COVID-19 Free School Meals
COVID-19 Free School Meals
The government has published guidance on free school meals:
This guidance explains what schools should do to make sure eligible pupils have continued access to free school meals where the pupil is not attending school.
Schools should provide meals for all children in school, and meals should be available free of charge where pupils meet the free school meal (FSM) eligibility criteria. To ensure food is available for pupils who attend, educational settings are expected to reopen their kitchens and ensure that meals are able to be prepared and served safely.
We are also continuing to ask schools to work with their food providers to offer meals or food parcels for benefits-related free school meal pupils not in school. Now that schools are opening more widely, school catering teams will be better placed to do this. The provision of food vouchers for those eligible under the benefits criteria will also continue to be available where needed. Information on supporting those in FE with free meals is in the FE operational guidance.
The DfE have provided a new Edenred phone number for schools who experiencing problems with the DfE’s national voucher scheme - 0333 400 5932
Edenred appear to be advising people to only visit outside of peak hours if they are experiencing difficulties with the website
Government additional funding for Free School Meals
In the guidance School funding: exceptional costs associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) for the period March to July 2020 - GOV.UK the government have outlined that following as an area in which that schools may face additional costs, as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak:
Support for free school meals (FSM) for eligible children who are not attending school, where those costs are not covered by the FSM national voucher scheme - this covers:
- costs to schools arising before the introduction of the national voucher scheme
- 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)
Ordering the vouchers
You will be able to access the voucher scheme using the Edenred portal. Edenred will send schools an activation email, explaining how to access the portal and order vouchers. The email will be sent on Tuesday 31 March to the email address DfE holds for your school. If you have not received the email by Thursday 2 April, please check your ‘junk’ folder and both office@ and headteacher@ inboxes.
Once you have activated your account on the Edenred portal, you can begin to create vouchers. Edenred will provide schools with a step-by-step guide to ordering vouchers through their online portal.
Firstly, you will need to confirm the value of the voucher(s). You will be able to:
- order a single voucher to the value of £15 each week for every child eligible for benefits-related free school meals who is not attending school
- set a weekly £15 rolling voucher
- combine funding where a family has more than one child eligible for benefits-related free school meals
Once you have confirmed the voucher’s value, you can either:
- send an ‘eCode’ directly to the parent or carers of the pupils(s) eligible for free school meals - they will need to choose an eGift card from a range of supermarkets
- select an eGift card on the parent or carer’s behalf, and print and post the eGift card to them or arrange a secure collection
The approach you can take will depend on parents and carers’ ability to access the internet.
Sending eCodes to families
You can send a redemption eCode from the Edenred system directly to the parent or carers of the pupil(s) eligible for free school meals. They will receive instructions on how to use this eCode to create an eGift card, which the family should receive within 3 hours. You should only consider this approach if the family receiving the support has a working email account which they can access.
You can choose a supermarket on the family’s behalf and send the eGift card to the parent or carer. The family will be able to redeem the eGift card as soon as it arrives. You should take this approach if the family receiving the voucher does not have access to an email address or the internet.
If you choose this option, you should think carefully about:
- which shops and supermarkets are most convenient for families to access; we encourage you to engage families in this decision where possible
- how to share vouchers with families in a safe and easy way - this may include posting the voucher or arranging for a secure collection
Through Edenred, you can currently access eGift cards for the following supermarkets:
- Company Shop Group
- Iceland, including The Food Warehouse Stores
How do we access the Summer Food Fund – providing free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays?
New government guidance for schools and local authorities on the Summer Food Fund - providing vouchers to support pupils eligible for free school meals over the summer holiday period during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Please see the guidance for all the details and how to access the vouchers and remember that:
- through the Covid Summer Food Fund, schools can support eligible pupils with a £90 voucher to cover the 6-week holiday period.
- you must ensure that you do not order vouchers through the free school meals national voucher scheme for holiday weeks that are covered by the Covid Summer Food Fund
How do our families redeem the vouchers?
Once families have received their voucher, they will be able to redeem them in-store at the selected retailer by either:
- presenting the voucher on a smartphone or tablet
- presenting a paper copy of the voucher
Families are free to select the most appropriate food and drink for their child. When selecting products, we encourage families to consider health and nutrition. The School Food Standards may act as a useful guide for families.
The vouchers should not be redeemed for any age-restricted items, such as alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets.
One of our families is self-isolating, can they use the vouchers online?
We have checked the Edenred website and it does not appear that the vouchers can be used online at this time. They advise the following, should parents/carers not be able to get to the supermarket:
You can forward the supermarket eGift card to someone else to purchase goods on your behalf if you’re not able to get to the supermarket. The eGift card email contains a link to a barcode which can be presented at the till in-store, just like a gift card.
Our parents have requested that we provide them with a voucher, even though our existing catering provider is still providing meals.
Do I have to use our existing provision or can we use the voucher scheme where parents would prefer this?
We asked the DfE, and their guidance is:
‘We want schools to think carefully about sticking with existing suppliers and not putting them in jeopardy. That said, it is up to the school to make the decision, taking into account parental view and whether there are sensible reasons as to why the parent wants a voucher rather than a packed lunch. Clearly parents picking up a packed lunch can be a good way of ensuring parents keep in touch for safeguarding purposes, although that has to be balanced against the unnecessary travel/social distancing rules’.
