Free School Meal Eligibility Set to Change

Jul 16, 2018 editor

Free School Meals entitlement is changing and there is some debate whether this will help or hinder thousands of families by 2022.

Currently, all children in key stage one automatically qualify for free school meals in England and Scotland and this is set to continue.

Since Universal Credit began to be introduced in 2013, all other school age children in households receiving the new benefit have been eligible for free school meals. This meant some children who were not previously eligible for free school meals could claim them.

The changes came about on 1st April 2018, and eligibility for free school meals are protected until 31 March 2022 or "the end of their phase of education", whichever is later. This means that new school age pupils are the ones who will lose out in the coming years.

In February the government announced that only children in key stage two and above in England whose parents earn net earnings (not including benefits) of up to £7,400 a year would be entitled to a free school meal. This threshold will be frozen until 2021-22.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the government never intended to give every child on Universal Credit a free hot meal and has made clear the extension of free school meals was a temporary measure until Universal Credit ‘roll-out’ was complete.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “50,000 more children overall will be entitled in future”, but also warned that “160,000 children across the UK, who would have qualified under the old system will be ineligible when the rules change”.

In Scotland a child is eligible if they live in a household earning up to £7,320, in Northern Ireland the threshold is £14,000 before losing eligibility. Wales has not yet decided what to do about free school meals under Universal Credit.