Application for Free School Meals - Signed up Schools

Application for free school meals

For schools who have signed up for the Eligibility Checking Service


All mainstream schools in Buckinghamshire have an obligation to provide Free School Meals to eligible children that attend full time.  Parents apply directly to the school if they consider their child(ren) eligible to receive Free School Meals.  Eligibility is judged against the benefits that the applying parent/carer is entitled to.  Signing up for the Eligibility Checking Service means that parents do not usually have to submit paper evidence to support their claims to different benefits.

Free School Meal Application

Parents are required to complete an Application for Free Meal Provision form if they wish to be assessed for eligibility for Free School Meals as this gives the school permission to check eligibility. Once a parent has completed and returned an application form to the school they do not need to complete another form for as long as the child(ren) remains at the school. A new form is required if a child changes schools.  If the child's eligibility is confirmed by the Eligibility Checking Service (ECS) then it is the school's responsibility to arrange for the provision of a free school meal.  Schools should keep application forms and the end of year Free School Meal spreadsheet for audit purposes for six years after the pupil's entitlement ends.

The ECS requires that the school uses a Free School Meal spreadsheet to transfer pupil/parent data to the Local Authority.  The spreadsheet was sent to each school via the AnyComms+ secure file transfer system.  Full guidance on how to use the checking service can be found through the link below:

FSM ECS Guidance

Further information on eligibility and examples of situations you may encounter is available through the link below:

FSM FAQ and Examples

The link below provides a basic template for schools to use as a letter when informing parents of non-eligibility (a FALSE result on the spreadsheet)

Non-eligibility template letter

Pupil Premium

Below is a link to an example letter provided by the DfE which is designed to make parents aware of the benefits of the Pupil Premium. Schools are free to tailor this letter to their own design and send it to the parents of their pupils.

DfE Pupil Premium letter template

The link below provides further information about the Pupil Premium.

Pupil Premium Fact Sheet

Eligibility Criteria

The Eligibility Checking Service removes the need for schools to check a pupil's eligibility manually.  Once the parent returns an application form, the school informs the LA of the parent's details and the LA will check the pupil's eligibility through the DfE Eligibility Checking Service (ECS) website.  This website links to the following government departments and can check a parent's benefits directly.

  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • Home Office (HO)
  • Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

The LA will inform the school of the pupil's eligibility.  If a child is not deemed eligible by the ECS then the school may wish to follow this up with the parent and check paper evidence if there are doubts over the result.

Under current regulations only children whose parents/guardians are in receipt of any of the following will be entitled to free school lunches:

  • Universal Credit with an annual net earned income of no more than £7,400
  • Income Support (IS)
  • Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance (IBJSA)
  • An Income–related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • Child Tax Credit (with no Working Tax Credit) with an annual income of no more than £16,190
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of the State Pension Credit
  • Where they are entitled to Child Tax Credit and also Working Tax Credit during the four week period immediately after their employment ceases, or after they start to work less than 16 hours per week, their children are entitled to free school meals*

*Please note that the DfE's eligibility checking service can not take account of the four week run on period when deciding eligibility, it will return a 'FALSE' result even if the parent is eligible under this criteria.  If a parent submits a Tax Decision Notice to the school which confirms they are within the four week run on period then the school may issue Free School Meals despite the 'FALSE' result. Alternatively you can contact the School Management Support Team for further advice  Schools are reminded that eligibility for these parents should be re-checked once this run on period has expired.

No other entitlements (such as a NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate card, Foster Care allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit or a Certificate of Taxable Incapacity Benefit) are relevant for a claim. 

The definition of “parent” is any person who has care of the child.  So in a case of private fostering the child has potentially four parents – two natural ones and two foster parents, since the foster parents have care of the child.  If a child is living with two parents/carers, the claim is based upon the benefits for the whole family.  If parents are considered by Inland Revenue to be two separate families, then the claim is based upon the benefits of the parent who makes the claim. This is regardless of whether the other parent (even if it is the one the child lives with) is claiming working tax credit.

A parent can begin claiming free school meals from any age, but the child must be receiving education both before and after the lunchtime so, for example, nursery children attending only in the morning are not entitled to a free meal.  There is nothing in the legislation to state that the education before or after the lunch period must last a particular minimum or maximum length of time. Children who attend nursery school for half a day but remain at the same school for childcare purposes the other half of the day are not entitled to receive free school meals.

Transitional Protection

Most of the current benefits that attract eligibility for Free School Meals (Income Support, Income Based Job Seekers Allowance, Income Based Employment and Support Allowance and Child Tax Credit) are being phased out by the government and replaced by Universal Credit. To stop any child instantly losing their Free School Meals solely due to their parents being moved to Universal Credit or the introduction of the income limit, the DfE have introduced the following transitional protections:

  • From 1 April 2018, existing free school meals claimants will continue to receive free school meals until summer 2023 (when the roll out of Universal Credit is complete) regardless of whether their benefits situation changes.
  • Any child gaining eligibility for free school meals after 1 April 2018 will also be protected against losing free school meals during the Universal Credit rollout period (until summer 2023).
  • After summer 2023 (once Universal Credit is fully rolled out), 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).
  • The only exception to the above is the small number of pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals due to receiving the Guarantee element of State Pension or Credit support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. These are not being replaced by Universal Credit and transitional protection will not apply to these pupils.

If schools need further information about transitional protection we have produced an FAQ document via the link below:

Transitional Protection FAQs

Proof of Benefit

Proof of benefit is only required where there is a doubt over the result given by the Eligibility Checking Service.  If a school or parent disagrees with an ineligible result then the school must take steps to obtain paper evidence from the parent that proves that the child is eligible.

It is not for schools to calculate a family’s annual taxable income.  The Inland Revenue will perform this income calculation and it is this figure that should be used when determining entitlement.  Each time a tax credit award is calculated, the Inland Revenue will automatically issue a Tax Credit Award Notice (TC602) to the applicant.  The award notice will set out the annual income and key family details. This notice includes details of all the information that is required to assess a child’s free school meal eligibility.  Under the ‘child tax credit’ category’ therefore we strongly suggest that this document is used to make that assessment.

Similarly, it is strongly suggested that the Pension Credit Award Notice, issued automatically by The Pension Service to all those in receipt of Pension Credits, is used to assess a child’s free school meal eligibility under the ‘Guarantee State Pension Credit’ category.

A letter (which needs to be updated on a termly basis) from the National Asylum Support Service (Tel: 0845 602 1739) is required as proof of support under Immigration and Asylum Act (Document SAL1 is not sufficient).

For evidence showing current receipt of Income Support, the person claiming the benefit should contact 'Job Centre Plus' on 0845 6088573 quoting their national insurance number.  The Job Centre will be able to provide them with a current statement of entitlement.  If this is urgently required, a manual copy should be requested.

Universal Credit claimants do not receive paperwork but have a monthly online statement. Screenshots of this can be provided as evidence, but the claimant's name and the section on "What we take off (deductions)" should be visible.

Meal Provision

The following options are available to schools to supply free school meals:

  • Schools with their own food preparation facilities, could provide pupils with a free school meal directly.
  • Alternatively the school could purchase a packed lunch from an alternative provider but they would need to ensure that the lunches meet the nutritional standards and comply with relevant Health and Safety regulations. 

Meal Provision for Boarders

Schools with boarding provision generally provide a free school meal to all their boarding pupils. However to record a pupil as eligible for a free school meal on their census return, schools must still confirm that the parents/guardians are in receipt of one of the benefits stated above and the pupil must be in receipt of a free meal.


Information contained in the form is personal data and is therefore subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and from May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).


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