Councils should cancel the money owed for unpaid school meals, the Scottish Greens have said.

It comes after an investigation revealed children and families had accrued debts of more than £1 million.

This includes £141,528 to North Ayrshire Council, £114,690 to Aberdeen City Council, and £107,847 to South Lanarkshire Council.

Midlothian Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar failed to respond to Freedom of Information requests. Fife Council said it did not hold the details centrally.

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Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Children can’t get a good education if they’re hungry at school.

“Most councils will rightly ensure every pupil has a meal at lunchtime, even if they don’t have the money to cover it, but these figures make it clear that debts are being chased from families who simply can’t pay.

“With the cost of living crisis putting huge pressure on family finances, this is the right time to write off all outstanding school meal debt. Pursuing the debt is causing stress and embarrassment for pupils and their families, but I’ve also spoken to school staff who hate being put in the position of asking pupils for money they know the family does not have."

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He added: “I’m proud that, as a result of the cooperation agreement between the Greens and SNP, we are rolling out free school meals to all primary school children, as well as taking other measures to help family budgets such as free bus travel for under 22s.

“Writing off this astonishing debt would be an excellent way for councils to also help families with the financial burdens they face.”

The figures include nurseries and special schools, as well as the primary and secondary sectors. Most councils report that they do not impose restrictions on pupils accessing meals if they are in debt.

A spokeswoman for COSLA, the local authority representative body, said: “All councils work closely with families to address hardship and where necessary provide financial assistance but given recent local government settlements, there is a real balancing act for councils between realising income for frontline services and targeting support for families in need.”