Who qualifies for free school meals in the UK?


PRESSURE from footballer Marcus Rashford has lead to the government u-turning on its decision not to provide free school meals over the summer holiday.

Parents who are eligible will be able to claim the extra help with meals for their kids. Here’s how to do claim free school meal vouchers.

Free schools meals will be extended over the summer

A one off six-week voucher will be dished out for families to use in supermarkets.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said today that the government would run a £120million Covid food fund throughout the summer.

The government had come under increasing pressure to run the free school meals voucher programme in England over the summer after Manchester United’s Rashford urged it to extend the scheme.

According to the campaign group Food Foundation, around 200,000 UK kids have skipped meals during lockdown because they didn’t have enough food.

In a letter to MPs, Mr Rashford said that 10 years ago, he would have been one of those children.

Which children are eligible for free school meals?

Children of all ages living in households on income-related benefits, including Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance, may be eligible for free school meals.

This is the case from nursery age through to sixth form.

Kids may also qualify if they or their parents are receiving support under the Immigration and Asylum Act or get Child Tax Credit.

Eligibility varies slightly between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland because the nations set their own rules.

Marcus Rashford has led a campaign to continue free school meals over summer

If you qualify because you’re claiming Universal Credit, new benefit claims made from April 2018 in England must come from households earning a maximum income of £7,400 a year after tax, not including any benefits. 

It’s the same in Scotland and Wales, but in Northern Ireland the household income threshold is £14,000.

In England and Scotland, all pupils in reception and years one and two, regardless of income, can get free school meals during term time in state schools.

Will free school meals continue during the summer holidays?

The government has said that kids who qualify for free school meals in England will be able to get a one off voucher covering the six weeks of the summer holidays.

This means they will be given £90 in total – £15 per week.

It is understood that the voucher will be like a contactless card, enabling parents and carers to spend the money bit by bit over the period.

The government does not usually fund the scheme during the holidays – but had done so over the Easter and half-term break during the coronavirus pandemic.

The scheme will help 1.3million kids to get meals over the holidays.

How can I apply for free school meals?

Check if your child can get free school meals in England and find out how to apply on your local authority’s website.

You can enter your postcode and find out which local authority you fall under here.

You can then apply online to claim your voucher. If you claim housing benefit or council tax support you can apply when you are filling out your forms.

There’s a different process if you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Children, who receive free school meals, will get supermarket vouchers while schools are shut

How has the scheme changed during coronavirus?

Families with children who receive free school meals have been getting supermarket vouchers instead while schools are shut during the coronavirus crisis

The weekly vouchers are worth £15, which is above the £11.50 currently paid to schools per pupil for the cost of providing free meals.

The scheme, which officially rolled out in March, allows schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or post a gift card to those without internet access.

Parents or carers can then spend the vouchers in Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, M&S Food, Aldi or McColl’s.

Schools can also continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but this isn’t always possible, the government has said.

Do Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland offer free school meals?

All areas of the UK offer free school meals to children from low-income households, although which kids qualify does differ.

At the moment, there are different approaches to continuing the meals during the summer holidays:

  • In Wales, the government will give children who qualify for free school meals food vouchers, meal deliveries or bank transfers over the summer
  • In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon pledged a further £12.6million in funding to local authorities to extend the scheme on Tuesday
  • In Northern Ireland, free school meal payments are due to stop over the summer holidays, the education minister has said

Here are 10 ways to save money during coronavirus lockdown, including car insurance and Sky Sports refunds.

We explain how to get extra help with bills if you’re struggling due to coronavirus.

If you’re on Universal Credit or benefits then we have explained what help is available during such an unprecedented time.