Free school meals and EYPP are currently provided to children in England whose parents receive benefits such as working tax credit, child tax credit and income support.
The planned replacement of these benefits with Universal Credit has prompted the Government to review the system, which takes the number of hours parents worked as an eligibility measure, leaving some of the most disadvantaged low-income households without.
Under the proposals, new eligibility criteria based on net earnings will be used instead. Up to £7,400 will be allowed per household.
The Government says around 90 per cent of pupils currently eligible for free school meals will continue to be eligible. Households working relatively fewer hours but with higher incomes above the new threshold will stand to lose eligibility.
The Government also says no child in England will stop attracting either the early years pupil premium (to their early years setting) or free school meals during the transition to Universal Credit.
Announcing an eight-week consultation on the proposals last week in Parliament, Minister for Children and Families Robert Goodwill said, ‘A typical family earning around £7,400 per annum would...have a total household income between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account. A threshold of £7,400 will increase the free school meals cohort by approximately five per cent once universal credit is fully rolled out and in steady state. This equates to approximately 50,000 additional pupils being eligible …
'The economic eligibility criteria for the early years pupil premium are the same as for free school meals. We believe that this consistency is important so that the most disadvantaged families benefit from this additional funding across the whole age range. As such, we propose to apply the same threshold … for free school meals to the early years pupil premium.’
There are no estimates of how many additional children will be newly eligible for EYPP.
Unions have welcomed the move, but the NAHT has called on the government to allow automatic enrolment for sign-up for free school meals and pupil premium payments, saying that not having an auto-enrolment system means a substantial proportion of pupils are missing out.
The proposals are expected to come into force in April 2018.
The consultation closes 11 Jan 2018
The full consultation document is here.