300 signed up in free school meals campaign

A CAMPAIGN to make sure children who qualify for free school meals receive their entitlement has been a success.

About 300 extra children have signed up for free dinners since Hartlepool Borough Council launched an awareness-raising drive in July.

The campaign, prompted by concerns that up to 600 children could be missing out, is part of the council’s efforts to tackle child poverty.

Councillor Jonathan Brash, the council’s portfolio holder for performance, said: “The local authority has to ensure that people in most need get the support they are entitled.  

“Free school meals play a fundamental role in supporting the less well-off families.

“They also have important implications for the town’s schools and colleges, as the Government pays an additional pupil premium of £430 to a school for every free school meal awarded.

“A new means-tested 16 to 19-year-old bursary scheme has also replaced the abolished education maintenance allowance.

“Money is paid to young people who go on to either college or training after they leave school.

“But the amount of money given to colleges and training providers to fund the scheme depends upon the number of young people entitled to and claiming free school meals in Year 11.”

The council’s housing and council tax benefits service became responsible for the administration of free school meals earlier this year and is spearheading the promotional campaign.

That has seen the council form a partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) so people making new claims for welfare benefits at Jobcentre Plus can also make their claim for free school meals.

The claim will then be forwarded by the DWP to the council to be processed.

Applications for free school meals can be made by telephoning (01429) 284188.