School Dinners: How to Deal with Increasing Parent Debt
There has been a sharp rise in unpaid school dinner fees across the UK in recent years. An increasing number of reports on the issue suggest that debt has leapt up by nearly 90% in the space of five years in some parts of the UK. This huge increase in a short space of time has led some schools to take drastic action. Complaints were made about the texts sent by this headteacher over school dinner parent debt. This school even threatened to stop serving school meals unless the outstanding debts were paid. Heading into 2020, it is clearly a growing problem which needs to be addressed in the education sector. Increasing school debt puts an unnecessary burden on both parents and school staff alike. If your school or club is feeling the strain of school dinner debt, then have a read of the list below and see if any of our suggestions can help you out.
1. Make sure all parents are fully aware of free school meal eligibility
In the UK, free school meals are available to children who are eligible. Eligibility varies across different regions, but according to the charity Citizens UK, 750,000 school children across the UK are entitled to free school meals. However, the charity continues by saying that 20% of these meals are not being used. It is very important that parents check if their child is eligible for free school meals. Checking free school meal eligibility will potentially help parents to avoid incurring unnecessary costs and eliminate the possibility of getting into debt over unpaid school meal fees. It may also ease debt by reducing the total amount of meals the parents of your school or club fund. While the free school meal scheme exists, checking for your children’s availability can be a tricky business. To help, we have written a blog designed to help you understand the process more clearly. Click here to access this blog.
2. Check that you are getting what you pay for
Citizens UK have also been tracking the disproportionate amount of money paid to catering companies supplying free school meals. It has been claimed that “pupils lose out on £65m of free school meals money”. This is because when pupils who receive free school meals “are off sick or have missed lunch due to sport commitments, or have not spent the full amount [of money], is retained by the school meal provider”. Schools and clubs across the UK are paying catering companies for meals which are not being eaten. There are easy to implement solutions to fix this issue. For example, Maura Regan, the chief executive of the Carmel Education Trust in Darlington explained that “all three schools in her trust had made a small change to their IT systems to ensure pupils on free school meals kept their unused allowance”. This simple IT solution means that free school meals are going further, rather than the cost being refreshed daily. It also gives school children more control over school meals which makes for an all-round better system.
3. Have a debt reconciliation scheme which makes sense and doesn’t make the news
It is becoming more common for schools to publish guidelines on debt reconciliation around unpaid school dinner fees. If you google ‘school dinner debt’ and look through the results, you’ll find no shortage of schools which have released policies around the issue. This sad reality is in direct response to the increasing amounts of debt which parents find themselves in. As I mentioned in the introduction of this bog, news reports detailing the dramatic lengths which school and club staff are going to in order to recoup this debt are unfortunately also on the rise. It is advisable that you put in a place a strict set of policies which try to limit the debt parents can get into and state clearly the steps which will be followed if they do. This is always going to be a more effective decision than sending out a frustrated text to parents or refusing to serve children meals, and will certainly avoid making the local news.
They say prevention is better than the cure, so our final piece of advice is to use magicbooking. Magicbooking has a debt-free design and provides clubs and schools with the power to either set debt limits or eliminate the possibility of debt altogether. It achieves this through flexible payment options, overdraft thresholds and the ability to offer credit (for further information about each of these features click here). The debt-free design and flexible payments offered by magicbooking means that any school using our software will avoid getting into any unnecessary debt.
Magicbooking also offers the efficiency of having a provided till which is integrated into the software. Having an integrated till avoids the clunky and often outdated 3rd party tills which other booking software rely on to take payments. In an increasingly instant and impatient online word, having a quick and easy-to-use till system could just be the difference to a payment being made or missed.
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