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Coronavirus: Extra Help - Free School Meals



Coronavirus - Free School Meals

Extra help due to the Coronavirus pandemic - What is available in 2021? 

England 

If a pupil is eligible for free school meals but they have to isolate at home due to Covid-19, they should be provided with food at home - see here for information 

Holiday activities and food programme 2021

For the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays in 2021, the government has allocated funding for local councils to offer free holiday clubs, which offer free healthy food and physical activities. Children can attend for at least four hours a day, four days a week, for four weeks in total. It is free for children who get free school meals. Children who do not receive free school meals may be able to attend, but not for free. More info here.

Scotland

In Scotland, extra funding has been given to councils to provide support during school holidays. Councils can decide which is the best way to use the funding – eg direct payments, vouchers or food parcels. More info here.

Wales

In Wales the government is providing £19.50 per week per eligible learner to extend school meal provision over the school holidays throughout the 2021 to 2022 financial year. Info here.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, there are food grants for eligible children – this scheme will last until Easter 2022. Info here.

 

Who qualifies for free school meals?

All English and Welsh primary school children in state schools in reception and years one and two receive free school meals, as do children in primary 1 to 4 in Scotland (extending to primary 5 by January 2022).

Older children can get free school meals if their parent or main carer receives a passport benefit:

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Guarantee Pension Credit (in England and Wales)
  • Support for asylum seekers under part VI the Immigration and Asylum act 199
  • Child Tax Credit (but not if getting any Working Tax Credit unless they are in the 4 week run-on period following a change of circumstances) and must have a gross annual income of less than £16,190 (in England an Wales) or £16,105 (in Scotland).
  • Universal Credit (where meet earnings rules - see below)

In Scotland the above list applies but with the addition of:

  • Both maximum Child Tax Credit and maximum Working Tax Credit if income is under £7,500.

 

To apply for free school meals, contact your local authority.


IMPORTANT: Where a family is claiming Universal Credit and their earnings drop, they may find that they are now also entitled to free school meals - if so, they need to apply. Once awarded, their child/ren may continue to be entitled to free school meals even if their parent / carer's earnings increase again.

If a UC claimant who was previously earning above the threshold has a drop in earnings, they should check when is the best time to apply to the local authority for free school meals. They will need to apply in the Monthly Assessment Period after the one in which their earnings fell below the threshold - see above.

In England and Wales those UC claimants who become eligible for free school meals and apply for them, will receive free school meals, and will continue to do so until:   

  • The date when the child leaves school, or
  • When they finish the level of education (ie. primary / secondary / further) which they are in at the time when Universal Credit is fully rolled out (now expected to be September 2024).

- even if their earned income increases and exceeds the earnings threshold.

 

UC Rules - England & Wales

Where a UC claimant is making a new claim for free school meals they will only be entitled if they have a net earned income of up to £7,400 a year. 

BUT this eligibility is determined not by looking at the claimant's annual earnings, but by looking at the previous one, two or three Monthly Assessment Periods prior to their claim (see below for how this is worked out). This will determine whether they meet the earnings threshold.

This means that a family with a net earned annual income over the £7,400 pa threshold may still qualify for free school meals if their earnings within one or more Monthly Assessment Periods drop - eg. where they are off work sick and only getting Statutory Sick Pay, or where the DWP takes two months' wages in one Assessment Period, meaning there are no wages to take into account in the following assessment period.

NOTE: once someone qualifies for free school meals, that entitlement is protected, even if their earnings increase or their UC award ends!

Government guidance says that once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, (which is now expected to be March 2025) any existing claimants who no longer meet the eligibility criteria at that point (because they are earning above the threshold or are no longer a recipient of Universal Credit) will continue to receive free school meals until the end of their current phase of education (i.e. primary or secondary). 

How does the earnings threshold work in England & Wales?

The earnings threshold could be assessed over 1, 2 or 3 UC Monthly Assessment Periods (MAPs).

