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The Mirror can disclose fundamental weaknesses in the transfer from paper coupons to Mastercard that could affect almost 300,000 families.

In response to the rising cost of living, the Department of Health has extended its £4.25 weekly food voucher initiative for another year.

This replaces the paper voucher system with a digital bank card, allowing parents to receive payments immediately and save money at the end of each week.

However, The Mirror has heard from scores of parents who have had their claims denied due to flaws in the new claims process.

Parents have complained that their cards have been declined in supermarkets, that their applications have been rejected, and that they have been unable to contact anyone at the Department’s 55p per minute phone centre.

The deadline to move from paper to the card was yesterday (March 10).
Georgia King, 24, gets Healthy Start vouchers to assist pay for her son’s necessities.

A new card, registered and activated by the Department of Health, replaced her old paper vouchers in October last year.

She told The Mirror it didn’t work in the supermarket.

Ms King, who has dyslexia and dyscalculia, has subsequently had trouble reaching the Department.

Toria Hodgkiss emailed the government on her behalf, but her card still doesn’t work.

“I now have Georgia and a grandson. My 11-year-old daughter lost her father last year. I’m doing my best for Georgia.

Even though she works 15 hours a week and receives Universal Credit, expenditures are expensive and we’re doing our best to keep up.

It’s a useless scheme with generic automated responses that add to the irritation of a system that doesn’t operate.

Kerry Baker, a twin mother, has been attempting to apply for weeks. She’s missed the deadline but is still looking for a resolution.

When her kids were born, the 35-year-old single mother quit her career as a plumber. She now gets two £4.25 paper vouchers per week.

The Department’s customer care department has been unable to contact Ms Baker for weeks.

Essential Food Vouchers

“The concerns range from not being able to switch vouchers to needing to reapply.” So what? People are turned away because they already have paper vouchers,” she told The Mirror.

“You can’t close your present claim and reopen it with the new card scheme.”

“The phone lines, which are meant to remain available 24/7, are also unanswered.

“My rent has already gone up by £300, so it will be even harder next month.

“As a single mother of twins, I cannot breastfeed. I need these vouchers to buy specific formula.”

Sarah Cushing, 24, a stay-at-home parent, got £8.50 per week for her two kids. She claims UC.
“I got a mail-in December saying it was going to card from paper and I had to reapply,” she added.

“I reapplied as soon as I got the letter, but was told my application was failed.

The third time, the same result. Inquiring about my entitlement, the Department said I should have no issues. They asked for verification of my benefits and income and claimed they would update their databases.

“But it failed. No answer when I contacted them again.

It helped that the paper coupons were still valid for this month, but it increased my anxiety and made me wonder what I would do.

According to a new Sustain research, 338,656 pregnant or childless households eligible for Healthy Start vouchers for fruit, veg and milk have not yet signed up for digital cards, which will replace paper vouchers on March 31.

It was due on March 10th.

Some public health teams have stopped promoting it to families because of concerns about digitalization.

According to Sustain, over £63.5 million in coupons went unclaimed last year due to lack of awareness.

Several organisations, led by Sustain and The Food Foundation, have written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid this week pushing him to prolong the paper vouchers until the digital programme is repaired.

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Sustain activist Sofia Parente said: “Every year millions of pounds of Healthy Start vouchers go unclaimed.

“We applauded the digitalization of the service, which should make it more accessible and decrease stigma. But the reverse happened.

“Eligible families are being turned away, and hotline calls go unanswered. Until the digital programme works, the government must extend the paper vouchers.

Zoe McIntyre of Children’s Right2Food said: “Digitalising Healthy Start may bring many benefits, but it must be done correctly, and with a clear understanding of those it targets.

“Many groups, companies, and individuals – including Marcus Rashford – have worked tirelessly to increase the uptake of this Government scheme to help low-income young families afford a balanced food.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear how many families the digital switchover has hampered rather than assisted. In this difficult time of growing food and living costs, the government must act immediately.”

The study also found that in 2021, 54% of vouchers were used in England.

It has not responded.