Government confirms free school meals eligibility under universal credit

The government will proceed with its plans to change the threshold for free school meals eligibility under universal credit, children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi has announced.

It means a new £7,400 earnings threshold, proposed in a consultation launched last November, will be introduced.

The government estimates an extra 50,000 pupils will become eligible for free school meals under its plans, which will replace the current set-up whereby all pupils from universal credit-claiming households get free meals from April.

However, this figure has been disputed by organisations like the Children’s Society, which predicts a million pupils will lose out.

The proposed new threshold is £7,400 per year, but the government says once benefits are taken into account, a typical family earning that amount will take home between £18,000 and £24,000.

This is higher than the £16,200 earnings threshold that currently entitles pupils to free meals, but much lower than the £55,000 threshold that would have come in without the proposed changes.

In December, Labour called for the transitional arrangements put in place by the government to become permanent, arguing that free school meals should be offered to all pupils whose parents or carers claim the new benefit.

Policy experts have also raised series concerns about the impact any chance to FSM eligibility will have on disadvantage data.

According to the government, pupils currently in receipt of free school meals will be protected “at the point at which the threshold is introduced”, and every pupil who becomes eligible while universal credit is rolled out will retain it until the rollout is completed.

More to follow.