Free school meals for disabled children

Many disabled children are missing out on their free school meals. Contact is proudly supporting a parent-led campaign to provide food vouchers for disabled children who can’t access their meals.

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

In this article

Campaign win!

In a huge win for disabled children and the free school meal disability inclusion campaign, the government has updated the Department for Education Free School Meal Guidance March 2024.

The guidance now includes a section on making reasonable adjustments for disabled children, such as by offering a food voucher. It describes the duty to make reasonable adjustments as “anticipatory”. Schools should be actively looking at which disabled pupils might be missing out on their school lunch and offering an alternative.

The guidance also now includes a section on children with an education package called education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). This makes clear that local authorities should provide free school meals to eligible children unable to attend school due to their special educational needs and who have an EOTAS package.

The update will benefit over 100,000 disabled children currently missing out on free school meals, whose families have faced a loss of £600 a year in financial support for their family.

Why we were campaigning

A third of eligible disabled children were missing out on the free school meal they’re entitled to. The reasons disabled children are missing out on a free lunch included:

The law says that public bodies, such as school and councils, must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure disabled people are not discriminated against or treated unfavourably.

Some children are registered at a school but unable to attend so are receiving alternate provision, such as home tuition. Education law says your local council must provide eligible children a free meal “either on the school premises or at any other place where education is being provided.”

But too often, neither of these wasn’t happening.

What the campaign achieved

For the last three years, parent Natalie Hay has led a campaign to stop disabled children missing out on free school meals. Natalie independently raised £8,000 through crowdfunding to steer the campaign into legal action. This funding enabled the instructing of human rights lawyers to draft legal letters to help support all families of disabled children eligible for free school meals, but not getting help. It also allowed Natalie to recruit and lead a group of parents to take legal action and take the government to court.

In November 2023, the government conceded the case and admitted discrimination may be happening. The government agreed, in their letter to Natalie, to “issue new guidance around March 2024”. In the government’s response to legal action, they agreed for the first time to make their free school meals policy fully inclusive to such children receiving EOTAS. This legal action was a pivotal part of the campaign, because the government finally promised to update policy according to the Equality Act 2010.

Along the way, Natalie has been supported by Contact and other parent campaigners, including Irene Dow. Irene secured a Westminster Hall Debate in January via her local Labour MP, Ian Byrne. It was at this debate that Mr Byrne called on the government to update its free school meals guidance to make clear local authority and school responsibilities to make reasonable adjustments to disabled pupils. The School Minister, Damian Hinds, MP agreed to do this.

The government updated its Free School Meal Guidance in March 2024.

Read about the campaign in the Daily Express or I News.

What we did in the campaign

The Schools Minister said in response to the debate:

“We will update our free school meals guidance to make reference to the reasonable adjustments duty … in order to heighten awareness about reasonable adjustments particularly as it relates to meal provision amongst schools , local authorities and families to support local solutions. This should give parents clarity and something to point schools to when discussing their child’s needs.

School Minister, Damian Hind MP

Also as part of the campaign, leader and founder Natalie Hay organised a webinar with human rights lawyers Alex Rook and Steve Broach, which Contact hosted. The webinar is available to watch back on YouTube.

How you supported the campaign

Our supporters were crucial in the success of this campaign. We would like to thank all of those who invited their MP to the Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday 10 January 2024. More than 1400 emails were sent to MPs.

We are also grateful for our changemaker parents. They met with their MPs with us and worked with government officials to make sure guidance is updated and clear.

Many of you joined Natalie Hay’s, the campaign leader’s Facebook group, showing your support by sharing stories and collaborating with other parent carers. The group now has a membership of over 3000.

If you’re still missing out on free school meals

We have updated the resources below for requesting that a reasonable adjustment is made for your child’s free school meals. These now directly refer to the updated guidance.

The Department of Education has confirmed that all schools have the mechanism to issue vouchers.

Download our resources

Thanks to campaign leader Natalie Hay’s fundraising we have been able to work with human rights lawyers to produce a series of resources to help eligible families claim the free school meals they’re entitled to, but missing out on.

This includes template letters for children in different school settings, with EOTAS packages or awaiting placements.

If you’re missing out on free school meals

Join the parent-led campaign founded and steered by Natalie Hay

If your child is missing out on their free school meals, you can join the parent campaign leader’s Facebook group.