Din­ner money debt ‘will ease with new on­line pay sys­tem’

£135k OWED TO COUNTY SCHOOLS IS BE­ING TACK­LED

Caernarfon Herald - - NEWS - Gareth Wyn Wil­liams

ABBC Wales re­port, pub­lished last month, found that par­ents in Gwynedd owed £85,589 in un­paid school meal debts at the end of last year - cost­ing the au­thor­ity much needed rev­enue dur­ing a time of sub­stan­tial fund­ing cuts and dou­ble the amount shown in any other coun­cil.

But ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures, the prob­lem in Gwynedd is even worse with the pub­li­cised fig­ure of £85,539 re­flect­ing only the amount out­stand­ing on the schools’ own books, with an­other £51,231.74 hav­ing been trans­ferred to the au­thor­ity to solve.

As a re­sult, over the past five years, a to­tal of £136,821.21 was still owed to Gwynedd Coun­cil as of March 2018.

Of the pub­lished au­thor­i­ties, this com­pares to £46,164.55 in Powys £46,731.27 in Den­bighshire, £38,190.46 in Ceredi­gion and £26,192.20 in Wrex­ham.

Garem Jack­son, Gwynedd’s Head of Ed­u­ca­tion, told the Ed­u­ca­tion and Econ­omy Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee meet­ing: “It’s fair to note that we’re only dis­cussing pri­mary schools in this in­stance as there are sep­a­rate sys­tems in place.

“The debt sys­tem, his­tor­i­cally, was a pa­per sys­tem and we were largely de­pen­dent on school clerks and schools sent out let­ters. That has now changed with more amend­ments also in the pipe­line.

“At present, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of recog­nis­ing debt on a child’s ac­count is down to the school, who are ex­pected to send a let­ter out. If no rea­son nor pay­ment is re­ceived, a sec­ond let­ter is sent out no­ti­fy­ing that no meals will be avail­able for the pupil un­less the sit­u­a­tion is re­solved.

“But in the ma­jor­ity of cases the schools don’t en­force a pol­icy of re­fus­ing to feed a child, and I hope you’d all agree with this view­point.”

In March, only six of the county’s 87 schools showed no meal debts at all.

But ac­cord­ing to Gwynedd Coun­cil, the re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of an on­line pay­ment sys­tem means the process is far more con­ve­nient for fam­i­lies while also mak­ing it eas­ier for the au­thor­ity to re­ceive re­ports about spe­cific debts.

Coun­cil of­fi­cer, Bethan Grif­fiths added: “Thanks to im­proved mon­i­tor­ing, we want to see debts passed onto the au­thor­ity quicker so they don’t sit on the school’s books for a long pe­riod of time.

“Thanks to the new on­line sys­tem we have much bet­ter ac­cess to this in­for­ma­tion whereas be­fore it was de­pen­dant on the school pro­cess­ing the pa­per­work.

“We also want to look at a cen­tral sys­tem rather than schools col­lect­ing their own pay­ments. I un­der­stand it can be dif­fi­cult for some schools as they’re of­ten com­mu­ni­ties in them­selves and ev­ery­one knows one an­other.

“It can be dif­fi­cult ask­ing peo­ple for money so I can un­der­stand how hard it can be and per­haps we need to look at a more cen­tral sys­tem.”

Owen Owens, Se­nior Man­ager at the Ed­u­ca­tion Re­sources Ser­vice, con­cluded, “The scru­tiny re­port draws at­ten­tion to the fact that work is al­ready be­ing car­ried out to tighten ar­range­ments in terms of school din­ner debts.

“We urge schools to make us aware as soon as pos­si­ble so that we can try to deal with a prob­lem and when pos­si­ble of­fer help to fam­i­lies to re­pay be­fore sig­nif­i­cant debts are ac­crued.

“As the re­port notes, we would en­cour­age fam­i­lies find­ing it dif­fi­cult to pay for school din­ners to con­tact the Coun­cil as soon as pos­si­ble. It may be the child could be el­i­gi­ble for free school din­ners.” ● To dis­cuss any school din­ner debts, par­ents should con­tact the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment or call 01286 682689.

● Gwynedd Coun­cil Of­fices, Caernar­fon

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