Government confirms extension of free school meals following threat of judicial review

On 20 April 2020 the Government published guidance confirming the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility during the Covid-19 crisis to certain families with no recourse to public funds. The guidance can be found here and here.

The extension of eligibility was made in response to MG&Co’s letter threatening judicial review on behalf of six children. The extension has been in place since 6 April 2020.

The usual eligibility criteria required parents to be claiming certain welfare benefits. It therefore resulted in children from some of the poorest households being excluded from coronavirus free school meals entitlement because their parents’ could not claim these benefits due to their immigration status.

Following our letter, the Government agreed to extend eligibility to children from the following groups:

  • Children whose parents are Zambrano Carers, namely those who are non-EEA national primary carers of British Citizen children;
  • Children from families who have been granted leave to remain under Article 8 of the ECHR subject to a no recourse to public funds (NRPF) restriction;
  • Children whose families have no recourse to public funds who receive support pursuant to section 17 of the Children Act 1989 from their local authority; and

To be eligible, these families must have a maximum household income of £7,400 per annum, which is the existing threshold for all families accessing free school meals. We are concerned that this will exclude many children of parents with no recourse to public funds, including key workers, because their income from employment, whilst low, is above this threshold. This is despite the fact that these families will likely be in a worse financial position than those with the same income who have recourse to public funds because , by contrast, they cannot claim welfare benefits to supplement their income.

Children of failed asylum seeker families receiving section 4 support will also be eligible, and are not subject to a maximum household earnings threshold.

The extension of the Covid-19: school meals policy to NRPF families means that thousands more children will able to access – and are already accessing – free school meals and/or £15 weekly vouchers during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government has confirmed that the extension will end when schools have reopened to all children.

Rachel Etheridge of MG&Co says,

“We at MG&Co are thrilled that in response to our clients’ pre-action letter, the Government has agreed to extend entitlement for free school meals to our clients and many other children from families with no recourse to public funds.

The extension means that thousands of vulnerable and economically disadvantaged children are eligible for the Government’s Covid 19 free school meals scheme thereby helping to ensure these children will not go hungry.

Our clients, and the wider group they represent, are among the very poorest and vulnerable in society. We believe that no child should go hungry because of the immigration status of their parents.

Whilst the Government has stated that the extension is only temporary, this important step shines a light on the need to pay greater attention to the economic hardship suffered by this community during this particular crisis as well as more generally as a direct result of the Government’s hostile environment strategies”.

Questions can be directed to Rachel Etheridge of Matthew Gold & Co. Our earlier piece on this change can be found here.