Free School Meals - Disability Inclusion

by Natalie Hay

Free School Meals - Disability Inclusion

by Natalie Hay
Natalie Hay
Case Owner
I am crowdfunding on behalf of all the parent carers in the UK finding that they are unable to access their child’s free school meal entitlement due being too disabled to attend school.
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Natalie Hay
Case Owner
I am crowdfunding on behalf of all the parent carers in the UK finding that they are unable to access their child’s free school meal entitlement due being too disabled to attend school.
Pledge now

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Latest: Jan. 15, 2024

Thank you - Free School Meals Disability Inclusion success!


Dear Free School Meals Disability Inclusion Campaign supporters, 

Today, I have good news to share with you: the campaign’s legal action has been successful! The Secretary of State has repl…

Read more

Who am I?

Hi, my name is Natalie and I am challenging the decisions of local authorities in the UK because many are refusing to provide Free School Meal (FSM) vouchers to disabled children, during holidays when they are unable to attend school (EHCP/EOTAS), and also their decision to refuse to make a reasonable adjustment to enable child with disabilities to receive a Free School Meal alternative, during term time. Currently discrimination is happening because children with disabilities are not able to receive the same support as their non-disabled peers: their disability creates a barrier which could be prevented if reasonable adjustments were made.

Why this case is so important?

We urgently need all Local authorities and all schools in the UK to have a clear Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy in place. This would ensure that disabled children are not excluded from receiving Free School Meals and are not substantially disadvantaged. 

During the pandemic lockdowns, supermarket vouchers were sent to parents which proves that there is a solution to this problem. However, when the majority of children went back to school, a minority of disabled children (continuing to learn from home) saw their FSM supermarket vouchers stop. It is not clear why this happened or why this scheme was not extended to benefit children with disabilities. It is also not clear why many councils send out supermarket vouchers during school holidays, but choose to exclude children with disabilities. Ironically, many families find themselves in a position where the more vulnerable child gets the least Free School Meal support.

Who will this case help?

I set up an online parent carer group. The group now has 1.5k parent carer members seeking FSM inclusion for their child with disabilities. Some of these parents have two children (with a disability) and are on universal credit and others are so busy visiting hospitals (e.g. for oncology and heart surgery) that they do not have the time and energy to seek help from lawyers to tackle this inequality. 

Many children cannot eat canteen food (due to medical needs) and others are forced to learn from home (due to special educational or medical needs); they receive no FSM help. This happens despite laws in place that are meant to protect disabled people from discrimination. Schools and local authorities are meant to fulfil their duty by making reasonable adjustments to local public services, according to the Human Rights Law (Equality Act 2010).

Winning this case would, I hope, enable other families of children with disabilities to ensure that Free School Meals are provided to them too. Families could refer to this case if local authorities continue to refuse to help.

Why I'm raising funds

I need to raise 5k so that a legal team can review the issue and advise on the merits of commencing court proceedings. Please help me. 

Thank you. 

Update 2

Natalie Hay

Jan. 15, 2024

Thank you - Free School Meals Disability Inclusion success!


Dear Free School Meals Disability Inclusion Campaign supporters, 

Today, I have good news to share with you: the campaign’s legal action has been successful! The Secretary of State has replied to our human rights lawyer’s pre-action letter and conceded:

Pre action protocol letter

This is great news for all families of children with EOTAS* who currently receive no help, despite low income or age eligibility. The Secretary of State’s reply should also help families with children at state-funded,  private, specialist schools (where there is no canteen on site). Our human rights lawyer, Alex Rook commented:

“We are of course delighted that the Secretary of State has conceded that the current position is potentially discriminatory and is taking urgent steps to rectify the position. We would advise all families of disabled children, who have EOTAS* packages, who think that they would otherwise qualify for a free school meal to get in touch with their local authority and ask that urgent arrangements are now made, so that they are treated the same as families whose children are able to attend school. It is also particularly pleasing to be able to demonstrate once again the everyday benefits to the UK being a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. Given the acceptance that there may otherwise be a breach of Article 14, I am hopeful that we will be happy with the new guidance, but let’s see.” 

Last week, Contact charity arranged a debate in Westminster Hall. Members of parliament, from three political parties and seventeen constituencies, attended the event. 

Ian Byrne, MP for West Derby, led the debate. He said:

“Over 100,000** eligible disabled children are missing out on their free school lunch, which is truly shocking... Disabled children and their families are already more likely to be living in poverty, due to the difficulties of juggling care and work. Research shows they have also been disproportionately affected by cost-of-living pressures”. 

Ian Bryne also joined me live, on Sky News breakfast television, to discuss the campaign and the thousands of children unfairly missing out:

Sky News video clip 


The Department for Education is now preparing new guidance and anticipates issuing this in March 2024.

We look forward to seeing the new policy and hope that it will:

  • explicitly inform schools and local authorities of their duty;
  • give clear examples of fair, practical and supportive reasonable adjustments;
  • specify how solutions will be funded;
  • include all children with SEN, medical need or disability.

I would like to thank the parent-carers, who were willing to take this to court; the human rights lawyers (Steve Broach and Alex Rook); Contact charity, the online parent/guardian carers group admin team (Jane Davis and Jane Waters), the MPs who took part in the debate, Sky News, CrowdJustice and every person who contributed to the crowdfunding.  

Without your generous donations, I would not have been able to steer this campaign into taking legal action. This was an instrumental step towards change, clarity and accountability. 

Thank you so much!

Natalie Hay 

Disability Inclusion (campaign founder and leader)


* EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) is a special education package arranged and paid for by the local authority because it is agreed that it is inappropriate for a child to be taught in any school or education setting. The LA arranges the package to be delivered somewhere else, for example at home. The child is not on a school roll, but the LA must arrange and pay for the provision. EOTAS is different to elective home education where the LA is not responsible for meeting any of the costs or providing any support.  According to the latest DfE figures, there are 8,400 children with a package of EOTAS in England. 

** According to leading disability charity Contact, 164,520 children, in the UK, are being denied access to their FSM because of their disability. The latest government figures for free school meals show 23% of pupils are eligible in England (this was before the universal roll out to all primary pupils in London). From these figures we have calculated there are almost 2,000 pupils who will now be able to get their free school meal entitlement. The number of disabled pupils/children with special educational needs (SEN) ranges from 11% - 17.3% depending on which definition/data source is used. The Commons Library Research Briefing published on 23 August 2023 quoted 11%, whilst the Department for Education data shows the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) increased to 1.57 million pupils in 2023, representing 17.3% of all pupils.  This calculation is based on the lower end of this scale at 13%. Therefore, at least 493,560 disabled children are currently eligible for free school meals. Contact surveyed 1,500 families with disabled children eligible for free school meals in March 2023 and found that a third of eligible disabled children are missing out on their free school meal. 

Update 1

Natalie Hay

June 30, 2023

Update: response from Secretary of State…


Dear backers, 

We have received a response from the Secretary of State’s lawyers regarding our pre-action letter.

They have requested a very lengthy extension of 28 days, in which to respond fully to our lawyer’s letter. 

We have discussed this matter with our lawyers and their advice is to agree to the extension. Apparently, it is surprising and unusual for them to need such a long extension, but we do want them to respond properly. So, we have agreed to the extension on the basis that no further extensions will be agreed.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

I will update you again soon… 

Kind regards, 

Natalie Hay

Free School Meal Inclusion campaign 

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