New analysis by the Labour party, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, reveals that 43 local authorities have not been provided with enough money by the Government to pay for the extension of Free School Meals from next term.
According to Labour, across 29 of these councils, there is a shortfall of at least £23 million in funding.
Kent has the biggest shortfall at more than £4 million, followed by Waltham Forest and Hampshire at around £3 million.
However, Labour says these figures could be even higher as 19 councils said they did not yet know whether Government funding would be sufficient.
The FOI also revealed that schools in some local authorities are having to fund the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) out of their own budgets.
Somerset Council is requiring that schools with more than 150 pupils contribute £250,000, 25 per cent of the cost of improving kitchen facilities, so it can meet all the needs identified across the region.
Lambeth Council is making schools take a total of £150,000 from their own budgets to fund UIFSM, while Rutland County Council has revealed it only has enough money to fund meals in maintained schools, not academies.
Because of a deficit of kitchen and dining facilities in schools in Wiltshire, the council has said it does not think 19 schools will be in a position to provide cooked meals by September.
However, the Department for Education (DfE) has contested the figures, claiming that more than 99 per cent of schools are on track to deliver free school meals to all infants from this September.
A DfE spokesperson said, ‘ According to evidence collected from councils and schools, more than 99 per cent of schools are reporting to be on track to deliver this policy in September and we are confident it will be delivered on time.
‘Universal Free School Meals have already been shown to work in the pilot schemes run by the Department for Education and Department of Health in 2009. Indeed, schools have had longer to prepare for the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals this September than schools in those pilot areas had.
‘We are providing £150 million to improve school kitchens and dining facilities and an additional £22.5million to help smaller schools to provide these meals.’
Jeremy Boardman, head of children’s catering expertise at the Children’s Food trust, said, 'We know from working with schools across the country the majority are both ready to deliver Universal Infant Free School Meals for September and fully support the benefits to children of providing a healthy, nutritious meal every day. These benefits have been shown to include improvements in children’s educational attainment as well as their overall health and wellbeing.
'Of course there may be schools who still need support and the Advice Service, led by us and the Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA), is available to provide this in the form of telephone support, face-to face-meetings with consultants and online information. We would of course encourage any schools or local authorities who are concerned about being ready for September to contact us'