Today the Government is launching a public consultation on its proposed approach to revising the entitlement criteria for free school meals and the early years pupil premium, in light of the national roll out of Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is replacing a number of qualifying benefits for free school meals, such as Job Seeker’s Allowance, Child’s Tax Credit and Income Support.
Subject to the outcome of this consultation, we propose to introduce a net earned income threshold of £7,400 per annum for those in receipt of Universal Credit. A typical family earning around £7,400 per annum would, depending on their exact circumstances, have a total household income between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account. A threshold of £7,400 will increase the free school meals cohort by approximately 5% once Universal Credit is fully rolled out and in steady state. This equates to approximately 50,000 additional pupils being eligible to receive a nutritious free school meal than currently.
Furthermore, to ensure that no child who currently benefits from a free school meal loses this entitlement as a result of this criteria change, we aim to protect current beneficiaries’ eligibility up until the end of the roll-out of Universal Credit. From that point on, all children should retain this protection for the rest of their current phase of education.
The economic eligibility criteria for the early years pupil premium are the same as for free school meals. We believe that this consistency is important so that the most disadvantaged families benefit from this additional funding across the whole age range. As such, we propose to apply the same threshold as mentioned above for free school meals to the early years pupil premium, and to mirror the protection arrangements for current beneficiaries during the UC roll-out period.
If, following the public consultation and subject to the will of the House, the Government decides to take forward its proposals, we expect the revised regulations to come into force in April 2018.
The ‘Eligibility for free school meals and early years pupil premium under Universal Credit’ consultation will commence today and run for eight weeks. The consultation document containing full details of the proposals and inviting responses will be published on the Department for Education’s website. Copies of the consultation document will also be placed in the House Libraries.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: