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Ministers were told to “get a grip” as charities reported hard-up migrant schoolchildren were being denied free school meals because the government had issued the wrong guidance.
Amid public pressure, Whitehall boosted eligibility for food support to include some families who live legally in the UK but are cut off from benefits due to their immigration status.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford confirmed in a written statement on June 9 that some children – among the group categorised as having “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) – could apply for free school meals, provided household income was no more than £16,190 a year.
But guidance issued by the Department for Education on June 25, and updated on June 30, appears to ignore the change in policy and states there is a “maximum earnings threshold of £7,400 per annum” for the families eligible.
The blunder has been discovered as the July 10 deadline for the government’s much-trumpeted Covid-19 “summer food fund” looms.
If followed by schools, it would wrongly exclude some of the poorest children from claiming free school meals – and charities have told HuffPost UK families have already been in touch having been denied help.
Imogen Richmond-Bishop, campaign co-ordinator for the Right to Food group, said: “The immigration condition ‘no recourse to public funds’ is so inhumane that Boris Johnson could barely believe it when it was pointed out to him by MPs.
“And yet there are hundreds of thousands of families with NRPF across the UK and they are at a high risk of suffering from poverty and household food insecurity due to their exclusion from the social security system.
“The incorrect guidance regarding the maximum income threshold is causing real hardship for families with NRPF. We are hearing reports of children being denied free school meal support...