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Free School Meals & Covid-19 FAQ

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Answers to frequently asked questions about the impact of coronavirus on pupils eligible free school meals.

We understand that schools, children and parents are concerned about the impact of coronavirus on pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals (FSM). We encourage schools to work with their catering suppliers to see if they can continue to provide free school meals either for delivery or collection. 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.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

We know that the free school meal voucher system is delivering for thousands of schools. We continue to work closely with our supplier to resolve any outstanding technical issues quickly and we thank schools using the system for their patience while it is upgraded to meet increased demand.

We are providing additional funding to schools, on top of existing budgets, to cover unavoidable costs incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak that cannot be met from their existing resources – including free school meal costs which are not covered by the national voucher system.

National voucher scheme

When did the scheme start? We announced that we would launch a voucher scheme on 19 March and the system was in place by 31 March.

How does the national voucher scheme work? The scheme is an online service for schools, allowing them to place orders for supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers. These are worth £15 a week per child and families can receive codes by email to redeem themselves, or as a gift card by post to families without internet access.

Do you know how many pupils are benefiting from the scheme? Thousands of schools have already accessed the scheme, meaning voucher codes are being processed and many hundreds of thousands of families are already redeeming them. Where possible we have encouraged schools to work with their catering suppliers to see if they can continue to provide free school meals, either for collection or delivery as food parcels. The national voucher scheme is an alternative where that is not possible for some schools.

Is there data available on take-up? It would not give an accurate picture of the overall free school meals provision for us to release figures on the national voucher scheme in isolation, as this is just one of a number of ways in which schools are supporting eligible children.

Which supermarkets are included? Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s, Waitrose, Mc Colls and M&S are signed up to the scheme and we are working with a wide range of supermarkets to encourage them to join – this involves them having the right infrastructure to deliver gift cards. On Tuesday 21 April, supermarket Aldi confirmed it had signed up to the national voucher scheme and parents will be able to order Aldi vouchers from the week commencing 27 April.

Can schools choose which supermarkets they get vouchers for? Yes. Schools and parents can select the most convenient supermarket, from a choice of eight currently available. Where these eight supermarkets are not the most convenient or appropriate, schools can provide local solutions to make sure eligible children get a free meal – including buying vouchers for other shops that are more convenient for their families to visit, for which they will be reimbursed.

What can the vouchers be spent on? 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. There are a number of online resources available to support families in preparing healthy and nutritious food, including on the NHS Eat Well website.


Do all schools have the activation email now? Yes, every school has been sent an activation email to the email address held by the Department. They should check their junk file, and if they can’t find it they should email Otherwise schools can call Edenred’s helpline on 0333 400 5932 - a new phone number set up specifically for this scheme. Schools should also check the contact information the Department holds for them is up to date – all schools, colleges and special post-16 providers should keep this updated on the Getting Information About Schools (GIAS) system.

How long does it take to process code requests? Codes are usually sent within three working days. Edenred is keeping schools informed of the status of orders once they have been placed.

Some schools say that they are having issues with accessing vouchers via Edenred? We know that for a large number of schools, the system is working and their codes are being processed and distributed. We are aware of some outstanding technical issues and Edenred is working through this as quickly as possible with the Department’s support, keeping schools updated once orders are placed.

How do parents to redeem their code? Once they have received their codes parents can visit the redemption website to redeem their code. Edenred has put an online queuing system in place due to the very high demand on this part of the service.

How can schools contact Edenred? Schools can email or call Edenred’s helpline on 0333 400 5932 - a new phone number set up specifically for this scheme. This number is charged at the normal national rate of making a phone call charged by telephone providers, and is dedicated to queries about the free school meal vouchers.

Edenred has also shared advice with schools on how to best use their site, helping to make sure orders are processed in a timely manner and to avoid overloading the site at any one time. New orders can be made between 8am and 10pm. We thank schools for their patience while Edenred continue to expand the system.

Types of free school meal provision

What other options are available to schools who want to provide free school meals for eligible students? Where possible we have encouraged schools to work with their catering suppliers to see if they can continue to provide free school meals, either for collection or delivery as food parcels.

We understand that other approaches, such as providing food parcels or purchasing vouchers for shops currently not included in the national scheme, may mean that schools incur additional expenses. We will compensate schools who incur these additional costs.

What about children still attending school? If children are still going to school, then meals should be provided for those children that request one. Meals should be free for pupils who would normally receive free school meals.

Does this include the Easter holidays? Yes. We have extended financial support to children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are not attending school during the Easter holidays.

More information is available at  Coronavirus (COVID-19): free school meals guidance for schools.


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