CHILDREN'S eligibility for free school meals is being revised after the introduction of the Universal Credit scheme

Following a consultation by the Welsh Government, children from households claiming Universal Credit will be eligible for the meals if their annual household income is less than £7,400, excluding income from benefits.

A report published following the consultation says that the average household earning around £7,400-per-year would have a total household income of between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account.

The Welsh Government estimate that the new eligibility criteria will allow more children access to the scheme.

Cabinet secretary for education Kirsty Williams said: "If we do not introduce a threshold, we estimate around half of all pupils in Wales will be eligible for free school meals by the time Universal Credit is fully rolled out, compared to 16 per cent in January 2018.

"This would be unaffordable without difficult decisions being taken to re-prioritise funding which would result in cutting core funding elsewhere.

"Our most up to date analysis suggests that more children will be eligible for free school meals throughout the Universal Credit rollout period under an annualised net earned income threshold of £7,400 than otherwise would have been under the old legacy system."

The scheme will be funded by the Welsh Government, with an additional £7 million allocated from the reserves in 2019-20 being added to the £5 million being provided in 2018-19.

Ms Williams added: "Although it is not unexpected, it remains extremely disappointing that the UK Government has failed to do the right thing by the people of Wales and provide the additional resources to manage the impact of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform agenda on free school meals."

The new criteria are set to be rolled out in early April 2019, with a short transitional phase to protect families from losing their free school meals whilst Universal Credit is rolled out across Wales.

Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, any families who no longer meet the eligibility criteria will continue to receive protection until the end of the child's current phase of education.