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The government has updated the criteria for free school meals eligibility

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As universal credit is replacing most of the benefits that entitle parents to free school meals, the government has updated the criteria for free school meals eligibility. To protect pupils from uncertainty during these changes, the government introduced transitional protections that mean that pupils who were eligible for free school meals on 1 April 2018, and those who become eligible during the universal credit rollout period, will retain eligibility until the end of this rollout period. Following this, if they are still in education, they will continue to be eligible until the end of their phase of education.

This means that schools should not remove free school meals eligibility from currently eligible pupils until at least 2023. These pupils will continue to be entitled to free meals each day from their school, and schools should continue to record them as eligible on the school census. There is no expectation for schools to re-check pupils’ eligibility during this period.

There are exceptional situations where pupils may lose eligibility over this period, which are as follows:

  • If the pupil’s parent/carer explicitly removes their claim for a meal, having been made aware of their entitlement to transitional protection.
  • If the pupil is one of the small numbers of pupils eligible due to their parent/carer’s receipt of the guaranteed element of pension credit, or support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and the parent/carer informs the school that they no longer receive these benefits. As these benefits are not affected by the introduction of universal credit, they are not covered by the transitional protection.

For more information, please see the free school meals guidance for schools and local authorities, or email the free school meals team at

First published 11 September 2018