Claiming free school meals

Fuelling children with nutritious food not only supports their growth and development but also helps to build healthy minds, improving their mental health, enhancing concentration and memory, and their improving academic performance.

It’s also a legal requirement - the Education Act of 1996 requires maintained schools and academies (including free schools) to provide free school meals to disadvantaged pupils aged between five and 16.

So, it’s imperative that you make sure that your eligible students are claiming their free school meal each and every day.

Let’s look at how you can do this, in just four easy steps.

Step 1: Check the eligibility of your applicants

Ultimately, the responsibility for checking your pupils’ eligibility for free school meals lies with you. So, to get this right, read up on the latest guidance and eligibility criteria at

Step 2: Carry out your checks quickly

Your pupils are only eligible to receive a free school meal when a claim has been made on their behalf, and their eligibility has been verified by you or your local authority. To make this process as seamless as possible, carry out your eligibility checks promptly, to ensure that you are using the most accurate and up-to-date information at all times.

Step 3: Choose an efficient methodology

You can choose to receive applications by paper or online, but which method is best? In today’s technology-driven world, online is the way to go. Entrust’s online free school meals eligibility checking service works alongside the DfE’s Eligibility Checking Service, and it offers many benefits over paper applications. It:

  • Offers a faster, simpler and more convenient application process, and is accessible through any device
  • Delivers a fast response to the notification of entitlement
  • Helps to reduce application errors through computer-assisted validation, and removes the need for reapplication when eligibility continues
  • Removes any potential stigma as parents or carers can apply directly, encouraging those to apply who were initially reluctant
  • Eliminates the need to fill out forms or copy documentation, saving you administrative time
  • Allows your school to maximise funding through the pupil premium.

While online applications are more efficient, schools and local authorities should have an alternative system for those who cannot access an online system. Luckily, this is where the paper application process comes in handy.

Step 4: Be ready for the deluge

In 2019 / 20, 1,440,788 pupils across the UK were eligible for free school meals. That’s a lot of children – and the number’s growing. In 2020, the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals in state-funded primary schools increased from 15.8% to 17.7%, following a similar increase the year before.

On top of this, the latest research report from the Department for Education (DfE) identified that more than 161,400 (11%) eligible pupils weren’t claiming their free school meals.

So, demand is increasing. It’s important, then, to make sure that you have a robust process in place to cope with the applications you receive – no matter when, or how many, this might be.

To find out how we can help you to make sure all your eligible pupils are claiming their free school meals, contact Entrust Education Technology team.

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