Press Release – 27.01.2016
Ann Coffey MP has called for a change in the law to make sure that up to 200,000 children who miss out on free school meals are automatically registered.
Ms Coffey is supporting a Private Members Bill by Frank Field MP, which would compel locally authorities to automatically register all children who are eligible by cross referencing with housing benefit data.
The Department of Education estimated in 2013 that around 200,000 children aged 4 to 15 ‘appear to be entitled’ but are not claiming free school meals.
The Bill would provide local authorities with the duties and powers required to identify and automatically register all children eligible and provide an opt-out where the family wishes.
The number of children signed up for free school meals is tied to how much Pupil Premium money is given to each school and so as well as providing children with a hot meal it can lead to a cash windfall bonus for schools.
Ms Coffey praised Stockport Council for the efforts it has already made to sign up more local children, which has already led to an increase of £500,000 in Pupil Premium cash for Stockport schools.
Based on the October 2015 school census, there were a total of 5,063 pupils attending Stockport schools who were entitled to and who claimed for free school meals. This figure includes pupils in nursery, primary, secondary, special school, Academies and Pupil Referral Units and represents 12.6 per cent of the total school roll as at October 2015.
Stockport Council has made a big push to sign up all those eligible and each year for the past three years the benefits team have compared the Housing Benefit records against the free school meals records. They asked for a letter to be returned if parents did not want their child to be registered for free school meals and in 2014 no one returned the letter and so the Pupil Premium was increased by over £500,000.
There are other children who are entitled to school meals and who have not been identified such as children who live in a household where the parents’ income makes them eligible for free school meals, but where the home owner is not claiming Housing Benefit. In these cases the local council relies on schools to help identify families. Eligibility rules for free school meals apply if parents are receiving other benefits including Jobseekers Allowance and universal credit.
Ms Coffey said: “It is important that all those children who are entitled to a free school meal get one. It is a shame that so many individual children and their schools are losing out.
“I want all those children to get a hot meal and in addition for our local schools to have the added bonus of being given more Pupil Premium money to spend on our children’s education and wellbeing locally. Automatic registration is a win, win situation for pupils and schools.”