Free School Meals – extra resources and your questions answered

4 mins read

Monday 9 October 2023

Tags: free school meals

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:

  • If your child attends a state-maintained school, academy or free school; is missing out on free school meals because they have been expelled, and you want to ask the local authority to provide an alternative. (Template E)
  • If your child is not currently registered at an education setting because they are awaiting a placement in a specialist setting and you want to ask the local authority to provide an alternative. (Template F)
  • If you live in Scotland and your child is eligible for free school meals but isn’t receiving them because of their disability, and you want to ask the school to provide an alternative. (Template G)

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.