High school pupils whose parents have not credited their lunch payment cards will no longer be able to eat during the school day.
The “zero-tolerance” approach came into effect this week in a bid to combat rising debts on the cashless accounts.
Powys County Council (PCC) has likened this to the previous cash payment system, whereby children could not buy lunch if their parents had not given them the money.
But some parents have criticised the move, saying refusing a child food if their parent has forgotten to top up their card – or because of a delay in the account being credited – could be detrimental to their health and education.
Cllr Phyl Davies, Cabinet Member for Catering and Cleaning, said: “The ‘cashless’ payment system for school meals operates in all Powys secondary schools.
“This electronic payment system offers a convenient method for parents and carers to pay for school meals.
“The take-up of free school meals in secondary schools has increased since it was introduced while queuing time for pupils at the canteen tills has reduced.
“However, we are concerned about the level of debt that is accumulating on this system.
“Although parents and carers are sent regular notifications through the system when their child’s balance goes into arrears, these notifications do not appear to be effective in parents and carers clearing their arrears.
“We have decided to introduce a zero tolerance for debt on the cashless system in all secondary schools. This came into effect on Monday, January 8. This will mean that pupils will not be able to buy food or drinks unless there is a credit balance on their account.”
When schools announced the change on social media, many parents left comments outlining their concerns and urging the council to reverse the decision.
One said: “I think they should reconsider. I understand their reasoning in not letting accounts get into debt, but surely it would be acceptable to allow £2 as this would enable a child to eat that day and parents could top up that evening once told.
“Refusing a child food through no fault of their own is not the answer.”
Another added: “For some children with medical conditions this could have serious consequences, as we all know being busy parents you can from time to time forget to top up.”
Responding to these comments, a PCC spokesperson told the County Times last week: “Complaining about something on Facebook is different to making a formal complaint to the council.”
The council has not indicated there are any plans to backtrack on the new policy, and has told parents it is their responsibility to ensure their child does not go hungry.
Cllr Davies said: “Before the cashless system was introduced, if pupils didn’t have any cash in high schools then they could not purchase anything from the canteen. There should be no difference with the cashless system.
“All parents who had a negative balance for the child’s account were emailed or written to before the end of last term asking them to bring their accounts into credit before pupils were due back to school this week.
“It is the responsibility of the parent and carers to ensure that they have sufficient credit on their child’s account so that they are able to buy food or drinks at school.”