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Children in England who would normally receive free school meals will be given a £15 weekly supermarket voucher while schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The scheme, announced by the government, will see vouchers, provided by a third party, be redeemable in most major UK supermarkets.
The voucher payments amount to £3 per day for each child, an increase of 70p on what schools are paid to provide free meals.
How do the vouchers work?
About 1.3 million in children in England are entitled to free school meals and, until now, schools have been making their own arrangements.
While schools will be able to continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, where this is not possible the voucher system will ensure children do not lose out.
Schools will be able to order the voucher codes online from Tuesday, with parents then receiving the voucher through their child’s school.
These can then be redeemed online via a code which can be shown on a phone, or sent to their house as a gift card and used at supermarkets including Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer across the country.
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Alternatively, for those families which do not have internet access, the school can claim them on their behalf and send out paper copies in the post.
Schools will emailed on Tuesday by Edenred, which has been chosen to run the scheme.
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.
The Department for Education has also published new guidance on free school meals to help schools and parents prepare.
How do I know if my child is eligible?
You can use the government website to check if your child is eligible for free school meals and, therefore, the temporary replacement voucher scheme.
Any child already receiving free school meals will still qualify under the new scheme.
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.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I recognise that the unprecedented action this Government is taking to protect the country from coronavirus, including closing schools, is dramatically affecting the lives of many families.
“I want to thank schools for the support they are continuing to provide to families during such uncertain times.
“No child should go hungry as a result of the measures introduced to keep people at home, protect the NHS and save lives. That’s why we are launching this scheme to make sure children who usually benefit from free school meals still have access to healthy and nutritious meals while they are not attending school.”
What about the rest of the UK?
In Scotland, the government has pledged that all children eligible for free school meals will still receive them through their local authorities.
The Welsh government is developing a national voucher scheme for children eligible for free school meals, but until the end of Easter schools have been told to keep feeding children.
In Northern Ireland, the government is introducing direct payments to families into bank accounts for those whose children normally get free school meals, there is no need to apply.