The school or (more likely) the local authority, using their Eligibility Checking System which can access details from the DWP, will need to make an assessment as follows:

1. Did the claimant/s earn more than £616.67 (in total) in the Monthly Assessment Period (MAP) that immediately preceded the MAP in which they requested free school meals? 

    No – they are eligible for free school meals during the current MAP.

    Yes – then the LA will need to look at earnings over the 2 preceding MAPs.

 

2. Did earned income for the 2 preceding MAPs exceed £1,233.34?

    No – they are eligible for free school meals during the current MAP.

    Yes – then need to look at earnings over the 3 preceding MAPs.

 

3. Did earned income for the 3 preceding MAPs exceed £1,850?

    No – they are eligible for free school meals during the current MAP.

    Yes – then not eligible for free school meals.

UC Rules - Scotland

A UC claimant will not be entitled to free school meals if in the Monthly Assessment Period immediately preceding the application for free school meals they had earned income included in their UC assessment of more than £625 (before any work allowance).

There is no transitional protection for families who subsequently lose entitlement.

Families with fluctuating earnings may therefore lose out if the local authority requires them to reapply, whether this is on a monthly basis or at the start of each term or academic year.

The requirement to report a change in income or reapply appears to be at the local authority’s discretion.

In Scotland, local authorities have the discretion to provide food or drink to other pupils who do not qualify for free school meals..
Frequently Asked Questions

How does the DWP / the LA know if someone is entitled?

Data sharing agreements are in place between DfE and the DWP and other government departments who administer benefits which qualify families for free school meals. This enables local authorities and schools to  verify eligibility for free school meals, including where parent(s) have been awarded universal credit and have earnings below the prescribed threshold for free school meal eligibility.

 

What happens when someone moves from legacy benefits onto UC?

In England and Wales those who have qualified for free school meals because they were claiming other passport benefits* and who move onto Universal Credit will continue to receive free school meals until:  

  • The date when the child leaves school, or
  • When they finish the level of education (ie. primary / secondary / further) which they are in at the time when Universal Credit is fully rolled out (now expected to be September 2024).

- even if their earned income increases and exceeds the threshold.

(*The other passport benefits which entitle someone to free school meals are: Income Support, Income Based JSA, Income Related ESA or Child Tax Credit (in England and Wales they would qualify via CTC, provided that they are not also receiving Working Tax Credit and their annual taxable income is below £16,190).

What if the claimant no longer qualifies for Universal Credit or their earnings go over the threshold?

If a UC claimant’s wages increase enough to ‘float them off’ Universal Credit altogether, then the award is closed. 

UC could be terminated for other reasons too, eg inheriting capital of more than £16,000. 

Or they could see an increase in their earnings above the £7400 pa.

In England and Wales these claimants will retain their entitlement to free school meals until:  

  • The date when the child leaves school, or
  • When they finish the level of education (ie. primary / secondary / further) which they are in at the time when Universal Credit is fully rolled out (now expected to be September 2024).

- even if their earned income increases and exceeds the threshold or UC stops altogether

This may appear to be overly generous, however we assume the transitional rules are simple in order to make administration easier for schools and local authorities – ie once a child’s entitlement to free school meals is triggered, then that status is retained in spite of any subsequent changes to the parent’s/carer’s circumstances. Without this simplification, schools / local authorities would need to make monthly checks on every family’s circumstances.

This is what the guidance to local authorities says: 

'If you’re currently claiming free school meals, but don’t meet the new criteria, your child will continue to receive free school meals until the end of the Universal Credit rollout period. This will apply even if your earnings rise above the new threshold or if you stop being entitled to Universal Credit. The rollout period is currently scheduled to end in March 2022*. 

Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, your child will keep their free school meal until the end of their current phase of education, i.e. primary or secondary.'

 *Note: Since the guidance was written this has been extended to September 2024.

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