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.