Category: Campaigns

On Wednesday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out the government’s plans for the economy in his Autumn Statement. Read our CEO’s response.

Below we outline some of the main benefit changes relevant to families with disabled children.

Benefit changes at a glance

The Chancellor announced:

Response to consultation on proposed changes to the work capability assessment

The work capability assessment is a disability assessment the government uses to decide how much benefit disabled adults on certain benefits like Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance should receive. It also determines whether they should be look for work while claiming that benefit.

There are three possible outcomes of a work capability assessment:

The government intends to scrap the work capability assessment and replace it with the Personal Independence Payment assessment. However, that change is not expected to take place until 2026/27 at the earliest.

In the meantime, the government intends making changes to the work capability assessment. This will see a reduction in the number of new claimants having a LCWRA. In responding to a consultation, the government has confirmed that it plans to make these changes from April 2025, for new claims only.

If you have a limited capability for work, you don’t have to look for work, but you must still take part in work-related activities to get you more ready for work. For example, you may have to take part in training. Having a limited capability for work does not lead to any additional benefit payments.

However, if you have LCWRA, you won’t need to meet any work-related conditions like job seeking or training. You’re also eligible for an extra amount of benefit. 

Changes the government is proposing

Substantial risk to health

The government plans to amend the rules that allow a disabled person to be treated as having a LCWRA where taking part in work-related activity would place them or others at ‘substantial risk’. These rules will become more restrictive.

Although yet to announce full details about how it will apply the new rules, the government says that it will protect those with physical health problems. This means that where being taking part in work-related activities would lead to a deterioration in your physical health, the government will protect you as someone at substantial risk. 


It also plans to remove difficulties with mobilising from the list of activities used when deciding whether someone has a LCWRA. Currently those who cannot mobilise for more than 50m without pain or discomfort are one of the groups having a LCWRA.

The government claims that those with the most significant mobilising needs will not lose out as a result of this change. Instead, the substantial risk rules will treat them as having a LCWRA.

Difficulties in physically mobilising will still factor in deciding whether someone has a limited capability for work.

Getting around

In assessing whether someone has a limited capability for work, there will be a reduction in points awarded for difficulties in getting around without the help of another person, for example due to mental health problems. 

Other changes consulted on

The government has decided that it will not proceed with proposed changes in how the work capability assessment deals with problems with incontinence or in engaging in social engagement.

Need advice?

We have lots of information and advice about benefits and tax credits and money and debt.

Yesterday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out the government’s plans for the economy in his Autumn Statement.

Measures announced include:

Read the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in full.

Our CEO responds to the Autumn Statement

Anna Bird, Chief Executive of disability charity Contact, said: “Now into a second year of sky-high costs for food, heating, rent and mortgages, families with disabled children say they face a constant battle to keep afloat. Disappointingly there was little in yesterday’s Autumn statement to alleviate the hardship many are experiencing.

“There was no targeted support and no commitment to a social tariff to help with families’ higher energy costs. Families with disabled children pay £1,600 a year more than other households for their energy, to run vital equipment like ventilators, adjustable beds, hoists and suction pumps. They now face a difficult winter without the support they desperately need.

“The Chancellor chose to focus on tax cuts rather than investing in public services that disabled children and their families depend on. Families are exhausted from filling gaps in support for physiotherapy, speech and language, as well as mental health services. Over the last 10 years support services have been cut back and families are left to do more, often complex care. This has devastating impacts on their wellbeing and their ability to be in paid employment.

“On top of this the lack of action on fixing the Carer’s Allowance earnings limit, is another blow to those families who would like to combine caring with paid employment.”

We will spell out what the Autumn Statement 2023 means for families with disabled children in more detail soon.

Need help with your finances?

We have lots of information and advice about benefits and tax credits and money and debt.

Contact and our partners in the Carer Poverty Coalition are calling on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to urgently alleviate the financial hardship faced by unpaid carers across the UK.

