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ECS Checks

Free School Meals Eligibility Checking Process


Tower Hamlets use the Department for Education’s Eligibility Checking Service to establish Free School Meals eligibility. 

The process is as follows:

  • Schools maintain a template of all pupils they wish to be checked for FSM eligibility, along with the appropriate parent/guardian information
  • The template is submitted to the LA via USOfx
  •  The LA processes the information using the DfE’s Eligibility Checking Service
  •  The LA returns the template with eligibility status to the schools via secure email

This process requires that schools maintain a completed template featuring all of the pupils for whom they would like FSM eligibility status to be checked. Each pupil record must be also accompanied by at least one parental record that has surname, date of birth and national insurance number (or national asylum seeker number).

We understand that for some schools the completion of the template may be onerous because of the number of pupils involved and so, in the first instance the existing termly lists will continue to be received by schools providing continuity of FSM eligibility information. We do, however, strongly encourage schools to begin using the ECS process and begin building/maintaining the completed templates of all pupils to be checked (at least for pupils at the entry points of Reception classes and Year 7).

Once all of the pupil/parent records are on the template, subsequent checks will only require the addition or removal of pupils to maintain the list.

Data Requirements

ECS process checks for eligibility by individual claimant/parent. This is why under the ECS process we will require information submitted for all and any parents or guardians listed on the parental claim form to ensure robust checks of the eligibility status of pupils.

For all listed parents/guardians the following information is required:

  • Parent/guardian National Insurance (or National Asylum Seeker) Number
  • Parent/guardian Date of Birth
  • Parent/guardian Surname

If any of the three pieces of information listed above are not available for each parent/guardian then it will not be possible to check the eligibility status for that parent/guardian. If a pupil record does not have even one compete and valid associated parent/guardian record then it will not be possible to establish FSM eligibility for the pupil. Further details of the data requirements of ECS are given in appendix A, and the data validation rules that will be used to exclude incomplete or incorrect records are detailed in appendix B.

Completing the ECS FSM template

Schools are required to submit their check requests via the LA template (link below). Checks will be undertaken only on templates that are fully completed with;

  • Your schools name
  • Your schools DfE number – in the form of 211**** with no separator between the LA’s 211 and your schools 4 digit number
  • The date of the submission

We also ask that you include your school name in the filename for the template (without any spaces or special characters) and shorten it so that, for example:

Where you wish to include a pupil in the template but do not have all of the parent’s information, please feel free to do so, but please leave missing pieces of information blank. Please do not fill empty cells in the template with items such as ‘unknown’ or ‘?’.

Do NOT make changes to the structure of the TEMPLATE i.e. adding/deleting or renaming field, as this will prevent the automated processor functioning.

Data Transfer between Schools and the LA

For the transfer of checking templates from to schools to the LA for checking and the return of the checking results we intend to use secure means, primarily the USOfx system which is in use by many schools. Each school should designate one or more contacts for all ECS data transfers. The contact will be assigned the role of 'FSM coordinator' within the USOfx address book which is essential as it will enable the LA to send the checking results as a batch, with each school receiving only its own results. If your school does not have, or cannot get, access to USOfx then we will need to discuss alternative arrangements.

The FSM checking template will be returned to schools with results against both parents and children. If there are any parent records which could not be checked through ECS because of missing information or failing data validation they will feature on an ‘errors’ spreadsheet which is also returned alongside the results. This ‘errors’ sheet will indicate which records were not checked and why, giving schools an opportunity to amend the information and resubmit.

Pupil records will have one of three values on the spreadsheet to indicate their FSM check outcome:

  • ‘TRUE' will indicate that the child is eligible for statutory FSM as one or both parents have been found as eligible on ECS
  • ‘FALSE' indicates that no parent could be found on ECS because:
    • The child is not eligible for statutory FSM provision, or
    • They could not be matched to a record on the relevant databases because the information supplied was not correct.
  • ‘not checked’ indicates that there was not enough information supplied for the parental records to be checked through ECS.

These records will also appear on a separate ‘errors’ sheet which will indicate why the record could not be checked.

Individual Parent records will also have one of three outcomes from the check:

  • ‘TRUE' will indicate that the parent has been found on the system and is deemed eligible for statutory FSM.
  • ‘FALSE' indicates that the parent could not be found because:
    • They would not be eligible for statutory FSM provision, or
    • They could not be matched to a record on the relevant databases because the information supplied was not correct.
  • ‘not checked’ indicates that there was not enough information supplied for the parental record to be checked through ECS.

These records will also appear on a separate ‘errors’ sheet which will indicate why the record could not be checked. These results will indicate whether the pupil was eligible on the day that the submission was processed through ECS. To capture periods of FSM eligibility and the movement of children in or out of eligible status multiple checks will need to be performed. This is why we suggest that school create and maintain a single of pupils which can be submitted on multiple occasions per term.

The results are returned to the school via USOfx, they will only be available for download for one month. After this period they will automatically be deleted. The LA will not retain any submitted templates or results files after a submission has been processed and sent to the school.

Data Validation Rules

If the data for any record fails any of the data validation rules it will be excluded from the ECS checking process and returned with an 'ECS Status' of 'not checked'.

This appendix details each of the rules we will applying to the submitted data as part of the process. None of the fields are case sensitive and so both lower and upper case characters are accepted.

National Insurance & National Asylum Seeker Service Numbers

A record for a parent/guardian must have either a National Insurance Number (NINO) or a National Asylum Seeker Service Number (NASS). Any records that do not have one of these identifiers will fail data validation and will be excluded from the checking process.

The different validation rules for NINOs and NASS' are given below.

National Insurance Number

A National Insurance Number must consist of 9 characters with no spaces (except as the final character at the end of the NINO) or delimiters in the form of 2 alphabetic characters, followed by 6 numeric characters with a final single alphabetic character at the end (i.e. AB123456A).

There are other rules as to the content of the alphabetic characters in the National Insurance Number which will also be applied.

  • The first character must not be D, F, I, Q, U or V
  • The second character must not be D, F, I, O, Q, U or V.
  • The first two characters together must not form GB, BG, NK, KN, TN, NT or ZZ
  • The final character at the end must be either an A, B, C, D or a space character

If any of these validation rules regarding NINOs are failed the record cannot be processed and will be excluded from the batch check.

National Asylum Seeker Number

A National Asylum Seeker Service Number must consist of 9 numbers. If any letters or non-numerical characters are present then the record will fail data validation and be excluded from the process.

There is a possibility of the excel template 'losing' leading zeros (i.e. a NASS of 005688263 being shown as 5688263), however, this is acceptable as it can only occur with zeros at the beginning of a number and we will populate any NASS of less than 9 numbers with additional zeros at the beginning to make it 9 numbers in length.

Date of Birth

The date of birth recorded for a parent/guardian must be recorded in the format DD/MM/YYYY (i.e. 01/05/1970). Any records that do not follow this format and use a backslash, period, hyphen or any other character as a delimiter will fail data validation and be excluded from the checking process. Records that have the month recorded as 3 characters (i.e. Jun) or do not have the recorded year in full (four digits) will also fail.

LA Contact

Evangeline Wylde

Intelligence and Performance Support Officer


0207 364 2256

Supporting documents