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Written Statement - Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills 

Free school lunches and milk are available to families who are in receipt of certain support payments. Children whose parents receive the following support payments are entitled to receive free school lunches and milk in maintained schools in Wales:

  • Income Support
  • Income Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and their annual income does not exceed £16,190. (HM Revenue and Customs are responsible for assessing the level of annual income.)
  • Guarantee element of State Pension Credit.
  • Working Tax Credit 'run-on' - the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.
Young people who receive Income Support or Income Based Job Seekers Allowance in their own right are also entitled to receive free school lunches/milk.

The introduction of Universal Credit will gradually replace many of these support payments with a single payment. Universal Credit will be gradually rolled out across the UK from October 2013 and rollout will be completed by 2017.

The initial Universal Credit Pathfinder is running from 29 April to October 2013, and is taking claims for single people with no dependents in selected postcodes of Greater Manchester and Cheshire. For this to affect children in Wales, it would mean that recipients of Universal Credit on the Pathfinder would have to (1) retain their entitlement to Universal Credit, (2) move into Wales and (3) establish a household with someone with children of school age.

As the Pathfinder becomes more embedded, with the new school year approaching and the phased rollout of Universal Credit beginning in October 2013, it is an appropriate time to make changes to the legislation in Wales.

I have therefore agreed to the laying of an Order under section 512ZB(4) of the Education Act 1996 so that the eligibility criteria for free school lunches/milk are extended to include receipt of Universal Credit. This will be an interim Order whilst new eligibility criteria are developed, which will reflect the wider rollout of Universal Credit.

It is likely that the Order will affect only a small number of children initially, if any, so it is not anticipated that it would give rise to an undue financial burden on local authorities. Any Universal Credit recipients, who claim free school lunches/milk, might in any case have been able to claim free school lunches/milk if they had remained on their previous support payments.

We have very limited information at present on the rollout of Universal Credit. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that Universal Credit will be rolled-out, beginning with six hub Jobcentres taking new claims to the benefit, including a Jobcentre in Shotton, North Wales.  However, there is no detailed information at this stage, although DWP has indicated that more information will be made available in the autumn. When we have more detailed information, the Welsh Government will be in a position to develop new eligibility criteria for free school lunches/milk.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.