THOUSANDS of school pupils in Wigan Borough could be missing out on free school meals according to a report.
Fewer pupils in both primary and secondary schools are claiming free school meals than the national average according to figures released in the Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics report.
The figures show that in January this year, only 4,637 of primary school pupils known to be eligible for free school meals were taking them - 17.9 per cent of the primary school population.
Even less pupils in secondary schools are taking up free school meals, with only 2,791 of 18,501 receiving them in January this year (15.1 per cent).
However, despite being one of the most deprived areas of the North West and the recession affecting more families, Wigan’s figures are below both the North West average (20 per cent) and national average (18.1 per cent) for primary schools and the North West secondary school average (16.9 per cent).
Nationally, the figures show a steady increase in the number of pupils claiming free school meals over the past five years from 15.8 per cent of pupils to 18.2 per cent.
According to the Department of Education, in England your child could qualify for free meals or milk, or be given free fruit and vegetables at school.
Local authorities must provide free lunches for eligible pupils, paid-for meals where requested and good facilities and supervision so pupils can eat safely.
Anyone who receives Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit, support from the National Asylum Support Service, Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit) and has an income that does not exceed £16,190 could be eligible to claim the free school meals.
To find out more about free school meals and to download a form to see if you are eligible visit www.wigan.gov.uk or to get help with the form you can visit your local Wigan and Leigh Housing office, Council Tax Offices in Whelley, Leigh Town Hall or Wigan Civic Centre at Millgate, Wigan.
Forms are also available from the following libraries: Abram, Ashton, Aspull, Atherton, Golborne, Ince, Orrell and Standish.