How Sheffield council’s free school meals voucher system works – and the code to look out for

This week Sheffield City Council has launched a voucher system to provide food for the families of children on the free school meal scheme during the school holidays.

Thursday, 29th October 2020, 8:03 am

The decision comes in the wake of the central Government voting down a motion to continue to provide free school meals during the holidays, as families are faced with particular economic hardshipo due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore expressed disappointment at the move by the Government, and vowed to support families in need in Sheffield using local government money.

Now Sheffield’s Director for Education Andrew Jones has explained how the system will work, and what it will cost the city.

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A child collects packed lunch bags - PA

"There are 22,700 children in Sheffield who are eligble for free school meals,” Mr Jones said.

"During the half term holiday we have decided to use a voucher system. The parents of every eligible child is receiving a letter and in that letter there will be a code which will allow them to redeem a voucher worth £15, which can be used in any supermarket.

"We chose to give parents this flexibility as if we gave out supermarket-specific vouchers we would have to check with every parent which one they were able to get to and preferred.

Andrew Jones, Director of Education and Skills at Sheffield City Council

"We chose to do it like this as it is the most efficient way, however it is still a huge logistical task. We feel that given the scale of the operation it has been working well, and we have received a lot of thanks from parents for deciding to do this.”

Other parents and schools have criticised the council for not delivering the scheme fast enough, claiming half term will be over before the letters are sent out.

The council confirmed that the vouchers would be valid for the week after as well, so parents would still be able to claim £15 worth of free food per voucher.

With 22,700 children in the city eligible for the scheme, and one £15 voucher being given for each, Mr Jones explained that the October half term scheme was costing the council more than a third of a million pounds.

And, unless the central Government agrees to provide free school meals during future holidays, Sheffield City Council plans to help out families in need in the future.

"Once this scheme has finished we will be thinking about future school holidays if the Government does not shift its position in terms of providing for children in need,” Mr Jones said.

"We will be thinking about the Christmas holidays, the February half term and the Easter holidays, and about continuing to do this until things are back to normal.”

When the Government announced last week that it would not be supporting Free School Meals during the half term, Sheffield council and all of the city’s Labour MPs expressed their disagreement with the decision.

Mr Jones added: “Fundamentally the council’s position is that the the Government should have stepped up to do this.

"The Government talks about the additional funding it has already provided to councils, but this has to cover a lot of other things.

"We think providing for these children is the right thing to do, and we are already thinking about how we will continue to do it during future holidays if we need to.”

Parents with children eligible for free school meals will be receiving their codes for the vouchers in the post if they have not already.

Anybody with concerns about this can contact a special helpline on 0114 273 4567.