Free School Meals (FSM) is the provision of a healthy school meal to disadvantaged pupils, as part of the Education Act 1996. Children may be entitled to receive these at school if they are of compulsory school age and applicants meet the below criteria.
How to apply for free school meals (FSM)
If your child is of compulsory school age, we recommend you:
Parents/guardians should see each relevant guidance section below before applying.
Children below compulsory school age within full-time education may be able to secure additional education provider funding, we recommend discussing this with your provider.
Free meals may also be available to post-16 pupils following similar criteria as below, to apply please contact the institution directly.
Parents/Guardians, and in some instances the child themselves, can become FSM eligible by meeting the criteria in both (A) AND (B) sections as follows:
A) There must be a valid FSM application associated with the receiving child
B) The applicant (Parent/Guardian/Child) meets ANY of the following criteria
1 Is in receipt of ONE or more eligible benefits SHOW
The applicant is in receipt of at least ONE of the following benefits:
- Universal Credit – must have annual net income of £7,400 or less (after tax and not including other benefits), assessed by statements up to the three most recent assessments periods
- Asylum Support – as per Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Pension Credit – recipient of the guarantee (main) element
- Child Tax Credit – applicants from before Universal Credit rollout; provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of £16,190 or less
- Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying (applicants from before Universal Credit rollout)
2 Is covered by Transition Protection following the Universal Credit rollout from 1 April 2018 SHOW
This only applies to those pupils who might have otherwise lost free school meals eligibility following the rollout of Universal Credit, as from 1 April 2018. Transitional Protections would cover pupils until the end of their current school phase and may require providing the school with official Universal Credit statements to support your eligibility claim.
See below for details.
3 Is from an identified family group with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) SHOW
The child is from an identified family group with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and their annual household income is:
- Less than £22,700 for families outside London with one child, or
- Less than £26,300 for families outside London with two or more children
This very small cohort of families should check Department of Education (DfE) guidance to see if they qualify.
Pupils in Reception, Year 1, and Year 2 SHOW
All pupils in Reception, Year 1 or Year 2 are automatically entitled to receive a school meal under the Universal Infant Free Meals policy, if they attend both the morning and afternoon schooling periods.
Please note, Universal Infant Free Meals is NOT the same as Free School Meal eligibility. Only claimants that meet the criteria seen above entitle schools to claim for FSM funding.
We still recommend parents apply for Free School Meals if you think you meet the criteria. This will mean your child's school won’t miss out on important funding to support your child (Pupil Premium) and may also enable your child to continue receiving free school meals after Year 2.
Free meals in further education (FE) funded institutions SHOW
As well as the eligibility criteria seen above, post-16 students must be enrolled in further education provision funded via ESFA to be eligible for a free meal. Eligible institutions are:
- General further education colleges, including specialist colleges
- Sixth-form colleges
- Commercial and charitable providers
- Higher education institutions (HEIs) with 16 to 19 funding from ESFA
- Specialist post-16 institutions (SPIs)
- Local authorities (LAs) and FE institutions directly funded for 16 to 19
- 16 to 18 traineeship providers
- European Social Fund (ESF) only institutions
- 16 to 19 only academies and free schools
- 16 to 19 only maintained schools
Please note how this does not include apprentices. A student must be aged 16 or over to be eligible to receive a free meal. Students aged 19 or over are only eligible to receive a free meal if they are continuing on a study programme they began aged 16 to 18 (19+ continuers) or have an EHCP.
Transitional protection SHOW
From 1 April 2018, transitional protection was implemented for those pupils who might otherwise have lost free school meals following the rollout of Universal Credit eligibility. Note how this protection covers eligibility via Universal Credit benefits only, and none of the other eligibilities listed above.
If your child is eligible for free school meals, they will remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling they are in as at Summer 2023*.
The transitional protections may be awarded as follows:
- Any pupil who is in receipt of free school meals immediately prior to 1 April 2018 will continue to receive free school meals whilst Universal Credit is rolled out. This applies even if they no longer meet the eligibility criteria during that time
- Any pupil who gains eligibility for free school meals after 1 April 2018 will continue to receive free school meals during the Universal Credit rollout period. This applies even if they no longer meet the eligibility criteria at a subsequent point during the rollout period
Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, any existing pupil who no longer meets the eligibility criteria at that point will continue to receive free school meals until the end of their current phase of education (Year 6 for Primary, Year 11 for Secondary, or aged 18 for FE).
Please also note how the Online Eligibility checker service does not check for historical eligibility denoting transitional protections. We recommend discussing these instances with the school and providing supporting Universal Credit statements as evidence where necessary.
*Please note how this date has been extended from March 2022 and could be extended further.
- Official FSM Guidance from the Department for Education
- Official FSM Guidance in FE Institutions from ESFA
- Extra funding for your Early Years provider
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