While unpaid carers provide up to £162billion worth of care a year, they can less easily earn income and face additional care-related costs. Many carers can’t combine work and care. And it isn’t an option to turn the heating down or reduce spending on essential equipment.

The combination of low levels of welfare support system and the rising cost of living is causing financial hardship among carers of disabled children and adults.

What we’re calling for

On behalf of unpaid carers, we join the Carer Poverty Coalition in urging the UK Government to:

We also want to see more support for carers to work where they’re able to:

Targeted energy support for families

The Autumn Statement provides another opportunity for the Chancellor to commit to targeted energy support for families most in need.

Sky high energy bills and rationing energy hasn’t gone away. Households with seriously ill or disabled children are paying on average £1,596 extra a year to run vital equipment, even before the cost of keeping their homes warm this winter.

That’s why we are calling on the Chancellor to honour his pledge to consult on a social tariff to help disabled and older people with their energy bills.

In the last 12 months there has been a 21% increase in calls to Contact’s helpline about exclusions of disabled children from schools. Of particular concern is that younger children with an additional need are facing exclusion – some aged just four and five.

Our Head of Policy Una Summerson was interviewed on Sky News about the situation and families also spoke out about the impact on their children.

Anna Bird, Chief Executive of disability charity Contact, said: “The impact of exclusion can be devastating on a disabled child. It makes them feel isolated and affects their confidence and attendance, as they don’t feel like they belong in the school environment. Parents are often unable to work.

Last resort

“Exclusion of a disabled child should only be used as a last resort. There is a legal requirement for schools to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children, such as providing a quiet space or teaching in a small group. We know that exclusions often happen due to lack of support.”

Disabled children have always been disproportionately affected by exclusions. But as schools struggle with budget cuts there is less access to specialists such as Speech and Language Therapists and Educational Psychologists. In addition there are fewer special school places and there are long waiting times for assessments. This has led to the situation getting worse.

There are lots of schools who do everything possible to avoid exclusion, ensuring children get assessed and using reasonable adjustments, such as providing a safe space or allowing the use of ear defenders.

Not following behaviour policy

But in some cases, schools aren’t following their own behaviour policy or government guidance. Some are excluding children illegally, asking a parent to collect their child at lunchtime because they are having a bad day or telling a child not to attend a particular activity.

It is feeding into the growing problem of persistent absence, as disabled children faced with seclusion and exclusion don’t feel they belong in the school environment. Absence rates for disabled pupils are significantly higher than their non-disabled peers.

Anna Bird added: “We’d like to see government invest more in SEN support in schools. There needs to be a strong focus on the specialist workforce and support is needed within schools to make disabled pupils feel welcome and included in the school environment.”

Is your child affected by exclusion or behaviour management at school?

We have lots of information and advice to help you.

Today, MPs debate the Kings Speech, which sets out the government’s plan for the year ahead. Opposition MPs are using the debate to highlight data that shows over two million children could be regularly missing school by 2025 if the number of pupils absent from classrooms continues at the current rate – one in four of all children currently at primary and secondary school.

Contact welcomes the focus on persistent absence and calls for greater understanding of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and why they feature so prevalently in persistent absence figures.

Unmet need

Una Summerson, Contact’s Head of Policy, said: “Absence rates for pupils with SEND are significantly higher than their peers. And they are rising, especially across special schools. This is often down to unmet need.

“Just under 40% of calls to Contact’s helpline come from parents who say the school or local authority is not providing the right support for their child. We also hear from parents that the school environment and culture is sometimes detrimental to their child’s needs.

“A focus on mental health is important, but we also need to look at other reasons that children with SEN may be absent. This includes medical reasons, a lack of support in school, delays in assessment for support, lack of suitable school places and disproportionate use of exclusion on children with SEND.”

There is also a disproportionate number of pupils with SEND who are home educated, with reported pressures to do so. Contact has long called for a compulsory register of children who are home educated.

