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LACA – The School Food People, FAQ

17 Mar 2022

Other frequently asked questions from our members

About LACA

1.    What does LACA stand for?
The name LACA originally stood for the Local Authority Caterers Association when the organisation was set up in 1990 and represented local authority caterers who provided school meals. However, as the school food industry has evolved, LACA has adapted and now represents both local authority and private sector caterers. We still use our original LACA name and are now known as ‘LACA – the School Food People’.

We still use our original LACA name and are now known as ‘LACA – the School Food People’.

2.    How many members do LACA have and what is the breakdown?
LACA has over 900 members. Our membership is diverse and includes public and private sector providers, client officers, dietitians and individual schools.  Of these there are also 250 associate members who may be consultants or suppliers who are jointly responsible for the supply of over £400m per annum of food, drink, equipment and services to the school catering sector.

3.    How many school meals do LACA members provide?
With over 300 local authorities, county, district councils and London Boroughs represented in the membership, 80% of the school catering service in the UK is provided by LACA members.  With around three million lunches being served every day in 27,000 schools, the LACA network is the country’s largest provider of school catering.

About the school food industry

1.    What is the makeup of the school food industry?
Local Authority provision represents about a half of the school food industry, with the other half made up of contract caterers and smaller, independent catering companies, self-managed schools and academies.

Please note, that the below relates to England only:
The Funding for school meals

1.    How does funding work for Free School Meals?
There are several ways in which a child is eligible for free school meals, two key criteria include having a family that is in receipt of Child Tax Credit or if a household income is less than £7,400 a year.

If a child is eligible, they will remain so until they finish their phase of schooling (primary or secondary). The Government provides funding directly to schools for the provision of FSM. Currently the sum schools receive per meal per child is £2.53 (academic year 2023/24).

The published rate in the National Funding Formula for the academic year 2024/25 is £2.58

2.    Is the funding for FSM ringfenced?

No. The current funding structure set by government, comes from the National Funding Formula which includes a free school meal factor value of £480 per pupil, as of September 2023 (£2.53). This is issued direct to schools who then administer the funding appropriately.

However, in dialogue with our members, we have learnt that in many instances the full value of the school meal is not always passed to the caterers who provide the food.

3.    How is funding for Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) allocated?

All children in Key Stage 1 (reception, year 1 and year 2) receive a free school meal, regardless of their financial background, following the introduction of the UIFSM policy by the Government in 2014.  However, it is important for families who may be entitled to FSM (Point 1 above) to see if they are entitled, since eligibility for FSM brings additional funding for schools via the Pupil Premium.

So, whether it be UIFSM of FSM, pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 receive a free school lunch.

UIFSM funding is not ring-fenced to food provision and it is not required to be spent in the year of allocation. As such in many cases the caterer does not receive the full meal value and schools retain some element of this to help pay for lunchtime supervision.

Schools receive £2.53 per meal per child for these meals (September 2023), which is currently equates to the funding for FSM. When UIFSM was first introduced in 2014 £2.30 was awarded per meal. Despite steep inflationary rises since then, the funding for UIFSM has not increased to cover the costs of food, labour and equipment.

LACA’s policy positions

1.    What is LACA’s position on UIFSM funding?
LACA believe that the funding rate for both UIFSM and FSM should be equal and should increase to a minimum of £3.00 per meal and then be subject to annual index linked increases (RPI) to cover the rising costs of food, labour and equipment each year. This is the best way to ensure that caterers can deliver healthy and nutritional meals that meet the School Food Standards.

2.    Does LACA support the National Food Strategy recommendations?
LACA engaged with the National Food Strategy throughout the consultation phases. When the final report was published in July 2021, we welcomed many of the recommendations including the extension of FSM, increased training for school chefs, and schools adopting a whole school approach to food.

LACA have long argued that there should be a whole school food approach, meaning that the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.

3.    Are LACA involved in the debate around childhood obesity?
Yes, LACA have long argued that a key tool in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic is by providing as many children as possible with a hot, healthy meal at school.
We also know that for many children their school lunch is their only hot meal of the day, which is why free school meals should be extended to reduce the reliance on packed lunches, many of which do not meet a child’s nutritional needs and which are high in sugar, fat and salt.

4.    What is LACA’s stance the National Food Strategies recommendation to extend FSM to all children whose families earn less than £20,000 per annum.

LACA believe that as many children as possible should have access to hot, healthy and nutritious meals at school. Currently too many children are ineligible for Free School Meals despite their families being adversely financially impacted by Covid-19 and the subsequent rising cost of living. Many of these children are falling through the gap, unable to access a hot school meal and are often going hungry. Hungry children cannot learn properly and are at risk of falling behind their more affluent peers.

However, we recognise that in the current financial climate, the most effective way to reach as many children and young people as possible is to extend eligibility for FSM to those in families who are in receipt of Universal Credit.

Importantly, this would also ensure provision to students in secondary school.

5. LACA’s “Mission sets out our position, supported by key figures across the school food landscape including providers, suppliers and other organisations linked to the industry.  Click here to view The Mission

Contacting LACA

If you have any questions about the above, please contact