To promote the new access channels - and Free School Meals in general - Herts CC distributed small card leaflets to parents via their schools and the success has been significant. To date 147 successful eligibility checks have taken place via Looking Local channels, with a further 23 checks by people who were eligible but who did not submit their application, and 206 enquiries from people who were not eligible for FSM.
There are three key elements to this, firstly that FSM is not a universal benefit, so high transaction volumes were never expected. But critically FSM is directly linked to the pupil premium; with the school receiving £900 per child entitled to FSM or who has been in receipt of FSM in the last six years. So by extending access and 'managing' the 147 successful applications, Looking Local has helped Herts CC to bring in an additional £132,300 to their local schools.
Indeed research shows that there continues to be a shortfall in terms of people who are eligible for FSM, with around 14% of children/families who are entitled to FSMs not claiming them; this is around 200,000 children across England. There is a range of factors around the shortfall and a significant disparity in terms of under-registration rates on a local authority levels from 0%-33% (detailed in the research).
The Dept of Education's website confirms that FSMs and the eligibility checker are still valid despite welfare reforms and Universal Credit, particularly as the first tranche of people being moved over to Universal Credit will be single people with no impact on FSM (if a FSM eligible child goes to live with a single person in receipt of UC, their FSM eligibility will continue).
With around 1.2 million children eligible for FSM in England and only a handful of local authorities boasting a 0% under-registration rate, there is still work to be done; not only in supporting children and their families, but local schools who receive the pupil premium to help reduce the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.
All Looking Local partners can widen access to this key benefit on TV, social networks, mobile, via our apps and even on games consoles, there is a one-off £500 charge to set up local schools data and any local authority specific terms and conditions, as well as entry and exit screens; but the benefit of just one person successfully applying will make a difference.