Earlier this year Contact submitted evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on persistent absence. The committee’s report stated: “growing demand for mental health services and special educational needs support, as well as cost-of-living pressures, have compounded a problem that worsened following the Covid lockdowns but remains present”.

Advice for families whose children are absent from school

We have information for parents about absence from school for medical reasons, how to support children back to school after a period of absence and the use of fines for parents whose children are persistently absent.

This week our head of campaigns spoke out about support for unpaid carers in the Express.

We know from calls to our helpline that parent carers are facing a double whammy of the cost of living crisis and cuts to vital local support services.

As services have been stripped away, unpaid carers have been filling the gaps. They are having to do more, often providing complex care in the home themselves. In addition, families with disabled children have been disproportionately affected by increased costs in energy and food. This is due to the need for electrical equipment for the care of their child and often special diets.

Carers need benefit earnings limit increase

In order to get Carer’s Allowance, your earnings after allowable deductions must be no more than £139 per week. Parents working more than 13 hours on the National Living Wage of £10.42 will find their wages over the limit. As a result, they’ll lose entitlement to this vital benefit.

This policy not only creates a disincentive to seeking paid employment, but often puts carers in a difficult situation with their employers.

Many carers think the earnings limit should increase to be in line with the National Living Wage, and so does Contact. That’s why we are calling on the Chancellor to use next month’s Autumn Statement to increase the Carer’s Allowance earnings limit in line with increases in the National Living Wage rate.

This small but significant measure will allow carers to earn more without losing their entitlement to Carer’s Allowance. And it’ll send a positive message to carers that they are valued.

Contact is deeply concerned that families asked to claim Universal Credit under managed migration will be left much worse off if they have a disabled child who is “looked after” by their local authority in a residential setting.

These families will be denied access to the system of top-up payments called transitional protection. These payments ensure that everyone moving onto Universal Credit via managed migration isn’t worse off.

We have already spoken to a family likely to see a drop in income of £850 per month. Unfortunately, they won’t get transitional protection payments to make up these losses.

We are urging the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to rectify this problem before managed migration rolls out to more families.

Families will struggle to keep in contact with their children

Derek Sinclair, our Family Finance expert, says:

“We are really concerned that some families on tax credits whose disabled child has looked-after status face a substantial drop in income when the DWP asks them to claim Universal Credit.

“This isn’t just an issue for families with a disabled child in residential care. In some cases, a disabled child in residential school or residential college can have ‘looked after’ status, even though their accommodation is on a voluntary basis.

“Parents with a looked-after child in residential accommodation still incur significant costs. They pay for their child’s clothes and personal belongings as well as travel, leisure and social activities. In many cases, looked-after children will return home frequently, not only during school holidays but at weekends too.

“Faced with such a significant drop in income, families may struggle to maintain regular home visits and keep in contact with their child. This will have a detrimental impact on the mental health of the family and the disabled young person.”

Why are families with looked-after disabled children likely to be worse off?

The treatment of looked-after children is much less generous under Universal Credit than tax credits. Under tax credits, a parent can continue to receive amounts for a child looked after by the local authority in residential accommodation, so long as they are in that residential accommodation solely because of their disability.

Under Universal Credit, a parent cannot receive any amounts for a looked-after child. This is the case even if they are in a residential accommodation for disability reasons. The only exceptions to this will be where either:

Won’t these families get transitionally protection to make up for this loss so long as they claim via managed migration?

No, they are unlikely to benefit from transitional protection to make up for the loss of payments.

In deciding how much transitional protection someone gets, the DWP is meant to compare the amount of legacy benefits someone was getting with an “indicative” amount of Universal Credit they expect them to receive. If their “indicative” Universal Credit figure is lower, they receive a top-up payment to make up the difference.

