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Further plea for families to check free school meal entitlement

Further plea for families to check free school meal entitlement
22 July 2021

As we pass the half-way mark of the school summer holidays, we want to remind families to check whether or not they may be entitled to free school meals and the associated benefits this could bring.

More families than ever before in Orkney are benefiting from free school meals and the linked school clothing allowance – however, OIC is urging anyone who may still be missing out to check to see whether or not they are eligible.

The Scottish Government and Council Leaders have agreed to increase the clothing grant to £150 for an eligible secondary student and £120 for an eligible primary school pupil.

Over the past academic year, the OIC has paid nearly 270 free school meal and clothing grants- with around 170 and 100 pupils benefiting in primary and secondary schools respectively.

So far around 40 additional families have come forward and discovered they are entitled – this means many more children benefiting.

These are families who are also now entitled to benefit from free school meal financial support over the summer holidays – a single payment of £90 being made to cover the entire holiday period for each eligible child/young person.

Council Leader Councillor James Stockan said: “We simply do not want anyone missing out on benefits to which they are entitled. We are trying to make the application process as easy as possible for families and we have staff on standby to help if necessary.”

The Council’s 2021/2022 applications for both allowances now open and can be applied for via the Council website's School Benefit page.

For anyone who is unable to access the online application form they can call 01856 873535 and a paper copy form will be posted to them. Anyone having difficulty filling out the forms should contact the Council Offices and ask for Heather Manson or Natalie Olsen on 01856 873535 extension 2416 or 2450.

Applications require to be made every year.

Councillor Stockan added: “There is an historic sense of ‘under claiming’ – and it is a sensitive issue. We fear that some families don’t want to be seen to be in the ‘free meals’ category. However, it is an ‘entitlement’ and nobody should be embarrassed or worried about accessing it as it is an entirely confidential process and the entitlement of universal free school meals is being further rolled out to all P1-5 pupils over the coming months. This is going some way to help reduce any perceived stigma attached.

“We would also urge families to apply as it also has a knock-on beneficial effect for school budgets. For schools, some of the direct funding (Pupil Equity Fund) is determined by free meal numbers, so in effect schools’ budgets are in effect ‘harmed’ by low numbers of uptake.

“At the heart of this are families who are entitled, and we want to ensure you can access those benefits. We have had families apply not sure at all that they would be eligible only to discover they were and have received not only free school meals and the clothing allowance but £200 per child in cash payments as a result of special Covid-related grants at winter and spring. By applying now, it may open up further pandemic support grants to them.”

Pupils are eligible if their families receive any of the following benefits or support:

  • Income Support.
  • Income-based Job Seekers’ Allowance.
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Universal Credit where the monthly earned income does not exceed £625.
  • Child Tax Credit only – income must be under £16,190.
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit – income must be under £7,500.
  • Support under Part VI of Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Notes - Children attending nursery for full days and children in P1-P3 are automatically entitled to receive free school meals – a further 230 or so P4 pupils will now also be entitled to have free school meals from August 2021.

P5 pupils (a further 210 or so in Orkney) will also be entitled to free school meals from January 2022 and there has been a Scottish Government commitment to roll out universal free school meals to all primary pupils, including P6 and P7 by August 2022.

Further information is available here on the Council website's School Meals and Clothing Allowances page.

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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Orkney Islands Council: BOREAS DOMUS MARE AMICUS