PARENTS and guardians of children at Monmouthshire primary schools owe the council more than £8,000 from unpaid bills for in-school meals.

Across the county’s primary schools, the value of the debt totals £8,335 – ranging from £12 in one school to more than £1,000 at another.

Roger Hoggins, Monmouthshire’s head of operations, said that although the debt level was less than one per cent of gross income, the matter should not be ignored.

“The level of debt outstanding for primary school meals was £8,335 ranging from just over £1,000 in one school to £12 in another,” said Mr Hoggins, as calculated on May 8.

“The annual income generated by the primary school meal service is around £953,000 so the current debt level is less than one per cent of gross income.

“However, there is a matter of principle to be established about how the authority and schools intend to manage debt arising, in this case from school meals but in the future might also apply to breakfast club and possibly school events, albeit debt management in this instance will lie with each school.”

The council estimates that 50 per cent of parents and guardians pay for school meals and a letter is sent out once a debt worth the value of five meals is accrued on their account.

“Some headteachers have asked how an outstanding debt should be resolved and in particular should the child continue to receive a school meal when the parent/guardian has received advice that the debt exists and remains outstanding,” said Mr Hoggins.

“Whilst on the face of it the decision would appear to be withdrawal of service due to non-payment the issues for the welfare of the child must be taken into account.

“Withdrawal of service could result in the child receiving no food at lunchtime which is detrimental to the child’s welfare although the counter argument can be made that the parent/guardian is responsible for the child’s welfare and taking a school meal is discretionary.

“This obviously an emotive subject and the draft procedure described in the recommendation suggests a procedure that offers several steps to resolve the matter without detriment to the child.”

Monmouthshire’s children and young people select committee will review the report on Thursday, May 17