Extending free school meals

From September 2023, we are extending universal free school meals to include children who live in the borough and attend secondary school (up to the age of 16).

+ If you are already get free meals from your school, you do not need to do anything.
+ If you do not get benefits and have an annual net earned income of more than £7,400, you do not need to do anything.
+ If you get benefits but are not currently receiving free school meals, it is important that you fill in your child’s registration form.

Free school meals

Extending free school meal provisions

The council provide universal free school meals to pupils in primary and secondary schools (up to the age of 16) who attend a state-funded school in the borough.

You do not have to do anything for your children to receive free meals at their school.

What does this mean for people who receive benefits?

Schools may be entitled to extra funding for your child if you meet certain eligibility criteria. This extra funding is called Pupil Premium. The council still needs to identify eligible children to allocate Pupil Premium funding correctly.

Parent/carers do not have to do anything if:

  • your child is already recorded as eligible to receive the benefit of free school meals at their school
  • you do not receive any benefits and have an annual gross income of more than £16,190.

If you receive any of the following benefits but your child has not received free school meals in the past, you must complete your child’s application form.

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (if you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get).

If this is not possible, call us on 020 7364 5001 and we can assist you. If you do not apply, your child/children’s school may miss out on vital funding.

Information that parent/carers need to share:

  • child’s name, date of birth and school
  • evidence of the parent’s (or guardian’s) income (unless this has been provided already) and national insurance details.

Children from households with No Recourse to Public Funds

Government has permanently extended free school meal eligibility to children in all households with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), subject to maximum income thresholds.

Contact your school for more information and support on how to apply.

You can also find out more information on GOV.UK.

Transactional protection statement

The following pupils will be protected against losing their free school meal status:

  • Since 1 April 2018, all existing free school meals claimants have continued to receive free school meals whilst Universal Credit is rolled out. This applies even if their earnings rise above the threshold during that time.
  • Any pupil gaining eligibility for free school meals after 1 April 2018 will be protected against losing free school meals until March 2025.
  • After March 2025, any existing claimants that no longer meet the eligibility criteria at that point (because they are earning above the threshold or are no longer a recipient of Universal Credit) will continue to receive free school meals until the end of their current phase of education (i.e. primary or secondary).
  • A pupil is only eligible to receive a free school meal when
    • a claim for the meal has been made on their behalf and
    • their eligibility or protected status has been verified by the school where they are enrolled or by the local authority.

Tower Hamlets conducted an auto-enrolment project. What does this mean?

We have conducted a data matching exercise as part of the auto-enrolment process to identify children who are eligible to receive extra benefits. The Benefits team have posted letter to these families to explain the process, and to give them the option to opt out, should they choose . This process was completed on 5 October 2023.

Who does the Universal Free School Meals apply to?

The council provides universal free school meals to pupils in primary and secondary schools (up to the age of 16) who live in the borough and attend state-run schools.

Do I have to tell the council about changes in circumstances?

If you are claiming Housing Benefits or Council Tax Reduction, you must tell the council about any changes to your income.

You also need to inform the council if your circumstances change. For example, you must tell the council if your child changes school, or if you change address. If you change your address, please complete the change of circumstances form or email us on benefits@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Can I appeal a decision?

If your child is found as ineligible for free school meals, you can appeal. You will need to show that the information used in making the decision was incorrect.

If you wish to discuss making an appeal, please call on 020 7364 5001.

What if my child/children attend schools in Tower Hamlets, but I live outside the borough?

Please complete and submit the claim form. You can call the Benefits team on 020 7364 5001 if you have any questions.

What if we live in Tower Hamlets, but my child/children attend schools outside the borough?

Parents should apply to the authority where the school is located. The school secretary should be able to give you more information about this.

Can children in care claim free school meals?

No, children in care are not eligible for free school meals. The payments made as part of the fostering allowance will cover the costs of all meals for the child.

If a child is in private fostering, claims should be made to the free school meals team and eligibility checks carried out in the usual way. 

Do nursery children have a universal entitlement for free school meals (FSM) like infant children?

The universal free school meal entitlement begins when a child starts at school for reception, year 1 and year 2. Not all nursery children will be eligible for a free school meal.

Which early year’s providers must offer a Free School Meal?

Local authority-run schools and academies must offer a free school meal to eligible nursery children.

What are the eligibility criteria for nursery school children?

The child must attend nursery both before and after the lunchtime period. They must also meet the benefits criteria. The same benefits criteria apply to nursery school children as apply to children in school.

Does it matter if a child is attending for funded or bought hours?

Only children who are funded by the local authority can receive free school meals. Those paying to attend nurseries are not entitled to receive free school meals. 

Can all ages of children in the nursery receive a free school meal?

No, children have to be two years or older to receive free school meals.

A child is two and is eligible for the free Early Years Education Funding. Does this mean the child is eligible for free school meals?

The eligibility criteria for two-year-old funding and free school meals differ. However, if a two-year-old child applies for free school meals and is found eligible, both can be claimed.