Can School Meal Debt be Recovered?

Can School Meal Debt be Recovered?

Ross Grier, the Scottish Green Member of the Scottish Parliament has called on the Scottish Government to cancel what is believed to be over £1 million in unpaid school meal debt.

The revelation that the amount of unpaid school meal bills now owing to Scottish Local Authorities is in excess of £1,168,755 will surprise many.

However, the amount owning is expected to be even more as debts owing to:

  • Glasgow City Council;
  • Edinburgh City Council;
  • Midlothian Council;
  • Falkirk Council;
  • West Dunbartonshire Coucil;
  • Renfrewshire Council; and
  • Clackmannanshire Council

are not in included in that figure.

However, of those that responded to the Freedom of information requests, Aberdeen City Council is owed £434,545, whilst North Ayrshire Council is owed £168,854.

Other Local Authorities that are owed money are Aberdeenshire Council that is owed £98,985; Fife Council that is owed £55,455; and Dundee City Council that is owed £20,650

Speaking on publication of the figures, Ross Greer said:

“Children are going hungry in Scotland and we know that means-tested free school meals miss out far too many families who need them”.

“This frankly astonishing mountain of school meal debt should be written off immediately”.

However, Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden has hit back at Mr Greer, stating:

“It is complete hypocrisy by the Scottish Greens to be calling on local authorities to write off money and take it from other front-line services”

“The Greens constantly prop up the SNP Government to allow them to pass a budget that continues to make Aberdeen one of the lowest funded councils in Scotland”

“We will continue to try and recover outstanding amounts owed while protecting the most vulnerable in society”.

Who is Liable for School Meal Debt?

Questions must be asked, however, against whom can the debt be recovered?

The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 does allow Scottish local authorities to provide children with school meals, but such provisions are only legally required where children are in Primary 1-3 or in receipt of certain income-based benefits.

The Act does say they “may” provide School meals to other children under S53 (3) (b), but interestingly it also states where the local authority chooses to do so, they can only charge the pupil.

(3) The authority may provide or secure the provision of—

(a) other food or drink to pupils falling within subsection (7),

(b) food or drink to other pupils.

(4) Where the authority provides or secures the provision of food or drink under subsection (3)(a) or (b) to pupils, it may—

(a) do so free of charge, or

(b) charge the pupils.

Being realistic, therefore, as parents cannot legally be charged for the school meals and, no Scottish Local Authority operates restrictions of school meals, where there is a debt, the question must be asked how recoverable is the debt, if it can only be recovered from pupils, who have no income?

Free school meals are available to children in Primary 1, 2 and 3 in Scotland, regardless of parental income.

Children are also entitled to free school meals where their parent or guardian is in receipt of

  • Universal Credit (where their monthly earned income is not more than £610)
  • Income Support
  • income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance
  • income-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Children are also entitled to free school lunches if their parent or guardian receive:

  • Child Tax Credit, but not Working Tax Credit, and their income is less than £16,105
  • both Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and have an income of up to £6,900

For more information on Free School Meals visit the Scottish Government Webpage on eligibility.