meals. The service is drafting a new school meals debt policy, parents with any debt will be advised to provide a packed lunch for their child until the debt is cleared, this will be monitored at school site level and by the canteen staff. If the child does not bring a packed lunch into school, then the head teacher will need to make the decision to feed the child or contact the parent.
Unfortunately, there are many parents with the ability to pay but do not. With the introduction of the cashless system we lost the face to face contact at schools with parents. Some parents are unfortunately taking advantage of this because they are just ignoring the email/letter reminders they are sent.