Free school meals permanently extended to pupils with ‘no recourse to public funds’

Children of families subject to immigration control were temporarily given access to free meals in April 2020

Children of families subject to immigration control were temporarily given access to free meals in April 2020

The government will permanently extend free school meals eligibility to children with “no recourse to public funds”, who were previously excluded because of their parents’ immigration status.

Children’s minister Will Quince announced today that the government will make permanent its extension of free school meals to children from families with “no recourse to public funds”. These children will also continue to attract pupil premium funding.

In England, pupils in year 3 and above are eligible for means-tested free school meals if their families receive certain benefits. But some children, some of whom are British citizens, were excluded because their parents were subject to immigration control.

Following threats of legal action, free school meals eligibility was temporarily extended to these children in April 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was then announced in 2021 that schools could claim pupil premium funding for children temporarily given FSM access, again following legal threats.

Change comes after ‘cross-government review’

Quince said today that the extension would be made permanent from April 19, following a “cross-government review”.

Those affected by the original extension included children supported under section 17 of the children act 1989 but whose families are subject to a restriction meaning they have “no recourse to public funds”.

It also covered the children of failed asylum seekers who are reliant on support from the Home Office under section 4 of the immigration and asylum act 1999.

The other two groups covered were the children of Zambrano carers – non-EEA citizens with a child or dependent adult who is British – and the children of those granted leave to remain until article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.

All children from families with “no recourse to public funds” will now be eligible for free school meals, subject to certain income thresholds.

However, it is not clear whether children from families with insecure immigration status will also be covered.

Eligibility subject to income and savings thresholds

The thresholds for the extension are £22,700 outside London for families with one child, £31,200 for one-child families in London, £26,300 for multi-child families outside London and £34,800 for multi-child families in the capital.

The thresholds were developed “to create comparative thresholds with broad equivalence with families with recourse to public funds, and who qualify for free school meals due to being in receipt of welfare benefits”.

The government will also set a capital savings threshold of £16,000, the same maximum capital threshold which is in place for access to universal credit.

Newly eligible free school meals pupils will be recorded in “exactly the same way” as others, and guidance will be published on how schools should check and validate eligibility.

Children will attract pupil premium funding

All children in receipt of free school meals will attract pupil premium funding for their school, and dependent on meeting other criteria, will also be able to receive free home to school transport.

The government will “provide funding to meet the additional costs incurred through the established processes”.

Praxis, a charity that supports and campaigns for migrants and refugees, welcomed today’s announcement.

Policy and public affairs manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz said the decision “ensures that children living in poverty, who were denied access to the welfare safety net by their family’s immigration status, get guaranteed access to one hot, freshly-cooked and nutritionally balanced meal a day”.

“At a time when the cost of living is rising rapidly, this decision could not come at a better time for many of the families we work with.”

But she said the government must “urgently clarify whether children in families with insecure immigration status…will also benefit from this measure.”

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