However, the indicative Universal Credit figure is not necessarily the true amount they will get under Universal Credit. Instead, the indicative Universal Credit figure is based on certain “assumptions”. One assumption is that they will receive Universal Credit payments for any child they’ve been getting tax credits for. This means the DWP assumes they will receive Universal Credit payments for a looked-after child, despite knowing that they will get no such payments. By artificially inflating the Universal Credit indicative figure, the DWP treats a family’s income as if it won’t drop under Universal Credit, even though in reality it will reduce greatly.

This means affected families will either get no transitional protection or a much smaller amount of transitional protection that does not make up for the loss of payments for their looked-after child.

When is a child treated as looked after by a local authority?

This means that a child is being looked after by a local authority under section 22 of the Children Act; section 17 (6) of the Children Scotland Act; or section 74 of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014.

Most children in local authority-funded residential care will have looked-after status. Some children in residential schools or colleges whose placements the local authority funds/part-funds may also fall under this definition. Someone accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act falls under section 22.

What can I do if I have a looked-after disabled child and I get a managed migration notice?

We are working with another charity – the Child Poverty Action Group – to convince the government to change these rules.

In the meantime, if you are a family getting tax credits for a disabled child in residential accommodation who has looked-after status, and you have received a managed migration notice giving you a deadline to claim Universal Credit, phone the Contact Helpline as soon as possible. You can call us on freephone 0808 808 3555 (Mon-Fri; 9.30am-5pm) .

The DWP can cancel a managed migration notice if they accept this is in the best interests of the claimant. There is an argument that they should consider doing this in cases involving a looked-after child, given the financial loss you will face.

Related information

We have heard from lots of parents who have successfully used the free school meals template letters to request an alternative, such as a voucher, to their child’s free lunch.

More template letters available

And in response to requests from parents we have written more template letters to cover different situations where eligible children can’t access a free school meal due to their disability. These include:

These are in addition to the template letters A-D which we published last month.

We expect more template letters in the coming weeks for families in Northern Ireland and for those who have children aged 16+.

Your questions answered

During our recent Free School Meals webinar there were lots of questions from parent carers whose children can’t access their free lunch due to their disability.

The legal team were unable to answer questions about specific cases, but we have rounded up some general themes that emerged and have answered those for you.

If a child attends a non-maintained or independent school which is named in an EHCP, does that mean the local authority does have a duty to provide?

Councils have the power to provide a free school meal to an eligible child in a non-maintained or independent school under section 513 of the Education Act 1996. This means they have a choice whether to provide, which is different to a duty. If your child falls into this category and is eligible for free school meals but can’t access them, you can use template letter A to request one. If you can show that they are attending the independent or non-maintained school because it is the only setting able to meet their special education needs, this may help, but there is no guarantee.

If a child is in Year 2, but not eating school meals. Should they get vouchers if not SEN registered?

It depends if the reason your child is not eating meals is due or suspected to be due to a disability or medical condition which has yet to be diagnosed. If that is the case you can use template letter C to request that reasonable adjustments can be made. You will need to explain why the child is unable to eat the school meal, for instance due to a sensory or dietary need.

Is a child eligible for vouchers in holidays and in any school break during the year?

The holiday food voucher scheme is run by the Department of Work and Pensions through the Household Support Fund. However, councils decide how to run their fund so the provision available will differ depending on where you live. You can find out more about the fund here.

If a child is post 16 and attends part school, part college, but can’t access free school meals, are they eligible for an alternative?

We are currently working on a template letter for post 16 young people.

Q. Should a school backdate the free school meal vouchers to when my child was unable to get them.

A school doesn’t have a duty to backdate free school meals. We have heard from some parents that they have had vouchers backdated, but it is at the school’s discretion and they are not bound to.

Legal backing

Public law human rights lawyers Alex Rook, Rosie Campbell and Katie Sinclair from Rook Irwin Sweeney and Steve Broach from 39 Essex Chambers wrote the free school meals guide and template letters A-D. Parent and founder of the free school meals campaign Natalie Hay independently raised funds through a crowdfunding website to enable the legal team to do this.

