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Who gets free school meals? Eligibility explained and how to apply amid calls to expand the scheme



Teachers are calling for more students to be given free school meals to help families struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Around one in five children already receive free school meals, and the Government claim to have offered more pupils free meals than any other administration in recent years.

But teaching unions have sent a joint letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi demanding that the scheme is “urgently” expanded to include all families who receive Universal Credit.

They said in the letter that vulnerable children who do not receive free school meals are facing a “real barrier to learning”.

Here’s how to check whether you are eligible and how to apply.

Who gets free school meals?

In England, all school children up Year Two get free school meals over term time.

Pupils in Engand in Year Three and above may get the provision if their families are on benefits related to income, such as Universal Credit.

Your child may be eligible if you are on 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 as long as you’re 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 rather than via a parent can also get free school meals.

In Northern Ireland, the universal credit cap is set at £14,000 a year.

Both Scotland and Wales have recently pledged to move towards free school meals for all primary school pupils.

How to apply for free school meals

In England, you can check if your child is eligible for free school means on your local authority’s website, then the website will tell you how to apply.

The process is slightly different in the other nations in the UK.

In Scotland, you can apply via your local council’s website and in Wales, you can find out more using the Welsh government site.

In Northern Ireland, you can find out how to apply via the Education Authority.

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