Free School Meals – And Other Help With School Costs

A particular concern at the height of the lockdown when schools were closed was food poverty amongst school children unable to access Free School Meals (FSMs) at school. As a result of Government action FSMs were extended into school holidays and other food help was provided.

Though lockdown conditions no longer apply it is important to know how to access Free School Meals for those children entitled to them. Below are a few key messages about Free School Meals.

Getting free school meals

Your child will automatically get free school meals if they’re in reception class or year 1 or 2. You can also apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits.

If you get Universal Credit

You can apply for free school meals if you either:

  • started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018
  • earn less than £7,400 a year net, not including benefits

You’ll remain eligible for free school meals until 31 March 2022, even if your earnings increase or you stop getting Universal Credit. If your child is getting free school meals on 31 March 2022, they’ll keep getting them until they finish their stage of education, for example primary or secondary.

If you get other benefits

You can also apply for free school meals if you get any of these benefits:

  • Child Tax Credit – you can’t apply for free meals if your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax or you’re also entitled to Working Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit run-on – you might get this for 4 weeks if you’re no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

Asylum Seekers and those with ‘no recourse to public funds’

If you’ve asked for asylum and you’re getting asylum support while you wait for a decision, you can also apply for free school meals.

If you can’t apply for benefits because you have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF), you might still be able to get free school meals. This is because the government has extended free school meals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Your child could get:

  • free school meals when they’re in school, or
  • food parcels or vouchers if they’re off school because of coronavirus

You should ask at the school and show them the government’s temporary rules for people with NRPF on GOV.UK.

If your child is off school because of coronavirus

If your child has to stay at home, and they usually get free school meals because of your benefits, you’ll get supermarket vouchers or food.

If your child gets free school meals because they’re in reception or years 1 or 2, you’re not entitled to food or vouchers when they’re off school.

Getting the vouchers or food when off school

Your school will either offer:

  • supermarket vouchers for £15 a week
  • food – this might be delivered or you might have to collect it

If the school hasn’t contacted you, tell them you’re entitled to this help and ask what you need to do.

Finally, even if your child gets free meals, you should tell your local council if you’re on a low income and get benefits. You might be able to get other help with school costs – and your child’s school might get extra money.

For more information on free school meals, and other help with school costs, visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/education/help-with-school-costs#h-getting-free-school-meals, or contact your local Citizens Advice office on 0800 144 88 48.

Alternatively, contact your local Council. Local Councils manage the allocation of Free School Meals.

Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.