Co-op now offering free school meal support to local schools

As an alternative to the problematic government free school meal vouchers, the Co-op is offering a gift card scheme for areas like Swanage.

With the government free school meal voucher scheme beset with problems, the Co-op is offering an alternative gift card scheme, especially for areas where the Co-op is the only or main supermarket, like Swanage.

With schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government is providing schools in England with an allowance of £15 a week per pupil to fund free school meals for eligible pupils.

Trouble downloading vouchers

Many schools have signed up to the national voucher scheme, run by software provider Edenred, which allows parents to download vouchers redeemable at supermarkets. Across the country, parents have had trouble downloading the vouchers.

However, even if they can download the vouchers, Swanage’s large stores, Co-op and Budgens aren’t on the list of supermarkets where the vouchers can be redeemed. This has left parents in Swanage, whose schools have signed up to the voucher scheme, having to travel to their nearest store, Sainsburys in Wareham.

Extremely difficult for vulnerable people

This isn’t ideal when people are being asked to reduce their travelling. The vouchers are unable to be successfully redeemed online, due to technical problems. This also makes it extremely difficult for vulnerable people who are staying at home and shielding from coronavirus.

Now the Co-op has announced it will be providing support to schools through a gift card scheme, after ensuring that the government will guarantee to reimburse schools. Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has said:

“…if schools are serving a community where the only store is a Co-operative, they have the ability and will be fully reimbursed and fully refunded in order to be able to procure vouchers from that Co-operative”

Co-op sign
Co-op

Gift cards can be remotely topped up

This new announcement will mean schools can now order gift cards directly from the convenience retailer for use in any of its stores and they can then be remotely topped up, so parents can continuously keep the one gift card.

This top up can be done on any day the schools choose and the value and frequency are controlled by the school. Tops up can be done several weeks in advance if required.

A spokesperson from Co-op said:

“At a time when people are being encouraged to stay at home, minimise transport, especially public transport and stay local, Co-op can often be the nearest, and many times, the only local food store for families. Establishing this parallel scheme and providing access to gift cards which can be redeemed at the convenience store, will allow many more children to continue to benefit.”

Michael Fletcher, Chief Commercial Officer, Co-op, said:

“Our store colleagues have rolled their sleeves up to feed the nation and we think it’s important that vulnerable children who are eligible for free school meals don’t go hungry. We are delighted to be able to help and support the schools and children in the communities we serve.”

Schools seeking to join the scheme should contact giftvouchers@coop.co.uk

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