Government U-turn on income threshold for free school meals following legal challenge by low paid carer

Following our previous threat of judicial review last month (read here), the Government agreed to extend Free School Meals to certain families with no recourse to public funds, including those who are permitted to work. However, the Government applied an earnings threshold for eligibility which was in real terms significantly lower than for those whose parents could claim welfare benefits. This served to exclude working families who are struggling to survive on a low income and are unable to access welfare benefits including the many key workers, such as carers and NHS staff, who earn the minimum wage. Today, in response to another letter threatening court action, the Government confirmed that the maximum earnings threshold would be increased to £16,190 per year.

We represented three children, two of whom are British. Their parents have leave to remain subject to an exclusion from claiming welfare benefits (a “No Recourse to Public Funds” condition). Their mother is a care worker for the elderly and as her husband is unable to work due to the lockdown restrictions she is currently the family’s sole bread winner. The NRPF condition means that our clients cannot also claim welfare benefits to supplement their income. Yet, because their mother’s income is higher than £616 per month, the children were not eligible for Free School Meals. That was in sharp contrast to other families on the same earnings, who are able to claim Universal credit and child benefit to supplement their income. With the drop in household income and the children at home all day, the family were struggling to afford food .

This concession will now mean that many more children from low income families will be eligible for free school meals.

Solicitor Rachel Etheridge says:

“The Government’s decision to extend free school meals, albeit temporarily, to children of certain “No recourse to public funds” groups has benefited many children.

However, the Government’s original decision to set the income threshold at £616 per month for families whose immigration status is subject to an NRPF condition disregarded the fact that these households are prevented from supplementing their income with benefits and will therefore be earning much less than their counterparts who are permitted to claim benefits.

This left our clients’ mother unable to adequately feed her children in circumstances when she and the many others in her position have been providing critical services for the country as low paid key workers.

It is deeply regrettable that it took a threat of court action for the government to agree to reverse a policy which clearly disadvantaged children of low paid parents simply because of the fact that their parents’ immigration status prevents them from claiming benefits”.

For further information please contact Rachel Etheridge of Matthew Gold & Company.