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Education / School meal debt usually settled quickly, SIC says

NEARLY £20,000 of “school meal debt” has been accrued in Shetland, according to new figures.

Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services director Helen Budge said in response that most outstanding payments tend to be “settled promptly” and that advice is given to any families who may be eligible for free meals.

The figures stem from a freedom of information request from the Scottish Greens, which shows that there is more than £1 million of school meal debt in the country.

Shetland Islands Council’s total came to £19,537, with more than £13,000 of that relating to primary schools.

Budge confirmed there are no restrictions on school meals for pupils who may be in debt.

At the moment older primary school children and secondary pupils in Scotland pay for their lunches, unless they are eligible for free meals due to their family’s income.

The Scottish Greens – who want to see universal free school meals expanded to secondaries – have called for the debts to be written off.

Budge said: “There is always some level of debt for school meals, and the majority of outstanding payments are settled promptly.

“We soon become aware of any remaining debt through our payment systems and we offer advice to any parents or carers who may be eligible to claim free school meals for any children in their families.

“We don’t place restrictions on the provision of school meals to any pupil who may be in debt.”

The Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Most councils will rightly ensure every pupil has a meal at lunchtime, even if they don’t have the money to cover it, but these figures make it clear that debts are being chased from families who simply can’t pay.

“With the cost of living crisis putting huge pressure on family finances, this is the right time to write off all outstanding school meal debt.”