Aberdeen council chiefs have revealed plans to recover £434,000 in school meal debts from parents in the city.
It comes as a new report exposed a loophole in Aberdeen City Council’s system which means it has not been telling some parents when primary school pupils spend more money at lunchtime than is available on their ‘Kidz’ meal payment cards.
The council’s system allows for debt to be discovered when children start secondary school, but the council has decided not to take parents to task – until now.
Members of the council’s audit, risk and scrutiny committee will meet next Wednesday to decide if the council should “establish a process for identifying and recovering debts arising from non-payment of school meals”.
Explaining the loophole, the report said: “When the system was set up schools were advised that, if the account went into debt, parents would automatically be advised through the balance alerts system.
“However, not all parents will receive these alerts, since parents can opt out of receiving them and have to re-register for the alerts if they change email address or mobile phone number.
“As a result, some of the debts owed to schools have become significant – £434,000.”
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The report added that secondary school pupils cannot spend more than is on their cards so new starters “would not able to use the card until the debt was cleared” but the council’s education service “made the decision to freeze debt related to Kidz Cards”.
The committee’s vice-convenor Ian Yuill said: “Clearly I would expect the council staff to seek to recover debt whatever that is for.
“Equally, it is important systems work properly to ensure debt doesn’t build up.”
Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden, of the Conservatives, said: “It is clear we can do better on this, but the key point is we would never allow a child – particularly a primary school child – to go unfed at school.
“We could never turn them away.
“This committee does some good work in scrutinising and looks to suggest potential savings for the council.”
SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said: “The council must ensure a pragmatic approach to the debt collection as I wouldn’t want us chasing parents for a few pounds, however this is a large sum of money.”