Council calls off Bailiffs chasing Unpaid School dinner fees

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councils calls off bailiffs from collecting school dinner debts

A local authority exposed by the Sunday Mail for using debt collectors to chase school meal arrears has ditched the policy.

Scottish Renfrewshire Council had last year enlisted Sheriff Officers to chase hard up families over unpaid canteen bills. Officials initially denied the story before confirming it – but they have now abolished the practice after holding a review.

A revised process with an emphasis on “pastoral support and helping families experiencing financial insecurity” has been introduced in its place.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “This is a very welcome step in the right direction. Lets hope no parent in any part of Scotland will ever find themselves being chased by debt collectors because they are struggling financially to feed their children.

“It was completely unacceptable for Renfrewshire to have allowed a debt collection agency to have anything to do with school meal debts. The wider problem though is that up and down the country there are children going to school hungry every day which is having a hugely detrimental impact on their education and life chances.

“Teachers and trade unions have been making clear for years now that this is a real and unacceptable problem impacting thousands of young people. What we need is for the Scottish Government to step up and commit to universal free school meals for all children at all stages of their school lives.”

Renfrewshire revealed it would be overhauling its processes for dealing with school meal debt after a review was held in the wake of our story.

The council’s director of finance and resources Alastair MacArthur has now told a committee meeting the process had been “reshaped” in an effort to “remove stigma” wherever possible and proactively link families to the support they need.

Changes will include more supportive reminder letters and putting “advice and support at the heart of the overall approach”.

At the meeting earlier this month he went on to make clear that external debt collection services, which were paused during a review, would not be used to recover school meal debt.

After the meeting Labour councillor Graeme Clark said: “Cosla has very good guidelines which we’ve now adopted and that’s important because obviously we’re dealing with families in vulnerable situations.”

More than £48,000 of school meal debt has already been written off by the council and a further £14,000 is due to be cancelled. Our revelations debt collectors were being used sparked fury from anti-poverty campaigners and MSPs.

The Sunday Mail has been campaigning for the Scottish Government to urgently introduce universal free school meals in the face of mounting evidence of a poverty epidemic in classrooms.

The scandal at Renfrewshire Council was unearthed in response to a Freedom of Information request, which named Glasgow-based Sheriff Officer firm Walker Love as the company uses.

Sheriff Officers are officers of the court in Scotland who are employed by private firms, self employed and take instructions to enforce court orders. They have the power to evict people, make them pay a debt, seize property and even detain members of a household.

It is unclear what enforcement action had been taken in relation to school meal debts.

 

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