CONCERNS have been raised that poor children are missing out on free school meals because the DWP won’t let the council access benefit data.

The UK Government department holds details of parents on benefits whose children would be entitled to dinners.

South Ayrshire officials want to get the information so they can automatically enrol pupils for food at school.

It is understood the DWP won’t allow the necessary council staff to see it because of data protection rules, with the local authority relying on parents to fill in forms every year.

But a number of struggling families are unable to do so with the number of registrations for free school meals going down.

SNP Councillor William Grant raised the issue at the council’s leadership panel heard last week (April 23).

Depute chief executive Douglas Hutchison said the council could use the information to automatically sign kids up for free school meals to avoid forms. He said it would increase the number of meals handed out.

He added: “In the absence of an agreement with DWP we need to do everything we can to help schools support families to enrol for free school meals.”

Depute leader Councillor Brian McGinley said more support is needed because of high levels of deprivation. Council leader Douglas Campbell asked whether staff could fill in the forms.

The DWP are reviewing the matter with the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee.

In Scotland people must provide proof they claim benefits when applying for free school meals with the local authority.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for the UK government.

We recognise that some families need more support and continue to work closely with our partners to look at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.

DWP is happy to discuss the Local Authority’s concerns.”