(Title Image: Llanelli Herald)
The Welsh Government have tabled an Order which will change the eligibility criteria for children to claim free school meals (pdf).
From 1st April 2019, children whose households are claiming Universal Credit will only be eligible to receive a free school meal if their household net earned income (income after tax, deductions and other benefits like housing benefit) is £7,400 a year or less.
“A typical family earning around £7,400 per annum would, depending on their exact circumstances, have a total household income of between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account. It will also ensure that free school meal costs remain affordable for local authorities and the Welsh Government. Extending eligibility for free school meals to all children in Universal Credit families goes beyond the aim of providing free school meals to children in the lowest-income households.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)
The Order’s explanatory memorandum (pdf) says that if no changes were made, then nearly half of all children would become eligible for free school meals, compared to 16% in January 2018. This would be “unaffordable”. Nonetheless, it’s estimated an additional 3,000 pupils will become eligible for free school meals under the new criteria.
Transitional arrangements will also put in place. All pupils who currently receive free school meals – or will be eligible for free schools meals after the Order comes into force – won’t lose their entitlement until they finish their primary or secondary education (whichever one they’re in as of December 2023, when Universal Credit is fully rolled out).
The Order will use the negative procedure, meaning it’ll automatically come into force on April 1st 2019 unless the Senedd votes to annul it.