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Free School Meals

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what estimate he has made of the impact of the changes made in 2001 to how pupils are found eligible for free school meals on take-up of free school meals. (131589)

In 2001 pupils whose parents received income support (IS), income based jobseekers allowance (IBJSA) or support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 were entitled to receive free school lunches. Children who received IS or IBJSA in their own right were also entitled to free school lunches.

In April 2003 an additional free school meal eligibility criterion was introduced, predominantly to protect pupils who prior to 6 April 2003 were entitled to receive a free school lunch but, who after that date would otherwise have lost that entitlement as a result of the changes to the tax credit and welfare system. The additional criterion allowed pupils whose parents who were in receipt of child tax credit, without additional working tax credit, and an income as assessed by HMRC that did not exceed £13,230, (2003/04 tax year) (currently 2007/08 £14,495) to receive free school meals.

Also from April 2003 legislation requires:

a claim for a free school lunch, by or on behalf of a pupil, to be made before they could be considered for a free school meal; and

children who receive education suitable for a child under compulsory school (who would otherwise be eligible to receive a free school meal) to satisfy an additional requirement of receiving that education both before and after the lunch period before being eligible to receive a FSM.

A final change was made in April 2003 that extended free school meal eligibility to pupils whose parents receive the guarantee element of state pension credit.

Figures for maintained schools in England show, with the exception of 2004, that since 1997 there has been a continuous downward trend in the number of children known to be eligible to receive free school meals. The 2004 figures reflect the additional families that were brought into entitlement as a result of the changes to eligibility criteria in 2003. Figures show a similar, although lesser percentage, downward trend in the number of pupils that take-up their entitlement.