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West Berkshire Council to provide for Free School Meals over Easter Holiday period

Free school meals image

Issued on: 11 March 2021

  • Council to use additional COVID Winter Grant Scheme DWP funding to pay for Free School Meals for eligible students during Easter school holiday
  • COVID Winter Grant Scheme application deadline for residents is 15 March 2021

West Berkshire Council has made arrangements to provide Free School Meal (FSM) vouchers to all eligible children during the Easter school holiday period (1 - 16 April 2021). The voucher scheme is being funded primarily through the £96,955 recently allocated to West Berkshire from the extended COVID winter grant allowance provided by the government's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The Council is topping up this allocation with an additional £12,415 to cover the full expected cost of implementation.

Details on how the vouchers will be implemented are being issued to schools and early year settings. Children in school not currently receiving Free School Meals but considered by the school as vulnerable will be included. Consideration will also be given to children aged between 16 and 18 years, and children in cross border education settings.

The FSM voucher provision over Easter is a special extension to the Council's COVID Winter Grant Scheme running between 1 December 2020 and 31 March 2021 to support residents in Covid-19 related hardship.  The scheme went live with a funding pot of £532k derived from a combination of government Covid grant allocations, which the Council subsequently topped up with additional Covid funding [1] due to the high level of demand.

The Scheme provided 7,660 FSM vouchers for the Christmas 2020 and February 2021 half term school holidays, and has so far supported more than 1,750 people with help to pay for food, utility bills, and essential supplies. The deadline for applications for financial support through the Scheme is 15 March 2021.

Councillor Lynne Doherty, Leader of West Berkshire Council, said: "I am pleased that over the Easter holidays we are able to continue support for free school meals for children most in need.

"We welcomed the Covid-related grants from the government for use towards the Easter Free School meals as well as for the initial COVID Winter Grant Scheme. We have also contributed to these schemes with extra funds from our overall Covid funding pot from the Government to make sure that no one was left out.

"While the rest of our government-funded COVID Winter Grant Scheme is ending 31 March - with the application deadline of 15 March - we will continue to do everything we can to support people in our district through this pandemic."

To identify those most in need for the COVID Winter Grant Scheme, the Council worked closely with professionals, statutory partners, Parish Councils, Citizens Advice West Berkshire, Newbury Resource Centre and other community and voluntary groups. DWP Job Centre Plus has also been playing an active role to support those newly in financial hardship, such as through a recent job loss.

The application form asks for information about the financial support required and for information about any benefits applicants are being paid. The application will not be means tested. Non-receipt of benefits will not necessarily exclude a family or individual from receiving support, and any exceptions will be dealt with on a case by case basis. 

Any individuals who may need support with the online application process, including those without internet access, are welcome to contact the Community Support Hub on tel: 01635 503579 or by email: westberksbct@westberks.gov.uk. The Community Support Hub is open during office hours between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Thursday, or between 8.30am and 4.30pm on Friday.

Arrangements are in place to identify and manage any incidences of fraudulent activity. 

 


[1] The local West Berkshire scheme went live on 1 December 2020 with a funding pot comprising of the £279k DWP CWGS funding, plus a £103k DEFRA Emergency Assistance Grant and £150k of overall Covid funding, giving a total value of £532k. At the beginning of 2021, West Berkshire Council contributed an additional £65k of Covid funding to the local COVID Winter Grant Scheme.