Failing to claim meals costs schools £3.15m

Meals like this can be worth �900 to a school
Meals like this can be worth �900 to a school
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Suffolk schools missed out on at least£3.15 million last year because parents did not claim free school meals.

Schools can claim a £900 per child ‘Pupil Premium’ for all claiming free school meals (FSM) but Department for Education (DfE)figures released in December show that in January 2013, 3,500 in Suffolk had not claimed meals they were entitled to.

But changes by Suffolk County Council have drastically reduced the number of unclaimed meals. In 2012, 32 per cent of those entitled to FSM in Suffolk did not claim them, which was among the highest in the country.

But according to the DfE figures, that was down to 23 per cent last year. A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said on Monday that the unclaimed figure was now 13 per cent, which is five per cent below the regional average, though still two per cent above national.

Though the DfE says a national drop in unclaimed meals is due to a reduction in the number s entitled to them, the drop in Suffolk is far greater than lower entitlement would create.

The spokeswoman said: “The big thing for us was the application process. Parents said it wasn’t up to scratch so we made it more discrete for the pupil and the parent.

“It’s a more streamlined process and that has led to an improvement.”

To claim FSM a pupil’s household has to claim income support, income-based Jobseekers’ or Employment and Support allowance, Child Tax Credit, support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act or the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit. Though that is set nationally, the method of applying is down to individual education authorities across the country.

The DfE figures show That at the end of 2012, 15,300 pupils in Suffolk were entitled to FSM but by January 2013 only 11,800 had claimed. In Norfolk, of 18,100 entitled, 15,800 claimed, leaving only 13 per cent unregistered.

For the whole East of England, 128,800 were entitled to meals of which 105,200 claimed, leaving 18 per cent unregistered.

However, several authorities managed to get everyone who was entitled to free meals registered for them. Tower Hamlets had 16,000 entitled to meals at the end of 2012 and had 16,500 registered the following January.

Suffolk’s spokeswoman said: “We’re looking at how other people are doing it. It’s getting rid of that stigmatisation if you claim school meals.

“A lot of people don’t realise that with the Pupil Premium you’re helping your child’s education twice over.”