School dinner debt 'threatening' letters to cease in Denbighshire

School meals Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many authorities ask for payment in advance to ensure school meal debts do not occur

A council accused of a threatening approach to families with school meal payment debts is changing its policy.

It comes after a woman in Denbighshire faced being reported to social services if she did not clear a £13 debt or start providing lunch for her child.

Letters were also sent to parents saying pupils would not get a Christmas meal if payments were not up to date.

Denbighshire County Council says it now plans to ask parents to pay for all school meals in advance.

Families will also be encouraged to take up any entitlement to school meals, in the policy changes to be discussed by the authority's communities scrutiny committee on Thursday.

Denbigh councillor Rhys Thomas, who raised the issue of the warning letters, welcomed the move.

"It obviously is a weak policy that allows parents to be bullied by letters saying that they will be referred to children's services if they don't pay and provide their own food for their children's lunch", he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

"I hope that the scrutiny committee will approve a far less threatening way of getting back the arrears without making the teachers the bad guys."

Mr Thomas called for Denbighshire to follow the example of other councils and ask its finance department to pursue parents in arrears rather than make the schools do it.

He also asked if it was right for unrecovered school meal debts to be taken out of school budgets, which were being cut by 2%.

Richard Weigh, the council's chief finance officer, said: "It is clear that finance should not be the primary driver behind the change in policy, with a correct emphasis on safeguarding and fairness."

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