a tray with food on and bottle of water
Credit: Envato Elements

Story by Twm Owen, local democracy reporter

TORFAEN Council collected £8,000 owed for unpaid primary school dinners in six months but is now writing off debt amounting to more than £10,000. 

The Welsh Government’s policy of providing universal free school meals to all primary pupils has, Torfaen Borough Council said, made “historic debt collection a more challenging task, particularly with the smaller amounts of debt such those below £10.” 

As a result it has agreed to write off £10,349 which is spread across 917 primary school pupil accounts with most, 487, having balances of under £4.99 and a further 272 accounts owing between £5 and £20. 

There are 118 accounts of pupils whose parents have failed to pay amounts between £20.01 and £49.99 while there are 40 with balances over £50. 

That has seen 21 families referred to the Torfaen debtors department as their debts were above the £150 threshold for collection via debtors. Of these two have paid their debt in full but the council has said further pursuit of debt is not feasible due to additional costs. 

As all primary school pupils are now entitled to a free school dinner, with rollout of the policy completed in Torfaen last September, there is no potential for further debt to be amassed. 

A decision report by the council’s catering and cleaning manager Tracey James said the Internal Debtors Team advised it has followed the recovery process as far as possible, but as debt levels are under a certain thresholds, further pursuit of debt is not feasible due to additional costs that would be incurred. 

In October the level of debt stood at £18,461 and the council continued to follow its debt recovery process over the past six months reducing that to £10,349. 

As part of its efforts to recover the money the council contacted schools and parents during September 2023, issued debt letters to parents and carers and made referrals to its Internal Debtors Team. 

The £10,349 figure will be covered using a bad debt provision in the existing catering service budget.