Contact has written template letters E-G.

Child eating packed lunch at school

You can now rewatch our Free School Meals webinar, hosted as part of the parent-led campaign, founded by Natalie Hay, to stop disabled children missing out on free school meals.

Featuring human rights lawyer Alex Rook and Barrister Steve Broach, the webinar covers:

Watch the webinar below or on YouTube.

Free School Meals Webinar
19th September 2023

A new report by Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) and Pro Bono Economics has found that lost SEND tribunals cost taxpayers £60 million in 2021-22.

The report, Wasting Money, Wasting Potential, published today, found that:

These tribunals were brought by parent carers disputing council decisions about their child’s support needs in education, including assessing and issuing an EHC plan and about the contents of the plan.

Emotional and financial strain

Contact, a leading member of DCP, hears from many families going through the tribunal process.

Michele Cefai, Head of Communications at Contact, said: “The tribunal process puts tremendous strain on families, both emotionally and financially. And the wait for support can lead to increased difficulties for children and young people, including deteriorating mental and physical health, which can lead to persistent absence from school.

“Local authorities lose the vast majority of tribunal cases, so there needs to be a recognition that parents know their child best. This money would be better used providing support to children with special educational needs.”

DCP is calling for:

Information for affected families

Find out how to get an EHC plan for your child.

If you disagree with a council’s decision on the support your child gets in school, you can appeal to the SEND tribunal.

Human rights lawyers have written a free school meals guide and four template letters to help families whose disabled child is eligible for free school meals, but can’t access them in the standard way.

Who are the resources for?

Many eligible disabled children are unfairly missing out on a free lunch because they can’t attend school or are unable to eat the meal provided due to dietary or sensory needs.

You can use these letters to ask your child’s school to provide an alternative, such as a supermarket voucher.

The four letters cover:

You can highlight your particular situation in our online flow chart. You’ll be directed to the correct template letter to use. The letters include important information including who to send the letter to at the school or local authority.

Please note: these letters were written for those living in England. We will be writing letters for children living in other parts of the UK, and they will be available soon.

Written by human rights lawyers

Public law human rights lawyers Alex Rook, Rosie Campbell and Katie Sinclair from Rook Irwin Sweeney and Steve Broach from 39 Essex Chambers wrote the free school meals guide and template letters.

Parent and founder of the free school meals campaign Natalie Hay independently raised funds through a crowdfunding website to enable the legal team to do this.

Imogen Steele, Contact’s Policy Lead on free school meals, said: “A third of eligible disabled children are missing out on free school meals, worth £570 a year. This number will grow as free school meal schemes expand to more pupils across the country this year.

“We are calling for swift action from the government to update its guidance to ensure this discrimination is stopped. In the meantime, we must ensure as many disabled children as possible get the school lunch they are entitled to. The letters and guide are a great tool for making that happen.”

Free school meals webinar recording

As part of the campaign Contact hosted a webinar featuring lawyers Alex Rook, Steve Broach and campaign founder Natalie Hay. The webinar is available to watch back here.

Healthy lunchbox on a wooden table filled with cheese sandwich, fruit, nuts, milk, orange juice and a green apple.

Contact is proud to support a parent-led campaign, founded by Natalie Hay, aimed at stopping disabled children missing out on free school meals.

As part of the campaign, Contact is hosting a free online Zoom meeting with human rights lawyer Alex Rook and Barrister Steve Broach.

The webinar will take place on Tuesday 19 September at 10.30am for one hour.

Cameras will automatically be turned off during the session to ensure the anonymity of those attending.

What will the webinar cover?

The session will cover:

There will also be an opportunity to ask questions.

Who should attend the webinar?

You should join if you are:

Unable to join the webinar on 19th September?

