Dozens sign up for free meals

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MORE than 100 families that were missing out on free school meals have put their names down after a council appeal.

It comes after research by Hartlepool Borough Council revealed that 600 families are missing out on a free lunch at school which their parents may not realise they are entitled to.

The council launched a campaign to ensure children receive their entitlement while the local authority will also receive a financial boost if the number of youngsters missing out drops.

Schools are handed a grant of £430 for each child that is given a free school meal and the figures meant that the local authority was missing out on up to £258,000.

Staff have been trying to contact potential claimants by either phone or letter in recent weeks to inform them they could be missing out.

So far 105 families have put their names down for free school meals.

Labour Councillor Jonathan Brash, the portfolio holder for performance, said the local authority is committed to promoting the take-up of a range of benefits, including free school meals.

Coun Brash said: “Council officers and schools are working tirelessly to maximise uptake of free school meals and I am delighted to see more and more families getting the support to which they are entitled.

“I would urge all parents who think their child might be eligible for a free school meal to get in touch with the council as signing up to this scheme not only helps families but also allows schools to bring in additional funding to support their pupils.”

The campaign is part of the council’s ongoing drive to tackle child poverty.

The number of missing claimants came to light after the council’s housing and council tax benefits team became responsible for the administration of free school meals earlier this year.

Free school meals can only be awarded if a “formal” application is received from a parent or guardian, though personal information already held within the benefits system that was supplied for a separate purpose cannot be used in any claim.

To try and make the process of applying for free school meals easier, the council has teamed up with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) so when people make new claims for welfare benefits, information required for a free school meals application will be collected by the DWP and passed directly to the council.

Anyone wishing to check whether they may have a free school meals entitlement can contact the council’s benefits team on (01429) 284188.