Urgent government action needed to ensure all entitled pupils can receive their free school meal

14 March 2024
We signed a letter to the Schools Minister asking the government to act now to ensure all pupils who are entitled to Free School Meals (FSMs) are able to receive them.

On International School Meals Day, we reiterate our strong support for government action on automatic registration for free school meals (FSMs) for all entitled pupils. Thousands of pupils are missing out on their right to a free school meal in England. To be eligible for a free school meal, a child’s family must be in receipt of universal credit and cannot have a total household income of over £7,400 in a year. Eligible households can register for FSMs, but data shows that 11% of pupils entitled to FSMs are not registered to receive them. 

The administration required to register for free school meals presents several barriers that block families from registering. These can include language issues, inability to access technology, and social stigma, often excluding already vulnerable groups like people of colour and lone parent households. New polling released by the Children’s Food Campaign shows that 81% of parents want to see auto-enrolment implemented. Our Founder and Chief Executive Stephanie Slater comments:  

'Back in 2021, Henry Dimbleby wrote in the National Food Strategy, “It cannot be right to let paperwork stand between a child and a hot meal”. In 2024, it is shameful that we’re still waiting for auto-enrolment. For many pupils, a free school meal is the only hot meal they receive each day so it’s vital that we get this basic administrative task done without delay.'

In response to this issue, we signed a joint letter calling on the government to act urgently to:  

  • Commit to introducing a revised Free School Meal registration process so that all children entitled are automatically registered 
  • In the interim, promote and support local authorities to implement the ‘opt-out/right to object’ FSM model 
  • Provide datasets to each council to show the current levels of under-registration, by combining relevant DfE and DWP datasets 

We believe the government should fund universal free school meals so that no child is means tested for food.  

Learn more about the benefits of free school meals here.  

Read the letter to the school minister here.