If you can’t make it, don’t worry. The session will be available to watch on our YouTube channel

If you sign up to receive our newsletters, you will also be sent the recording.

Find out more about the Free School Meals campaign

Our Free School Meals webpage includes more information about the campaign including template letters to send to your school, council or MP.

There is also lots of information about getting help for your child at school and sources of financial support on our website.

The government is consulting on its plans to improve disabled people’s lives, as a new Equality and Human Rights Commission report accuses it of making “slow progress” in making changes.

The government’s Disability Action Plan sets out “concerted actions” each government department is planning in 2023-24. 

The plan includes: 

There are also plans to allow carers to ask for flexible working from day one of their employment. 

Ministers say the public consultation represents the listening stage in planning. The consultation is a chance for you to tell them if those plans will be helpful. 

Read the full consultation document online.

How can I respond to the consultation?

Contact will submit a formal response to the consultation. We want to hear your views on whether the plans will help improve life for your disabled child. 

You can contribute to Contact’s response by emailing

You can also respond online.

The consultation closes on 6 October. 

Do you use assisted technology?

We would especially like to hear from any parent who relies on assisted technology (AT) and who would like to join an online government consultation event on 2 September.

Assisted Technology includes any device that supports disabled child to engage in daily life. It includes ramps and motorised wheelchairs, cochlear implants and assisted communication devices. 

Last week, we shared news that nearly there are an estimated 1 million teens missing out on savings locked away in their Child Trust Funds.

So we were delighted to hear that Unity Mutual are helping parents access savings in Child Trust Funds on behalf of disabled youngsters who lack mental capacity to manage their money.

Helen from Sheffield got in touch with us to say:

“After reading Contact’s advice about Child Trust Funds, I contacted my son’s provider, Unity Mutual. They asked me to fill out a form and to see a copy f DWP appointee certificate. The whole process took 12 days from start to finish. We can now use some of these savings to get a wheelchair accessible sand table and toys as well as a sensory wall toy which my son will love.”

We’d encourage other parents to do what Helen did and contact their Child Trust Fund provider about accessing savings.

Find your Child Trust Fund provider.

Unity Mutual joins One Family, Foresters, and Columbia Threadneedle who have put in place a scheme that saves families from having to go through the stressful complexity of applying to the Court of Protection to access savings.

Find out more about our Child Trust Fund campaign.

Re-watch our webinar about Child Trust Funds and mental capacity.

Speak out about Child Trust Funds

If you have started the Court of Protection process to access a Child Trust Funds and would be willing to talk about your experience to the media, please get in touch with our head of campaigns

We know that schools can provide routine and structure for many children with additional needs. When this routine stops, for example in the school holidays, some children can find the change hard to manage.

To help, we’ve put together 10 top tips to help take some of the stress out of the holidays ahead:

  1. Mark up key dates for your family this summer on a calendar to help your child understand what’s coming up. Include things like days out, days you are working, days your child will be at childcare or a playscheme, any holidays away – and the day school starts again. Crossing the days off will show your child that school is getting closer.
  2. Use photographs and other visuals to show your child daily routines. For example the Tom Tag range in our Fledglings shop uses symbols to show a series of separate tasks or the steps involved in a task that are part of a routine for a whole range of different situations.
  3. Social stories can be a great way to help your child what’s happening this summer holiday.
  4. Find some free activities. Look out for places where kids can eat for free and family days out as well as museums, libraries, parks, BBC online games, craft activities at home. Maybe you have a local children’s centre or toy library. Look out for autism-friendly attractions by checking accessibility guidelines.
  5. Don’t over-plan activities – you and your child will be exhausted! It’s important to allow for down-time.
  6. Get out early and take a packed lunch and snacks!
  7. When you are out and about don’t forget to bring a bag of distractions and spare clothes.
  8. Don’t forget to take emergency contact information with you.
  9. Tolerate mess!
  10. Shop for back-to-school items early.

