RAAC schools wait (and wait) for refunds from DfE

Schools left waiting weeks for hefty RAAC reimbursements - despite government promise of monthly refunds

Schools left waiting weeks for hefty RAAC reimbursements - despite government promise of monthly refunds

18 Dec 2023, 5:00

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Leaders of schools affected by RAAC are facing long waits to be reimbursed hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on mitigations.

Trusts and councils were told earlier this year that the government would cover both capital and “reasonable” revenue costs incurred after they had to vacate buildings affected by the crumbly concrete.

Baroness Barran, the academies minister, told MPs earlier this year that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) “normally” paid revenue claims “on a monthly basis, but if responsible bodies have cash-flow problems, we can do it faster”.

But schools that scrambled to put plans in place after the emergency announcement to shut some buildings in August have reported delays and uncertainty in how their claims are processed.

Schools wait weeks for RAAC reimbursements

Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust in the north east has so far spent more than £860,000 in attempts to ease disruption after the material was found in three of its academies.

The trust has received £55,000 back, relating to expenses in September, but has received nothing since.

Kingsdown special school in Southend, Essex, waited about eight weeks to receive £53,000 due from the Department for Education, prompting a complaint by its MP.

And in Yorkshire, Coast and Vale Learning Trust chiefs said they have been left in the dark by officials about how to claw back much of the £950,000 shelled out this term.

‘Tortuous process’ to claw back cash

Nick Hurn, Bishop Wilkinson’s chief executive, said: “When the DfE needs a response, we’re asked to reply immediately. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the same way when the DfE is asked to respond.

Nick Hurn

“The problem with us is, because of the size of the amount, it has to get ministerial approval, which has slowed everything up. I understand that, but it’s a tortuous process.”

The trust spent more than £200,000 on transport, £190,000 on IT costs and about £130,000 on VAT for one of its schools to rent out space at a nearby college.

Government guidance for trusts and councils said the DfE would “provide funding for all mitigation works that are capital funded”. Caseworkers would provide “the relevant form to complete”.

Special school ‘one of most complex RAAC cases’

It also said that “all reasonable requests” for additional help with costs – which include “transport … or temporarily renting a local hall or office” – were expected to be approved.

But the advice said responsible bodies should discuss this with their caseworker and the ESFA “in the first instance to agree any further support needed”.

During an education committee hearing last week Anna Firth, the MP for Southend West, asked education secretary Gillian Keegan to ensure the claims process “is light touch”.

Keegan stressed each case “involves its own complexities” and that Kingsdown “is probably one of our most complex”.

Trust’s bill rises to £950k

Louise Robinson, Kingsdown’s headteacher, confirmed the school received the £53,000 last month, about eight weeks after it put in the claim. It has also received a further £100,000 from its academy trust in case future claims are delayed.

About two-thirds of Scalby School in Scarborough are now off-limits because of RAAC. Coast and Vale, which runs the secondary, has spent about £950,000 on capital and revenue costs since September, according to Michael McCluskie, its director of education.

“We’ve been assured that we’d have somewhere in the region of £23,000 coming back to us. Other schools have obviously been able to claim back some money, but at the moment we’ve not had any clarity over what that mechanism is.

“Our DfE partners tell us to keep a running tally of the costs and eventually we’ll get something back.”

DfE promises to ‘spend what it takes’

Schools Week last month reported Sheffield City Council’s concerns that it could be financially penalised for putting “children’s safety first” and repairing the roof at Abbey Lane primary before the government committed to reimbursing costs.

The work began two months before ministers committed to fund refurbishment and rebuilding projects.

However, three other schools approached by Schools Week said they had not experienced any issues with reimbursements.

And Tony Ball, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education, whose authority area has more RAAC schools than any other, said the council, academy trusts and the DfE were “working well together to respond to the extent of the RAAC issues affecting Essex schools”.

A DfE spokesperson said it would “spend whatever it takes to keep children safe in school”.

“We have provided additional revenue funding to date to Bishop Wilkinson … and are considering further reimbursement requests. We are processing reimbursement requests to Kingsdown School and Coast and Vale Learning Trust as quickly as possible.”

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