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The Department of Education today launched a public consultation on proposed changes to eligibility criteria for free school meals and uniform grants.
The changes are necessary due to the roll out of Universal Credit across Northern Ireland which begins in September 2017 and will be phased in over a number of years.
The Department’s primary aim of the proposed changes is to ensure that those most in need can continue to access free school meals and uniform grants following the introduction of Universal Credit.
The objectives are that the new criteria should:
• enable children from those families most in need to benefit;
• have due regard for equality of opportunity;
• be clear and easily understood by the public;
• be affordable within the available resources and likely to be sustainable in future years;
• be cost-effective to administer and should facilitate the collection/use of data.
The Department plans to add the receipt of Universal Credit with a net earnings threshold of £14,000 by a parent/guardian or pupil to the existing eligibility criteria to provide free school meals and uniform grants. It is intended that this new criterion should approximately maintain the numbers of pupils entitled as those under the existing criteria. This new criterion will eventually replace five existing welfare benefit based criteria. The five benefits will be phased out and replaced by Universal Credit by March 2022 and it is therefore intended that the revised criteria for free school meals and uniform grants will be introduced on a phased basis from the point when individual families are transferred on to Universal Credit
You can access the consultation on the Department’s website at: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/consultations/proposed-changes-eligibility-criteria-free-school-meals-and-uniform-grants. An easy-read version of the consultation document and a response sheet are also provided.
The consultation will close at 5.00pm on Monday 5 June 2017.