Free school meals: who is eligible for free meal vouchers in England - and how to claim them
MPs recently voted against extending the free school meal scheme over the October half-term holidays
More than one million children across England are eligible to receive free school meals during term-time thanks to a government-run scheme.
The meal scheme aims to help support families who receive a number of benefits, in a bid to combat malnourishment and avoid children being too hungry to concentrate during lessons.
But who is eligible for the meals and how do you claim the vouchers?
Who is eligible to receive free school meals?
Your child may be eligible to receive free school meals if you claim any of the following:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit - providing you are not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190
- Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
- Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)
Children who get paid these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, are also eligible to receive free school meals.
Your child may also receive free school meals if you get any of the benefits listed above, and they are both younger than the compulsory age for starting school, and in full-time education.
Additionally, children who attend a government-funded school and are in Reception, Year 1 or Year 2 can also claim free school meals.
If your child is eligible for free school meals, they will remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling (primary or secondary) that they are in on 31 March 2022.
How do I apply?
If you are eligible and wish to apply to receive free school meals, you can do so via the government’s website.
Simply check the eligibility criteria and enter your postcode to apply via your local authority’s website.
Will children still get free meals if they are not in school?
Currently, free school meals are only available during term-time, but a high profile campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has been calling for the scheme to be extended over the holidays as well.
This plea was met during the summer this year, with the government providing a one-off six-week voucher to help low income families who may also have taken a financial hit due to coronavirus.
However, MPs recently voted against extending the support for the October half-term holidays, as well as Christmas, February 2021 half-term, and the 2021 Easter holidays.
After the government voted against pleas to extend free school meals over the half-term holidays, food outlets and local authorities across the country have since stepped up to help.
Supermarkets, restaurants and cafes, along with local councils, are now helping support vulnerable families by offering free food during the October holiday.