News Coronavirus Food Alert

Enfield Council’s Free School Meals Vouchers

With the majority of children not attending school during the Covid-19 crisis, the London borough of Enfield is solving the dilemma of how to provide free school meals by using an alternative voucher system.

When schools closed across the UK to the majority of children in March, it left schools and local authorities with great uncertainty around how to provide free school meals to children. Some schools adjusted their catering operations to provide a delivery service, in Northern Ireland they provided cash payments to a parent or carers bank account, while others in England used the Government’s Edenred voucher system.

Enfield council took a different approach. Three days before the Government voucher system was announced, Enfield started offering schools the option of vouchers through Paypoint – a cash-based system which enables parents and caregivers to receive funds through their phones.

Once their mobile number has been registered with Paypoint, parents and caregivers receive a discreet text message. This simply alerts them to the cash payment and issues a barcode or QR code. It does not disclose how much money is being issued or what it is for. The parent or caregiver scans the code at a Paypoint terminal and receives cash instantly. The whole process can take as little as 30 minutes.

Enfield’s vouchers are the same value as the Government’s system in England (£15 per week per child). Enfield schools are paying the council the cost of the vouchers and then claiming the funds back from the Department of Education following the recommendations in the Government’s Financial guidelines to schools.

The local authority has encouraged schools to identify children who are in need of free school meals regardless of whether they were previously registered, empowering them to extend the provision beyond the Government’s guidelines, to ensure all families in need of support get it.

Although not all schools have taken up the offer, the system has been working well without delays or problems – particularly relative to the well-publicised issues with the English Government’s voucher scheme. This may explain why Enfield is seeing some schools switch from the Government system to Enfield’s Paypoint version.

Instead of being restricted to a few big supermarkets, the cash-based system has enabled families to buy food in any shop or markets that might be more familiar to the family or may sell culturally appropriate foods. This in turn, takes the pressure away from families queuing at a few big shops in the local area, which has enabled more effective social distancing, and has also better supported the local economy.

For the families themselves, the confidentiality and discreet nature of the service addresses the shame and stigma which can often prevent intended recipients from making use of services like this. In addition, Paypoint is a familiar system to many because it is used for council services in the London borough.

Published Monday 8 June 2020

Coronavirus Food Alert: Sustain's work on food resilience in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.We are helping secure food for vulnerable people and supporting local emergency responses.

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