The Government has announced that eligibility for free school meals in England will be permanently extended to children in all families with no recourse to public funds and that it will consult on whether there are any additional groups of children who should be eligible for early education/ childcare for two-year-olds.
Free School Meals
In 2020, the Government temporarily extended entitlement to free school meals to children in some households with no recourse to public funds.
Eligibility for free school meals will now be permanently extended to children from all families with no recourse to public funds.
New government guidance states that eligible groups include, but may not be limited to children of:
- Zambrano carers
- Families who have no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
- Families receiving support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who are also subject to a no recourse to public funds restriction
- A subset of failed asylum seekers supported under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Families holding a BN(O) passport
- Spousal visa holders
- Work visa holders
- Student visa holders
- Those with no immigration status
Families with no recourse to public funds must also meet the following maximum income thresholds:
- £22,700 per annum for families outside London with one child
- £31,200 per annum for families within London with one child
- £26,300 per annum for families outside London with two or more children
- £34,800 per annum for families within London with two or more children
The guidance also sets out how schools will need to process applications.
The Government's statement confirms that all children in receipt of free school meals will attract pupil premium funding for their school and, dependent on meeting other criteria, will also be able to receive free home to school transport.
Early education/ childcare entitlement for two-year-olds
In September 2020, the Government extended free entitlement to early education and childcare for two-year-olds to children in some households with no recourse to public funds.
The Department for Education will be consulting ‘as soon as possible on whether there are any additional groups of children from NRPF families who should be eligible for the two-year-old entitlement that we have not already identified’.
The permanent extension of eligibility for free school meals for children in households with no recourse to public funds is very welcome, as free school meals go some way to relieving pressures on household budgets when families with a low income are unable to access Universal Credit and other benefits due to their immigration status.
Access to childcare can help parents to maintain employment, which may prevent a family from requiring a longer-term and more costly intervention from their local council, should they fall into destitution or experience homelessness and require social services to provide accommodation and financial support.
At the moment, 15-hours free childcare for two-year-olds is not available for many children with no recourse to public funds, including where the parent has:
- Pre-settled status but is ineligible for benefits
- Leave to remain granted on a basis other than Article 8 family life grounds, such as under the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route
- No leave to remain
Such families will only qualify if they are receiving support from social services under section 17 Children Act 1989, which would usually only be provided when a family has already reached crisis point due to experiencing homelessness or not having sufficient resources to meet their family's living needs.
We hope that the Government will consider extending entitlement to these groups to ensure that the best interests of children are met and to enable people, who are prevented from accessing benefits by their immigration status, to sustain employment when they have permission to work. People with pre-settled status will be able to access benefits if they are working, so extending childcare entitlement to this group is essential.
However, extending entitlement to free school meals and childcare will not fully mitigate the wider impacts on children and families that can arise from having no recourse to public funds.
For details about whether people with no recourse to public funds can access some of the measures recently announced by the Government to relieve cost of living pressures, see our information about benefits that are not public funds.
This article was originally published on 7 April but has been updated following the publication of new government guidance on free school meals.