Written evidence submitted by Lidl (COV0159)
I am getting in touch to bring to your attention the major barriers Lidl has faced in trying to deliver the Free School Meal Vouchers scheme, which has unfortunately meant that so far hundreds of thousands of Lidl customers have missed out on being able to spend their vouchers in our stores.
Since the launch of the scheme, my teams have been working tirelessly to find a way for Lidl to be involved. Unfortunately, the e-gift card mechanism initially rolled out is not compatible with our systems and, having explored possible solutions extensively, implementing this system in Lidl stores would take months.
Lidl has been in close conversation with the Department for Education and their external provider Edenred, to explore ways we could support the scheme, yet only after several weeks were we informed that it could be possible for us to operate a physical voucher mechanism, which would be compatible with Lidl’s systems. We immediately acted on this and submitted a proposal on Monday 27th April detailing how a physical voucher could be delivered by the Lidl team. Disappointingly, we were then subsequently informed by Edenred that the Department for Education are no longer considering suppliers such as Lidl, that cannot offer an e-gift card solution.
We continued to urge the Government to review this decision and to extend the scheme into the summer holidays and we welcomed the news this week of the extension. Marcus Rashford’s incredibly moving story is unfortunately familiar for many Lidl customers across the country. Many of them are from vulnerable households and choose to shop at Lidl as the most affordable way to feed their families.
The decision by the Government and Edenred to not onboard suppliers that cannot offer an e-gift card solution has so far denied hundreds of thousands of Lidl customers from being able to spend their vouchers in our stores, forcing them to go elsewhere - and in many cases pay more - to access the scheme. In their latest correspondence the Government set out that the decision to exclude Lidl has been taken to allow all parties involved in the scheme to focus on service performance. Measuring the performance of this scheme in any way other than by how it enables access to as many households as possible, seems counterintuitive to the entire purpose of the scheme.
My team have pulled out all the stops to get to this point and are ready to start delivering the scheme immediately, to the extent that we have 480,000 vouchers ready to go to the printers.
We continue to urge the Government to re-consider onboarding suppliers with paper voucher solutions or work with us to find an alternative that can work for all parties as soon as possible. I would welcome any support you can provide in urging the Government to change its position.
It would be extremely disappointing if Lidl continues to be left out for the duration of the school summer holidays, and disastrous for the thousands of households that would miss out as a result, and would be forced to spend more by having to travel further, or shop somewhere less affordable.
Lidl will continue to do all we can to find a solution, in the meantime, if you have any questions about Lidl, or our proposal for delivering Free School Meal Vouchers, please do not hesitate to get in touch.