Derry MLA raises concerns over delay of Free School Meal and Uniform Grant

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has written to the Education Authority and the Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen to raise concerns around the Free School Meal and Uniform Grant provision for vulnerable families.

Mr Durkan said the continued delay in issuing payments is placing families, already identified as in need prior to the cost of living crisis, in debt. Minister McIlveen confirmed that 1,766 successful applications remain unpaid however, the total number of impacted applications including those awaiting approval is likely to be much higher.

The Foyle MLA said: “Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve been contacted by many parents concerned that both the uniform grant and free school meals were yet to be paid.

“I submitted an urgent question to the Education Minister who has advised that the remaining payments will be made from the beginning of this week. However, this only applies to approved applications, there is likely to be significantly more applications which are yet to be processed. The Education Authority has advised they endeavour to make payments within four weeks of approval date but sadly, this will come too late for many low-income households who have been forced to foot the bill with children returning to school over a week ago.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

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“In recent months, talk has been focused on the huge costs associated with uniforms and the fact that the amount afforded under the NI uniform grant is up to £100 less per child than elsewhere across the UK. The fact that thousands of families are still waiting for this grant to be paid when children have already returned to school, is simply not good enough.

“Importantly, these families have already been identified as vulnerable prior to the cost of living crisis and they aren’t even getting the basic level of support. Many will be anxiously awaiting this money and the delay in this payment will push families into debt and over the poverty line.

“It is my understanding that under current EA policy Free School Meal Payments cannot be backdated. Given the precarious financial outlook and acute need within our communities, I’ve asked for clarification from EA as to whether this policy will apply to applications which are yet to be approved due to the backlog in the system.

“This money provides an important lifeline to families and for many it will be the difference between being comfortably able to feed their child and having to endure stress and cutbacks elsewhere to make sure that their children can eat. The SDLP will continue to push for an increase in these grants and for wider support for everyone during this crisis.”