This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Who is entitled to Free School Meals (FSM) in England?
Parents do not have to pay for school lunches if they receive 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 they are 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 a person stops qualifying for Working Tax Credit
- Universal Credit – with household income of less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits) from 1 April 2018, with transitional protections for existing claimants
Children who get any of the above benefits in their own right (i.e. they get benefits payments directly, instead of through a parent or guardian) can also get free school meals.
Since September 2014, free school meals have also been provided for all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. This duty applies to local authority maintained schools, academies and free schools.
Can children or young people under or above compulsory school age receive FSM?
Children under the compulsory school age who are in full-time education may also be able to get free school meals.
Free school meals are available to pupils who attend sixth forms attached to a maintained school, as long as the course of study began before the pupil reached age 18.
Pupils who study in sixth form colleges, Further Education colleges or other providers are not entitled to free school meals, although individual colleges may provide them.
Can children in academies or free schools receive FSM?
These schools’ funding agreements provide the framework within which these schools operate and requires free schools and academies to provide free school meals to eligible pupils aged up to 18 years. This requirement also applies to pupils in these institutions who are aged 19 or over, if their course of study began before they turned 18.
Do children need to be registered in order to receive FSM ?
Yes, except for children in infant school who receive meals as a matter of course.
The gov.uk website provides information on how to apply for free school meals.
Some local authorities automatically register pupils for FSM when their parents apply for eligible benefits, but this is not universal. There has been some discussion in Parliament about how an automatic registration system might operate.
Are schools required to run breakfast clubs?
No, although many do.
Magic Breakfast deliver breakfasts under a contract with the Department for Education to set up breakfast clubs in schools where over 35% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and there was no previously existing breakfast provision.
Who is responsible for providing FSM?
Local authorities are responsible for providing free school lunches and applications must be made through the relevant local body.
How are school meals funded?
Generally, school meals are funded through the central funding for schools, rather than a specific grant. Universal infant free school meals are, however, funded by a separate grant.
- School meals and nutritional standards (England), Commons Library research briefing
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.