Contact resources to help

Take a look at our holidays and leisure guide.

Visit our Fledglings shop for products to help with routines and getting out and about this holiday.

Read answers to some of your questions about summer activities for your disabled child.

If you live in the Midlands or London and have an autistic child check out the free parent workshops we have coming up including support strategies for the summer holidays.

Take action on the lack of holiday childcare for families with disabled children

Contact and the Disabled Children’s Partnership recently carried out research which revealed that nine out of 10 families have been unable to find a suitable holiday club or activity for their disabled child this summer.

As a result, we’re asking supporters to take action on the lack of holiday childcare for disabled children by writing to their councillors calling for more holiday provision for disabled children in their local area. 

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – a group of cross-party MPs – has found that nearly a million young people are missing out on savings in their Child Trust Funds

The committee, which scrutinises the value for money of government projects, estimates that more than £1.7billion is sitting in accounts waiting to be accessed. At least 80,000 of those accounts are owned by young people with a learning disability who lack mental capacity.

Their report backs up what Contact and campaigners have been saying about the Court of Protection process needed when a disabled youngster lacks mental capacity to access savings – it’s difficult, time consuming, and costly.

Parents speak out

Our Change Maker, Ramadeep and her son Harry told the BBC what the money would mean to them and how the Court process is locking the money away:

“The money will mean so much to Harry – but at the same time the bureaucracy, cost, and overall impact of the legal implications is huge. I saved for my son, like I did for his brother – the whole system is wrong if it deprives Harry of what is rightfully his.”

Contact has joined parent campaigners, legal and financial firms campaigning to unlock £210 million of savings in Child Trust Funds for 80,000 disabled youngsters.  To date nearly 2000 of our supporters have written to their MP calling for a simplified process to help release savings.

Andrew Turner, the parent leading the campaign told the Times Newspaper:

“All we’re asking is for the government to come up with a simple process. None of us want fraudulent activity to take place. But you don’t necessarily need such a heavy duty process.”

As of this week more than £58 million of savings in Child Trust Funds has been locked away from disabled youngsters.

Martin Lewis speaks out

Martin Lewis, the financial expert, has recently raised his concerns about the issue. He agrees that the Government has so far ‘failed to meaningfully act’ to help young people locked out of their savings. He wrote to Children’s Minister calling for action, you can read her response in his blog:

What do MPs say should be done?

The Public Accounts Committee report makes a number of recommendations, including calling on the government to set out what action they are taking to help the families of young people who lack mental capacity to access their Child Trust Funds without excessive bureaucracy and cost.

It also says government should do more to find and contact young people who have not claimed their Child Trust Fund.

The government will now have to respond to the report. You can find the summary and full report here.

What Contact and other campaigners want

We are calling on the government to increase the scope of the DWP Appointee Scheme to cover Child Trust Funds and Junior ISAs up to £5,000.

This would bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, where an Access to Funds scheme makes it easier and cheaper for young people who lack mental capacity to access their savings.

Our advice to families

Contact’s Free School Meals campaign is helping some eligible disabled children get free school meals help when they had previously been missing out.

Research by Contact found that a third of eligible disabled children are missing out on their free school meal, losing almost £600 a year of financial help. Some are missing out because they are not in school for a medical reason, or are waiting for a school place. Others can’t eat the meals provided due to sensory or dietary needs.

But the law is clear, if an eligible child is registered at school and can’t access a free school meal in the regular way an alternative such as supermarket voucher or food parcel should be provided. Some families have successfully used our template letters, which set out the law, to secure the help that their child is entitled to.

Una Summerson, Head of Campaigns at Contact, said: “We are delighted that some families whose children can’t access free school meals in the regular way, have been successful in getting supermarket vouchers instead, using our template letters. They have told us the huge difference this has made to squeezed family budgets during this cost of living crisis.”

