Free school meals: how to claim them in 2022

8 December 2022 by Robin - 8 minutes of reading time

What are free school meals? Am I eligible to receive this benefit? If you are low on income, you may receive help with your children‘s school meals, as well as other costs. Your Benefits will walk you through everything you need to know about free school meals. 

What are free school meals?

Free school meals in 2022 help those eligible with the costs of school meals for your child. Indeed, you may be on a low income. Then, you may not only receive help with meals, but also with transportation and uniform. 

You may be unsure if you are on a low income. Then, you may receive benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and tax credits. If this is the case, you likely qualify as on a low income.

If you are unsure, contact your local education authority (LEA) and ask them. They are your local council in charge of education.

On October 2020, the total number of students eligible for free school meals was 1.63 million.  This was 19.7% of all students at the time. This number has increased by 17.3% from before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals from January 2018 to December 2020
September to December 2020 January to April 2020 January to April 2019 January to April 2018
Total number of pupils eligible for free school meals 1,633,698 1,440,788 1,270,941 1,106,633
Total number of pupils 8,299,034 8,313,488 8,238,809 8,153,225
Percentage of eligible pupils 19.7% 17.3% 15.4% 13.6%

Does every child get free school meals?

Children in reception class or year 1 or 2 do not need to apply. They will automatically receive free school meals. This is to make sure that all young children have sure access to food.

You should still notify your local council if you are on a low income. Do this even if your child receives free school meals. You may be able to get additional help with other costs. On top of this, the school your child goes to may be able to receive additional money.

I do not have access to public funds

You may not be able to apply for free school meals. This is likely because you have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF). You are not automatically unqualified, however. You might still be able to receive this benefit.

Because of coronavirus, the government relaxed the requirements to receive this benefit. You may have previously not been able to earn the benefit before. However, you may now be able to.

Additionally, you may ask your school about this benefit. Furthermore, you may show them the temporary rule that the government put in place for people affected with NRPF. Furthermore, you may find this rule on the Gov.UK website.If this is your situation, your child may receive one of the following:

  • When they are in school: free school meals;
  • When they are outside of school because of coronavirus: food vouchers or parcels.

Apply for free school meals

You may claim free school meals on the Gov.UK website. You will be asked to put in your postcode. Then, you will be taken to your local council’s website, on the relevant page. You will be able to apply there. 

You will typically need receipts proving that you are receiving a qualifying benefit. Furthermore, you may contact your local council if you have any questions.

What benefits allow for free school meals?

What benefits allow free school meals?

In order to qualify for free school meals, you must receive certain benefits. The reason for this is that this benefit is meant to help those on a low income.

As such, if you receive the following qualifying benefits, it is likely the case for your situation.

There is a variety of qualifying benefits. This includes Universal Credit, Income Support, ESA and others.

Do I qualify if I receive Universal Credit?

There are a couple of conditions that may make you eligible for free school meals in 2022. Indeed, you may apply for the benefit if one of the following applies to you:

  • Your net earnings per year, excluding benefits, are less than £7,400;
  • Your Universal Credit claim began before 1 April 2018.

If both of these are true for you, you are likely eligible for this benefit. You will continue to be eligible until 31 March 2022. Your eligibility will not void if your earnings end up being more than when you applied.

Additionally, your child may receive free school meals after 31 March 2022. This is if they are not done with their stage of education. In other words, they will keep getting this benefit until they finish primary, secondary school…

I receive another benefit or applied for asylum

If you do not get Universal Credit, not to worry. There are other benefits that may qualify you for free school meals. They are:

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
  • Guarantee Credit Pension Credit;
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
  • Income Support;
  • Child Tax Credit. However, you do not qualify for free school meals if you are also entitled to Working Tax Credit, or earn £16,190 or more before tax in income yearly;
  • Working Tax Credit run-on (if you are no longer eligible for Working Tax Credits, you may earn this benefit for 4 weeks).
You may have either applied for asylum or are receiving asylum support. In both of these cases, you are able to apply for this benefit. This is even if you have not yet received a decision.

What additional help can I get?

You may be eligible to receive help on costs related to your child going to school. This is not limited to their free school meals. As such, you may be able to receive help on costs for equipment, materials…

Your child may not be able to go to school because of coronavirus. If this is the case, they might have received work to do at home. They might also have to work on the computer or online. However, your child may not have a computer they can use. They may also not be able to go on the internet.

Contact your school if this is the case. Here are a couple of things they might be able to do:

  • Provide an internet access or computer to your child;
  • Adapt the work your child has to complete to fit their circumstances;
  • Allow your child to return to school (if they are not in self-isolation).

What are free school meals equivalents?

Getting help on transportation

Your child may be outside of school because of coronavirus. If they were getting free school meals because of your eligibility, you will receive help. You will receive either supermarket vouchers or food.

Either of the following may be given by your school:

  • A weekly £15 in supermarket vouchers;
  • Food, either available to collect, or delivered to you directly.

Your child’s school may not have contacted you yet. If this is the case, let them know you should receive these. Ask them what steps you may take to smooth out the process.

Note that your child may get free school meals. This is because they are in reception school or year 1 or year 2. In this case, you may not automatically receive food vouchers or food in this condition. Contact your local council to inform them you are on low income.

Help with uniforms and activities

On top of free school meals, you might be able to receive additional help if low on income. For this, contact your local education authority (LEA). The cost of your kid’s uniform may be partially covered. They might also cover costs linked with activities outside the main curriculum.

You may have trouble paying for some activities organised by your school. This can include trips to the museum or the theatre. They cannot not allow your child to come to these simply because you cannot pay. The only recourse they may have is to cancel a trip altogether if they do not have enough fund.

Help with transportation

You may be eligible to receive help to transport your child to and from school. First, they need to be aged 5 to 16 years old. You might then be able to receive free or cheaper transportation options from your local education authority (LEA). This is if your child is unable to walk to school, or you live far away from it.

An older child may still receive help. They must be an apprentice or in a sixth form. Furthermore, this also depends on the area in which you live.

Note that your LEA may not automatically pay for travel expenses. For example, this may be the case if there is a school closer to your house. However, you may have been refused help and believe it in unjustified. In this case, you may send an appeal.

Robin is a writer for Your Benefits, writing about aids that people may be entitled to. He is currently working on his Master in journalism at the Institut Supérieur de Formation au Journalisme in Lille.

Ask our experts a question

Our algorithm calculates which grants you are eligible to apply for.

Simulate your benefits