Incorrect advice about free school meals

NAWRA has identified an issue with clients being incorrectly turned down for, or being discouraged from claiming, free school meals. We believe this issue to be widespread following a random check of 11 council websites of whom 7 were showing incorrect criteria.

Children are eligibla for free school meals if a parent receives any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

Many local authorities seem to be applying their own interpretation to the above criteria, for example by assuming that if a client claims another out-of-work/in-work benefit apart from those listed above then they would be inelgible for free school meals or by adding their own criteria to the list above.

Here are two examples that we have come across on council websites that add additional criteria:

  • “You are not eligible if you receive any amount of Working Tax Credit”
  • “Please note that anyone claiming Working Tax Credit, Contribution-Based Job Seeker’s Allowance and/or Contribution-Based Employment and Support Allowance is NOT eligible for free school meals, regardless of what other credit/benefits are being claimed”

Clearly, both of these examples are a misinterpretation of the law.

A few councils, as a result of contact from a local welfare rights service, have changed the information on their website. We need all welfare rights services to check their local websites for accuracy and encourage changes where necessary. As well as the correct criteria being on the website, call centre staff also need to be trained in applying the correct criteria.

We would welcome contact from members regarding this issue so that NAWRA is able to keep a record of the progress we make. If you have comments, or examples, please email our committee member Tamara Moreau.


Consultation on benefit waiting days

We have submitted our response to the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) enquiry into government proposals to extend the number of benefit waiting days from three to seven.

NAWRA has strongly condemned the proposal, stating that the change would impact disproportionately on disabled people and those who have not been in regular employment. It will be another cut to those who have already been adversely affected by a string of welfare reforms including restrictions to local housing allowance, the bedroom tax, benefit cap, the introduction of PIP and cuts to tax credits. Further, it will make it harder for people to find work as they are left without basic resources.

The government’s supposed aim is to encourage and support people into work. NAWRA fails to see how taking away the resources necessary for a basic living can in any way support people into work. The proposal as stated will lead to:

  • Increased stress and ill-health for claimants
  • Claimants and their families having to go without food or heating
  • Increased rent arrears
  • Increased reliance on foodbanks which are already stretched
  • Increased use of loan sharks and pay day loans
  • Reduced ability to find work or move back towards work

The full text of our response can be downloaded from the resources area of the website (direct link).


We’re coming to Stockton on Tees!

Our next meeting will be in Stockton on Tees on Friday 13th June 2014. The agenda is available now. As always, it will be a heady mix of lively speakers, interactive workshops and plenty of opportunity for networking and sharing ideas with colleagues from around the UK.

If that sounds good, and you aren’t already a member, then why not join us now? It’s definitely worth the membership fee as, once you’ve joined, attendance at the meetings is completely free! Now that is value for money.

So put Stockton in your diary and we’ll see you there!


NAWRA Scotland regional meeting

*Please note that this meeting has been postponed. A new date and venue will be notified as soon as possible. Apologies to anyone who was planning to travel.*

NAWRA’s rep for Scotland, Tom Lamb at Dundee North Law Centre, has arranged  a meeting for Scottish NAWRA members.  It will take place at Port of Leith Housing Association in Edinburgh at 1.30pm on 1 May 2014.  For more information and to book a place, email Tom.


Notes from Sheffield meeting

Thanks to everyone who attended our meeting in Sheffield last week.  All the workshop notes and presentations from the meeting are now available here.

Our next meeting will be in Stockton on Tees on Friday 13th June 2014. See you there!