Coronavirus: DfE confirms plans for £15-a-week free school meal vouchers

Six national supermarket chains have signed up to the government’s new national voucher scheme for free school meals.

However the government has confirmed that vouchers will not be available during the Easter holidays – despite many schools staying open.

The Department for Education has today confirmed plans, as revealed by Schools Week, to issue £15 weekly vouchers for each pupil entitled to means-tested free meals.

We reported last week that the DfE was upping the amount offered per meal from the £2.30 schools currently receive to £3, in recognition of the fact families will not make the same bulk savings as schools can.

Now the government has  finally revealed how the system will work, and that families will be able to spend the vouchers in Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.

School staff have been critical that some of the more affordable supermarkets, such as Aldi and Lidl, aren’t on the list. The DfE said it was “working to see if additional supermarkets can be added to this list”.

Under the scheme, schools can either continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, or sign up for the vouchers.

Schools will emailed today (March 31) by Edenred, which has been chosen to run the scheme.

Schools will then be able to order vouchers individually online and have a code sent via email to each family or arrange a bulk order of multiple codes and receive an Excel spreadsheet to help them organise sending on to a family.

They can also create an eGift card for a preferred supermarket to be posted to a family if parents cannot get online.

The total value of vouchers available per eligible child per week exceeds the rate paid to schools for free school meals, recognising that families will not be buying food in bulk and may therefore incur higher costs.

Vouchers are term-time only

However, the vouchers are available during term-time only, so families will not receive them for the two weeks of the Easter holidays.

Government guidance states schools can continue to provide meals during the holidays – but they will have to pay for it themselves.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said the scheme would be “some relief” to schools forced to make their own local arrangements in recent weeks.

“But let’s be under no illusions. This will be a tough situation for struggling families,” he added.

 Paul Whitman, leader of the NAHT union, said the new system “fills in one of the remaining gaps in the complex jigsaw puzzle of provision that has arisen from the COVID-19 crisis”.

“There may be some kinks to work out of the scheme, especially as it has been developed at pace, but at least there is some certainty available now.”

According to the government’s latest guidance, issued this morning, the costs of the vouchers will be met centrally by the DfE.

The DfE said it would provide further guidance “shortly” on how it will compensate schools that incur additional costs through “other approaches”.

Schools should continue to pay caterers

The guidance also states that schools should continue paying caterers “as normal” if they believe they are at risk, even if delivery is disrupted or suspended, until “at least the end of June”.

This is in keeping with guidance for all public bodies, issued earlier this month.

However, some caterers have already begun to lay off staff as a result of school closures. Kent Online has reported that Nourish Contract Catering has told a “significant number” of staff they will be laid off until at least the end of June.

The government has also confirmed that schools and local authorities “should continue to accept free school meal applications” from families that become eligible through change of income, or those who were eligible before but did not claim.

“Parents should make contact with the school or local authority, who will verify eligibility and award free school meals,” guidance states.

“No child should go hungry as a result of the measures introduced to keep people at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” said Gavin Williamson, the education secretary.

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    • Barbara

      Well my son goes to a independent specialist school in Southwark they where waiting to get confirmation from the DFE . Just only got an email to say we must hurry up and provide proof of benefit to the teacher so they can give each parent at total of £12.40 starting from the end of this week long joe long the schools been shut they should be backdating the voucher and why does the government say its £15 but the school only wants to pay out £12.40 divide that by 5 what does that work out a day as you cannot divide 12.40 into 5 days that’s not far

  1. Heather

    These are such a great idea and very gratefully received. Just such a shame that Aldi and Lidl are not being included in the scheme. For many of us on lower incomes these two are our main, affordable, supermarkets.

  2. We are still waiting for these vouchers we haven’t had one yet please sort this out cause I keep emailing the school and they are say they are waiting on you to send them

  3. Cheryl Duffy

    How come some ppl are on third voucher iv recieved one and as of yet no more if one school has issued three voucher shouldnt all schools have issued three its so unfair i had to chase up the first voucher through school

  4. Melanie

    The email stated that Asda would be included, the. When I logged on it was not on the list. M&S was!! Seriously! Not even Iceland where most parents shop!! Now I am unable to get a delivery from what’s available and supermarkets are not registering new customers online, well at least I know Ocado are not. Worrying times as a mum of 4

  5. Rodney Marshall

    How can i get these vouchers if the school is not picking there phone up. I have tried at least 10 times over the last 4 weeks to contact them without any luck and have received no communication at all from the school.

  6. Cherise

    I find this set up to be really unfair I have a 4 year old child that I have been informed that my daughter is not entitled to the voucher yet my daughter attends school full time and is entitled to free lunch when at school. I have been informed that she is not allowed the voucher due to me working however my daughter is not entitled to much so can not see why she can not get this. I am so fed up of people who choice to not work benefiting more than people working to provide a better life. As we stand we are all in the same boat so why do we not get any help this all comes at an additional cost to me also so where’s my help.

    I am not happy and am considering sitting back and benefiting from my own taxes for a change.

    Yet if I don’t feed her SS will be at my door talking about deglect.

  7. Latifa omidee


    The government has recently been giving out vouchers for children with free school meals to parents to be spent in supermarkets. Unfortunately I have not been receiving codes for these vouchers despite my son receiving free school dinners and could really use it at a time like this. I have contacted my son’s primary school said that they are not aware of this. Could I still be sent the vouchers? And please reply to me.
    Kind regards,