Free School Meals

Frequently asked questions

Who should apply for free school meals?

In Newham we request that all families with children of school age who are attending a state funded school to apply for free school meals irrespective of their employment or immigration status. Only those in receipt of one of the qualifying benefits will be entitled but we use the application every week to recheck all the claims in our database. This means we maximise the number of children in receipt of free school meals without families having to remember to reapply or notify us when their circumstances change.  

Why do families with children in primary school need to apply for free school meals, when the children eat for free?

Although primary children eat for free knowing their official free school entitlement information is very important to schools. Children whose families are in receipt of one of the qualifying benefits the school will receive additional funding known as Pupil Premium and other funding is linked to free school meals data if they have applied.

How often do families need to reapply for free school meals?

Families in Newham only need to submit one free school meal application for the duration of their child’s education in the borough. Pupil Services use this form to recheck the entitlement status every week so we don’t need anyone to complete more than one form.

Do families need to reapply if their child changes school?

No, if you have an application in the system you do not need to reapply if your child changes school within Newham. Families do not even have to reapply when their child moves from primary to secondary school as Pupil Services will notify secondary schools of the free school meal status for the year 6 pupils due to start at their school.  

How is free school meal entitlement determined (worked out)?

Pupil Services submit the applicants name, date of birth and national insurance number from the free school meal application form to the Department for Education’s eligibility checking service known as ECS for a decision. This database holds all live (current) benefit information provided by the Department for Work and Pensions and Asylum Seeker information form the Home Office.  The ECS provides the entitlement status. 

Should families be asked for proof of their benefits for free school meals purposes?

Not in the majority of cases. Since the introduction in 2014 no local authority or school in England should ask for proof of benefit. Entitlement is determined via the Department for Education’s ECS. However a manual check of your benefits will be required to determine eligibility for self-employed Universal Credit claimants. These families will need to submit their proof (see next question for more detail).

If any school located in Newham asks for proof of benefit and the family are not self-employed Universal Credit claimants please notify Pupil Services immediately by emailing​ or calling 020 8430 2000.    

Do Council officers or school staff see the amount of earning or benefit applicants are receiving?

Not in most cases, as the Department for Education’s ECS only provides one of three outcomes, entitled, not entitled or details not found. This means applicants personal benefit information remains confidential.

However a manual check will be required to determine eligibility for self-employed Universal Credit claimants. These claimants will need to provide evidence that:

  • They are in receipt of Universal Credit, by providing their Universal Credit award letter
  • They are self-employed, by providing a copy of their company registration or tax return form
  • ​Their monthly net earnings do not exceed the threshold as set out above. Schools should request that self-employed claimants complete the self-declaration

What happens when a new claim form is received by Pupil Services?

The applicant’s details are uploaded to the Department for Education’s ECS for a decision. The outcome is returned to Pupil Services and if the first claim, an outcome letter will be sent to the applicant. The letter will apply to every child in the applicants immediate family as all children are linked on our database. If a family submits a second, third etc. form they will not receive a letter as our system is set up to only send outcomes to the original claim. 

The outcome of each claim is also sent to the child school so they can add this information to the pupil’s record.

What happens if an applicant’s entitlement to the qualifying benefits changes?

Where a free school meal entitlement change is reported by the Department for Educations ECS via Pupil Services weekly claim reviews we update our database, write to the applicants with their new status and notify the school.

Do nursery children have a universal entitlement for free school meals (FSM) like infant children?

The universal free school meal entitlement begins when a child starts at school for reception, year 1 and year 2. Not all nursery children will be eligible for a free school meal.

Which early year’s providers must offer a Free School Meal?

Local authority-run schools and academies must offer a free school meal to eligible nursery children.

What are the eligibility criteria for nursery school children?

The child must attend nursery both before and after the lunchtime period. They must also meet the benefits criteria. The same benefits criteria apply to nursery school children as apply to children in school.

Does it matter if a child is attending for funded or bought hours?

Only children who are attended nurseries funded by the local authority can receive free school meals. Those paying to attend nurseries are not entitled to receive free school meals. 

Can all ages of children in the nursery receive a free school meal?

No, children have to be two years or older to receive free school meals.

A child is two and is eligible for the free Early Years Education Funding. Does this mean the child is eligible for free school meals?

The eligibility criteria for two-year-old funding and free school meals differ. However, if a two-year-old child applies for free school meals and is found eligible, both can be claimed.