During this period, we are asking schools to support pupils who are eligible for 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 children who are eligible for free school meals, 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.
We are monitoring the use of the scheme on a daily basis. Voucher codes are being processed and many thousands of families are already redeeming them. As of Monday 27 April, Edenred reported that over £29 million worth of voucher codes has been redeemed into supermarket eGift cards by schools and families through the scheme.
Once an eCode has been ordered, it will be sent within four days. Edenred is keeping schools informed of the status of orders once they have been placed. Schools can choose to ‘bulk order’ eCodes for regular distribution, for example on a weekly basis, in which case the eCode will be sent on or before the date specified. The eCodes must then be redeemed to create an eGift card, which will be received within 24 hours.
We continue to work closely with our supplier and with schools to increase the speed at which orders can be processed. We thank schools using the system for their patience while it is upgraded to meet demand.
While we encourage schools to use the national voucher scheme, they are best placed to determine what is appropriate locally. Schools providing meals themselves or using their own voucher schemes can be reimbursed for any additional costs, with further details available in the published guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-schools.
These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.