Press Release – 27.01.2016
Ann Coffey MP has called for a change in the law to make sure that up to 200,000 children who miss out on free school meals are automatically registered.
Ms Coffey is supporting a Private Members Bill by Frank Field MP, which would compel locally authorities to automatically register all children who are eligible by cross referencing with housing benefit data.
The Department of Education estimated in 2013 that around 200,000 children aged 4 to 15 ‘appear to be entitled’ but are not claiming free school meals.
The Bill would provide local authorities with the duties and powers required to identify and automatically register all children eligible and provide an opt-out where the family wishes.
The number of children signed up for free school meals is tied to how much Pupil Premium money is given to each school and so as well as providing children with a hot meal it can lead to a cash windfall bonus for schools.
Ms Coffey praised Stockport Council for the efforts it has already made to sign up more local children, which has already led to an increase of £500,000 in Pupil Premium cash for Stockport schools.
Based on the October 2015 school census, there were a total of 5,063 pupils attending Stockport schools who were entitled to and who claimed for free school meals. This figure includes pupils in nursery, primary, secondary, special school, Academies and Pupil Referral Units and represents 12.6 per cent of the total school roll as at October 2015.
Stockport Council has made a big push to sign up all those eligible and each year for the past three years the benefits team have compared the Housing Benefit records against the free school meals records. They asked for a letter to be returned if parents did not want their child to be registered for free school meals and in 2014 no one returned the letter and so the Pupil Premium was increased by over £500,000.
There are other children who are entitled to school meals and who have not been identified such as children who live in a household where the parents’ income makes them eligible for free school meals, but where the home owner is not claiming Housing Benefit. In these cases the local council relies on schools to help identify families. Eligibility rules for free school meals apply if parents are receiving other benefits including Jobseekers Allowance and universal credit.
Ms Coffey said: “It is important that all those children who are entitled to a free school meal get one. It is a shame that so many individual children and their schools are losing out.
“I want all those children to get a hot meal and in addition for our local schools to have the added bonus of being given more Pupil Premium money to spend on our children’s education and wellbeing locally. Automatic registration is a win, win situation for pupils and schools.”
Complaints about the mis-selling of bank accounts, which charge a monthly fee and offer a package of extras such as mobile phone and travel insurance, are up in Stockport, according to the Financial Services Ombudsman.
The highest number of financial complaints in Stockport still come from people concerned about Payment Protection Insurance but these are tailing off and worries about so-called ‘Packaged bank accounts’ have leapt into second place.
Most of the complaints about packaged bank accounts come from people who felt they were mis-sold the accounts because they were not told that there was another option of opening a free bank account without any monthly charges.
Figures from the Financial Services Ombudsman nationally for the last financial year 2014/15 revealed that there were 21,348 complaints about packaged bank accounts – which was a massive 278 per cent increase on 2013/14 when there were only 5,667.
In Stockport during the last financial year 2014/15, 796 people living in Stockport contacted the Financial Ombudsman helpline about all types of financial cases and this led to 469 complaints being taken up and investigated.
The top five most complained about products last year from people living in Stockport were PPI, packaged bank accounts, current accounts, house mortgages and credit card accounts.
The year before packaged bank accounts were not in Stockport’s top five.
However, in Stockport as in other parts of the UK, there has been an increase in the number of complaints about other financial products – particularly banking and credit related products.
Packaged bank accounts are current accounts that come with a “package” of extra features – from mobile phone and travel insurance, to better rates on overdrafts and loans. They might be called things like “reward”, “premium” or “gold” accounts – and there’s usually a monthly fee.
Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, said: “The Financial Ombudsman offers a free service set up by law with the power to sort out problems between consumers and financial business.
“It is important that people in Stockport know where to go if they are faced with financial problems.
“In most areas of the UK there has been an increase in the number of complaints about banking and credit related products. So this is an area we must be vigilant about. It is important that people are given accurate information so that they can make informed decisions about managing their finances.”
PRESS RELEASE FROM ANN COFFEY MP
Higher numbers of vulnerable Stockport young people could be made homeless and many families on modest incomes will face big rent increases because of the Government’s pernicious new Housing Bill, Ann Coffey MP warned today.
Ms Coffey said cuts in Housing Benefit for single people under 35 years would particularly hit care leavers because they often do not have the alternative of moving in with supportive family and friends if rents become too extortionate.
She also warned that plans to increase rents for those families earning above £30,000 per household under a new “Pay to Stay’ scheme could be a disincentive to work.
Speaking during the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill she said capping housing benefit for single people under 35 to the Shared Accommodation Rate would make it even more difficult for young people to buy a home.
She said: “Around 1,800 of Stockport Homes’ current tenants are under 35 and are receiving some level of Housing Benefit. The changes would mean that both the social housing and private rented sectors would become increasingly unaffordable and young people will be at increased risk of homelessness at a time when homeless acceptances have risen nationally by 36 per cent since 2009 and 15 per cent in Stockport over the last year.”
Ms Coffey argued that because care leavers are often vulnerable people with complex needs that can last a lifetime, they should be excluded from the shared Accommodation Housing benefit cap beyond the age of 22, the current proposed exemption age.
The Housing Bill proposes “Pay to Stay” market rents for people earning a combined household income of £30,000. Ms Coffey said that because the cost of private renting varies greatly from area to area the Pay to Stay market rents should take account of the average income of couples and private sector rents in each area so that there are no disincentives to work.
Ms Coffey said: “The £30,000 threshold is too low. A couple, both working full time at the average Stockport wage of £19,083 would have to pay a significantly higher rent than their neighbours. The rents in private rented properties in Stockport are twice those of the Stockport Homes average rent of £74.60 a week.”
“So clearly moving to the private sector would not be an option but also paying a higher rent may also be unaffordable. Therefore one way out would be to earn less money to ensure they do not meet the threshold by cutting the hours they work or even leaving a job altogether.
“Clearly it cannot be right that this would have the impact of being a disincentive for people to work the maximum amount of hours that they could. This is counter to everything the government espouses.”
She said the Bill would lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, which will intensify the spiral of ever higher housing costs.