Free School Meal Eligibility for pupils transferring between schools

Free School Meal Eligibility for pupils transferring between schools

Please note that the following guidance will be valid until 31st March 2025 when the DfE has plans to cease the transitional protection.

With the advent of transitional free school meal eligibility (FSME) that came into effect in April 2018, it has become increasingly difficult for schools to identify pupils who are covered by the protection when they move between schools. Many parents reapply for free school meals at the new school and when their details are checked via the DfE online checking system they may receive a false result. As the DfE system can only identify whether a parent is in receipt of a qualifying benefit on the day the check is carried out, this does not inform the school whether the parent has ever been in receipt of one.

Initially the DfE confirmed back in 2018 that schools could accept the FSM period recorded on the CTF from the previous school as evidence of transitional protection, but following issues Academy colleagues have encountered during an ESFA audit the guidance has now changed.

If schools receive a CTF from the previous school and there is an open FSM period this is an indication that the pupil may have transitional protection, but there are a few things schools need to check before continuing the pupil’s eligibility. Information about these individual points can be seen below.

  • Were the parents in receipt of an old benefit that has been transferred to Universal Credit?
  • Was the pupil previously eligible for free school meals in England?
  • Did the parents actually make a claim at the previous school or has the information been recorded incorrectly?
  • Do the parents still want their child recorded as eligible?

For the end of phase transfer in September or if a child moves to a new school in-year, the new schools need to identify if their new pupils will have transitional protection from their previous school. To do this schools are advised to - 

  • Ask the parent(s) / carer(s) to complete an application for free school meals. This will show that the parent wishes their child to continue with free school meals if they are eligible and will also identify any parents who applied originally with a National Asylum Seekers Number or who are 'No Recourse to Public Funds' (see guidance for parents in these situations below)
  • For schools who use the FSM checking service, add the parent's details to the current checking sheet as normal. If you receive a true result, the child's eligibility can continue and you can use the older start date if you receive one on the CTF from the previous school. 
  • For schools who are not in the checking service or if a false result is received, please contact the previous school and ask them to confirm in writing that they received an application from the parent and that they had evidence to support the claim for free school meals. This response should be kept in the pupil's file in case of an audit as recording a pupil as eligible for free school meals is a claim for public funds.
  • If the previous school(s) cannot provide confirmation, colleagues will need to go back to the parent and ask them to provide evidence to support their claim. Schools who use the FSM checking service can send this evidence via AnyComms for help with confirming eligibility.

Many MIS's have areas where colleagues can keep notes about issues regarding free school meal eligibility issues. It would be good practice to keep a record of any communications received about eligibility (e.g. which school sent the CTF with eligibility dates, when the CTF was received, whether a parent applied using a NI number or NASS number etc), as there may be some time between a child becoming eligible and either the new school making contact to confirm eligibility or the school having an audit.

Pupils not eligible for transitional protection

Many of the old legacy benefits (e.g. Child Tax Credit) are gradually being transferred to Universal Credit and any pupils whose parents are in receipt of these benefits will be eligible under the Transitional Protection. However, not all of the legacy benefits are being transferred to Universal Credit, so school colleagues will need to check with parents to see which benefits they are/were receiving. Any parents in receipt of support under the Immigration & Asylum Act 1999 (and have applied for free school meals using a National Asylum Seekers Number instead of a National Insurance Number) or Pension Credit will not be covered by the protection and the pupils will only be eligible for free school meals as long as the parents are receiving these benefits. These parents will need to reapply for free school meals at the new school and either their details checked on the eligibility checking service or provide copies of their benefits documents to schools that are not in the service.

Eligibility for families with no recourse to public funds has changed recently so these families can now be recorded as eligible in school’s MIS and these pupils will now also be eligible for Deprivation Pupil Premium. Guidance for how to identify whether these families are eligible can be found on the DfE website. (Providing free school meals to families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) - GOV.UK ( However, as the parents are not in receipt of any benefits, these pupils are not covered by the transitional protection so schools will again need to check with the parents to see if this applies to their situation and the parents should reapply at the new school, possibly using the sample application form provided by the DfE.

Parent was eligible in another Country in the UK

Transitional protection only applies to children who have been found eligible in England so any children transferring from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland will not be protected. The parents will need to reapply.


Parent did not apply for free school meals at the previous school

Errors are sometimes made in schools and we have heard from colleagues who have received an open free school meal record in the CTF but the parents have said that they have never applied for FSM at any school.

When a FSM period is recorded on the CTF, colleagues should contact the previous school to confirm whether the parent has made a claim with them. It would be helpful for the previous school to then send an email with written confirmation of the claim and this should be kept on the pupil’s file in case of an audit.

If the previous school confirms the details were recorded in error, please remove the free school meal period and make a note on the child's record about the action taken. The school that made the error must inform the DfE of the error as the Deprivation Pupil Premium records need to be updated. Any Buckinghamshire Schools should contact the School Management Support Team ( for assistance with this issue.

If the previous school cannot provide confirmation of the prior claim, schools may need to ask the parents for evidence for them being in receipt of a qualifying benefit since April 2018.


Parents no longer want the meals

Occasionally, parents decide that they no longer wish their children to be recorded as eligible for free school meals and they are entitled to do so. Therefore, if schools receive free school meal information via the CTF, the parents should be informed and asked if they still wish their children to recorded. If the parents decide to stop their child’s eligibility, they must be informed that the transitional protection will also stop and if they change their mind at a later date, they will need make a new application. If the parent still wishes the FSME to cease, please add an end date to the information in your MIS. This will result in a query on the School Census, but if an explanatory note is added it should be accepted by the DfE.

After the parents have confirmed they still wish their children to be recorded as eligible and they were receiving a qualifying benefit, school colleagues are advised to record somewhere on the child’s records that their free school meal details were received from the previous school via a CTF along with the date the CTF was received. Any further evidence received from other schools or parents should also be recorded. This can be done in SIMS by opening the free school meal period and writing a comment in the notes box. Schools using a different MIS may wish to contact their support provider to see where this information can be added. This information will be useful if your school is audited as recording pupils as eligible for FSM is a claim for public funds through the School Census and evidence of your school’s claim must be kept on file.

Was this page helpful?

Very poor
Neither good nor poor
Very good