On 7 February 2018, the DfE published a combined response to the ‘Eligibility for the free early years entitlement for two-year-olds under Universal Credit’ and ‘Eligibility for free school meals and the early years pupil premium under Universal Credit’ consultations.
The three entitlements covered by the consultations are free school meals (FSM), the early years pupil premium and the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds (15 hours a week). The consultations aimed to set new eligibility criteria for the entitlements under Universal Credit.
The response widely confirms the plans that were set out in both consultations, and this guidance outlines the key changes to the eligibility criteria of the three entitlements.
The thresholds outlined below will be kept constant until the end of the Universal Credit rollout period; after this, they will be kept under review.
Free school meals and the early years pupil premium eligibility threshold
A net earnings threshold of £7,400 for eligibility for FSM and the early years pupil premium will be introduced from 1 April 2018 – this will typically equate to an overall household income of between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits income is taken into account.
The eligibility criteria for children whose parents receive support provided under Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 or the guarantee element of Pension Credit will not be changed.
Free early education entitlement
A net earnings threshold of £15,400 for eligibility for free early education will be introduced from 1 April 2018 – this will equate to an income of between £24,000 and £32,000 once benefits are taken into account.
Eligibility for all three entitlements will be checked by using an equivalent monthly check verified from the household’s most recent Universal Credit assessment periods. As earnings can fluctuate from month to month, earnings will be checked over a period lasting up to three months, where the assessment period data is available.
Protection for children that would lose their FSM eligibility
The DfE has set out measures to protect both those families that would lose FSM eligibility under the new threshold and those who become eligible during the rollout of Universal Credit. The protection arrangements are as follows:
- From April 2018, all existing eligible families will continue to receive FSM during the rollout of Universal Credit, even if their earnings go above the new threshold during this period.
- Any child that becomes eligible after the introduction of the threshold will be protected against losing FSM during the rollout period.
- No further eligibility checks will be required for protected families during the rollout period – schools should leave these pupils flagged as protected in their management information systems.
- Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, any existing claimants that no longer meet the eligibility criteria will continue to be protected until they reach the end of their current phase of education, e.g. primary, secondary.
- New claimants earning above the threshold after April 2018 will not be eligible for FSM.
Funding for schools
It’s estimated that approximately 50,000 more children will be eligible for FSM under the new threshold – additional funding will be provided to schools in light of the increased number of FSM they will be providing.
he DfE continues to believe that lagged funding is the best approach to use; however, they recognise that some schools may have difficulty managing the increase in eligible pupils in the short term. To support these schools, a school-level meal cost grant will be introduced for 2018/2019 and 2019/2020. This grant will not affect a school’s allocation through the pupil premium, national funding formula or any other source of existing funding.
DfE (2018) ‘Eligibility for free school meals, the early years pupil premium and the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds under Universal Credit’