Written evidence submitted by Asylum Support & Immigration Resource Team (ASIRT)
On 06/04/2020 the law firms, Matthew Gold & Co (MG & Co), and Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG Law) confirmed that the Secretary of State for Education has extended free school meals during the Covid-19 pandemic to many children from families with no recourse to public funds. ASIRT communicated this information with all families that we are currently working with who became eligible for free school meals vouchers under this change in policy.
Ten days after the policy change had been announced, Elina (name changed) contacted us after making contact with her children's school to bring to their attention that her two children are now eligible for free school meals vouchers under these new guidelines. The children's school signposted Elina to apply for this provision through the local council website, which ASIRT supported her to do.
That very same day, Elina received an email from the Education Department of her local council relaying that her children were not eligible for this provision unless Elina was in receipt of benefits; demonstrating that the policy change had yet to reach the Education Department of this particular council. ASIRT advocated on Elina and her children's behalf to outline the policy change to the local council but were met with an unhelpful response, that made the assumption that Elina needed to present evidence that she was in receipt of asylum support - this was not the basis that we were presenting that the family had become eligible. After further advocacy, we were informed that the council would 'look into it' and get back to us.
ASIRT then made contact with the Children's Trust, who are currently supporting the family, and were assured that although they were aware of the change in policy it would appear that the local council had yet to receive any guidance around this from The Department for Education. Upon advice from a partner organisation, ASIRT went on to contact the family's social worker, which prompted him to also directly liaise with the Education Department at the council. In the interim, the children's school provided three free school meals vouchers as a one-off gesture of goodwill to the family.
Some days later, the Department for Education guidance had reached the Education Department of the local council and ASIRT have been assured that the Children's Trust and the local council will now work together to ensure that children subject to NRPF will receive the free school meals vouchers that they are entitled to. However, it is concerning that this vital support lifeline has taken so long to reach the most vulnerable.