To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the length of time it has taken for the national voucher scheme to issue and deliver vouchers to schools and families; and what plans they have to (1) speed up the process for families, and (2) reduce the administration required from schools.
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.
Where this is not possible, we have introduced a national voucher scheme to provide headteachers with additional flexibility to decide what is best for families at their schools. More information about the national voucher scheme is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools.
We are working very closely with our supplier, Edenred, to improve the performance of the national voucher scheme. We are very grateful to families and schools for their understanding and patience whilst we upgrade this service to meet increased demand. Edenred have written to schools using the system to encourage them to order vouchers in bulk as this is more efficient for both the system and the school, enabling orders to be processed more quickly.
Edenred has reported that over £101.5 million worth of voucher codes have been redeemed into supermarket eGift cards by schools and families through the scheme as of 22 May and that 17,000 schools had placed orders for the scheme as of 12 May. Schools will continue to receive their core funding allocations as normal. However, if schools are unable to use the national voucher scheme and choose an alternative approach, they can be reimbursed through the exceptional costs fund, where the costs cannot be met from their existing resources. Further details are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-schools.
These are rapidly developing circumstances. We will continue to keep the situation under review and to keep Parliament updated accordingly.