Should I continue to pay my catering provider?
The government has provided this guidance:
We advise that you speak to your catering provider(s) about your arrangements in response to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Cabinet Office has published Procurement Policy Note 02/20 with guidance for public bodies on payment of suppliers that are at risk. Some suppliers may face risks in terms of their financial viability, ability to retain staff, and their supply chains. Public sector contracting authorities must act now to ensure that suppliers that are at risk are in a position to resume normal contract delivery once the outbreak is over.
In line with Procurement Policy Note 02/20, contracting authorities should inform suppliers who they believe are at risk that they will continue to be paid as normal (even if service delivery is disrupted or temporarily suspended) until at least the end of June. The government will continue to provide schools with their expected funding, including funding to cover free school meals and universal infant free school meals, throughout this period of closure.
You should, therefore, continue to make payments to food suppliers that are considered at risk in relation to the cost of free school meals and universal infant free school meals. This does not apply to the costs of meals usually purchased by parents for children who are not eligible for free school meals. Such payment to suppliers should be made on the basis of the previous 3 months’ invoices, and only where suppliers agree to act on an open book basis and make cost data available to the contracting authority.
The government is determined to support businesses that are affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) and has announced a package of measures to support businesses.
Eligiblility for the FSM vouchers
All schools will have a list of all pupils eligible for benefits-related FSM. Use this as your list for the pupils who will need vouchers, if this is how you are planning to deliver the meals.
Parent’s circumstances could change rapidly during this period and they may become eligible for free school meals. Schools should follow their usual process for checking eligibility.
Can we claim back the additional costs for the provision of FSM?
Under the national voucher scheme, schools will be able to order vouchers and the payments will be met centrally by DfE.
The government understands that other approaches, such as purchasing term time vouchers for shops currently not included in the national scheme, may mean that schools incur additional expenses.
They will provide further guidance shortly on how they will compensate schools who incur these additional costs in providing free school meals or vouchers to pupils affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).
Will pupils who become newly eligible for free school meals be supported?
Yes. Schools should continue to accept free school meal applications. Parents should make contact with the school or local authority, who will verify eligibility and award free school meals.
Pupils who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)
The government have confirmed that, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, they are temporarily extending free school meal eligibility to include some children of groups who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
These groups are:
- children of Zambrano carers
- children of families with no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
- children of families receiving support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who are also subject to a no recourse to public funds restriction
These groups are also subject to a maximum household earnings threshold of £7,400 per annum.
Please find the link to the guidance here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups
Monitoring Voucher Orders
Providing free school meals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak states -We are monitoring voucher orders at school level to broadly check if they are ordering in line with our estimates of the number of eligible children, recognising that for some schools this will be lower if they are providing food parcels, or using a local arrangement. If a school’s orders are higher than expected, we may speak to the school about why this has occurred and will take forward any necessary action to rectify the position. A cross check will also be done for those making a claim for free school meals funding via the financial support available for schools
Infants that receive a free meal under universal infant free school meals
The government has stated that there is no requirement to continue to provide universal infant free school meals to pupils in reception, year 1, or year 2 who are unable to attend school. Children in those year groups who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals will be supported
Children who are attending school
In the maintaining educational provision guidance, the government asks schools to continue to provide care for a limited number of children, including those who are vulnerable and children whose parents are critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response and cannot be safely cared for at home.
Where schools are open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, schools should continue to provide meals for pupils in attendance. Meals should be free of charge for pupils who would normally receive free school meals, and schools have discretion as to whether they charge other pupils.
Free meals for further education students
The government guidance Coronavirus (COVID-19): Free School Meals Guidance states that they expect further education institutions to continue to provide support for free meal students where their existing funding and delivery arrangement allow for this.
Further information is available in the 16 to 19 free meals in further education guidance.
Supporting children who usually attend a breakfast club
The government is working to consider options to support children who currently receive a free breakfast through DfE’s contract with Family Action and Magic Breakfast. Family Action with Magic Breakfast will liaise directly with the schools involved in the programme.
Families that do not have access to the internet
Schools are best placed to decide how to support eligible families in their areas with access to free school meals.
Where schools want to provide supermarket eGift cards to families that do not have access to emails, the school may choose to:
- print and post the eGift cards to families
- arrange for families to collect their vouchers
Should children on free school meals still receive a meal or food voucher when schools close?
Yes. Headteachers can decide which of the available options will be best for families in their area. Schools can provide food on site, arrange deliveries or order a voucher to be given to the family.
More information on support for pupils eligible for free school meals is available.
Our meal provider is really struggling already so who can provide a meal? Can they be cooked/ prepared on site by untrained staff?
Meals should not be cooked and distributed by unqualified staff.
There are food hygiene courses available online which are suitable and meet the legal requirements. These can be completed within 2 hours.
Below is a link for Food Safety and Hygiene which staff can complete online. This course ensures food is prepared and distributed to a high standard thereby meeting the requirements of the Food Safety Act 1990. The course recommended for school settings is the Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene for Catering.