A family’s experience

Ellie’s son, Nathan, is autistic and has ADHD. He does not attend school as school transport arrangements failed and he was offered home tuition instead. Throughout Year 8 and Year 9 he has learnt at home. Although he is entitled to free school meals he did not receive them. Ellie and the school thought this was normal as he was at home and could not access them in the regular way. Nathan is a typical teenager and has a big appetite, so food shopping is a big chunk of the weekly household budget.

Through Contact’s campaign Ellie learned that her son was entitled to an alternative to his free school meal in the form of a supermarket voucher or food parcel. She spoke to the school and the headteacher asked the school’s business manager to investigate because they had never been asked before and did not know about this duty.

A few weeks later, the headteacher contacted Ellie to let her know that they would provide supermarket vouchers and backdate them to when Nathan started home tuition and couldn’t access his free school meal – over £1000 in vouchers.

Ellie said: “Given prices now, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders, this will really help us with our weekly food bills and will mean I no longer need to use the foodbank. I’m just so grateful to the school for taking my request on board and looking into it to understand what the law says.”

Schools need help to understand the law

The Education Act 1996 places a duty on maintained schools and academies to provide nutritious, free meals to pupils that meet the eligibility criteria, which includes being a registered pupil of a state funded school. Free school meal provision should be made to eligible pupils either on the school premises or at any other place where education is being provided. This provision could, for example, take the form of lunch parcels or vouchers. This has been confirmed by the Schools Minister in response to our campaign letter .

But the Free School Meals guidance written for schools by the Department for Education, makes no mention of this duty. This leaves schools and parents to investigate for themselves – time and resource that they don’t have.

Una Summerson added: “So far our free school meals campaign has led to small successes for individual families. But we want all disabled children who are unfairly missing out, to benefit.

“What the campaign has shown is that many schools are unaware of the law. It’s crucial that the Department for Education updates their guidance or at the very least sends a letter to all schools clarifying the law, so that the onus is not on schools to work out what their duties are. This will ensure that all eligible disabled children benefit from free school meal help they are entitled to.”

Affected parents have grouped together to fund official legal letters written by solicitors to set out the law and help more families ask for an alternative to their child’s free school meal. We will share those on our website before the new school year.

What about children not on the school roll?

If your child has Education Otherwise Than at School (EOTAS), a home package of education provision funded by your local authority, the law in its current form says nothing on the rights of your child to have access to a free school meal.

Contact want a change in the law so that those who would otherwise be eligible for a free school meal but have EOTAS can receive their meal entitlement.

Join the Free School Meals Facebook campaign group.

Today, our Change Makers Jasmin and Lauran speak out in the Metro newspaper about the lack of holiday clubs for disabled children this summer.

‘Holiday clubs are generally markerted towards children more broadly as opposed to disabled children. It’s generally assumed that all children are the same, and the staff-to-child ratio reflects that.

‘School holidays are really overwhelming and it makes me sad and angry because my daughter is entitled to play. She is entitled to be herself, she is still a child. She’s just a child that has different needs.

Change Maker Lauren shares concerns in Metro Newspaper

Read the full article here: Parents of disabled children can’t find summer childcare | Metro News

The Metro follows on from the launch of our report, Loneliest Summer on BBC News last Friday which showed 9 in 10 families haven’t been able to find any suitable childcare this summer for their disabled children.

Take action on the lack for holiday clubs

In response the Disabled Children’s Partnership have launched a campaign action calling on supporters to write to their councillors calling for more holiday provision for disabled children in their local area. 

An email template has been set up to make taking action quick and easy

Related information

Family life, work and childcare

Advice on returning to work, finding and paying for childcare, plus what to do if you are refused childcare. The webpages also include tips on looking after you and your family’s wellbeing.

Holidays, play and leisure

On this page we have information about what play, leisure, and short breaks options may be available, and where to find more information.

Short Breaks (respite)

Local authorities/trusts have duties to provide short break services and make clear how families can access them.