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Could your children qualify for free school meals?

27 June 2024

Updated: 27 June 2024

The cost of school meals and packed lunches can really add up, especially if you have more than one child at school.

But did you know, that, depending on your circumstances, if you're on certain benefits, including universal credit and child tax credit, your kids may be able to get free school meals during term time – as well as free support during the school holidays.

## Can my child get free school meals?

For your child to qualify for free school meals, you must get one of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit (you're eligible after you've got your first payment) and your household income after tax is less than £7,400 per year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)
  • Child Tax Credit* (provided 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 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • The guaranteed part of Pension Credit
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Children aged between 16 and 18 who are getting Universal Credit in their own name can also get free school meals.

Children who get paid these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.

Not claiming any of the above but think you might be eligible? Check using a benefit calculator.

Your child may also get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both:

If you do not qualify for most benefits (also known as having ‘no recourse to public funds’), your child may still be eligible for free school meals if their annual household income is:

  • Less than £22,700 for families with one child
  • Less than £26,300 for families with two or more children

Ask the school or your local authority whether they’re eligible. You'll need to provide proof of both your income & your immigration status to your child's school.

Infant free school meals in England

Your child will be able to get free school meals if they’re in a government-funded school and in reception class, year 1 or year 2. Tell your local authority if you also get any of the qualifying benefits. Your child’s school can get extra funding if you do.

I just lost my job and claimed Universal Credit. Will I be able to claim free school meals?

Most councils work out whether you can get free school meals based on your earnings in your previous assessment period for Universal Credit.

This can mean that councils aren't able to process your claim for free school meals until after you have received your first Universal Credit payment.

How do I apply for free school meals?

You may need to apply for free school meals EVERY YEAR and you need to apply before the new school year starts in September. You need to get in touch with your local council to apply for free school meals. They may have their own application forms for you to fill in.

Not only will your child get a healthy meal, but you’ll also save money too!

Check out your eligibility and find your local council here

Struggling to pay your rent?

If you are experiencing financial pressures and are struggling to pay your rent, please get in touch as soon as possible, as it's better to let us know now. We will work with you to find a solution that suits your circumstances and helps you keep on top of your rent payments, including:

  • Affordable repayment plans
  • Specialist advice on claiming benefits
  • Advice to help you maximise your income and manage debt

Find out more about paying your rent help & support from our dedicated teams

Cost of Living information, maximising your income and support available

If you need help with benefits, budgeting or debt advice, as a Torus customer, you can access free support from Citizens Advice. Torus customers can use a dedicated phone line 0151 547 7711 / 0345 266 8037 or head to the advice page of their website. They are taking enquiries from Torus customers across all areas, so make sure they know you’re with Torus.

*IMPORTANT: Universal Credit Migration

Universal Credit (UC) is gradually replacing tax credits, and some other benefits. UC now available across the UK and HMRC state that it is no longer possible for anyone to make a brand-new claim for tax credits. Instead, people are expected to claim UC or pension credit depending on their circumstances. Most existing tax credit claimants will move to either UC or pension credit by the end of the 2024/25 tax year. Find out more about UC Migration and getting support

Child on free school meals? You may be able to get free extra help over the holidays

Getting free school meals during term time means you also qualify for free extra help during the school holidays. It can include free meals, free activities and even free cash to help with your childcare costs.

You may be able to apply for council-run holiday and food clubs: If you're eligible for benefits-related free school meals (even if your child is too young to get them), they're also able to take part in the Holiday Activity and Food Programme (HAF) that takes place over the Summer, Easter, and Christmas holidays.

The HAF programme is designed to give children aged 4+ access to enriching activities, and at least one free meal a day. The actual content of the programme will vary council by council, but you should be able to choose from a range of activities.

As a minimum, each local authority must provide the equivalent of six weeks of support per year to all eligible children, but many councils offer more. This is split over each of the long school holidays. So, if you apply, you'll be able to get AT LEAST:

  • Four days help over Easter.
  • Four weeks help over summer (or three if your child's holiday is shorter than six weeks)
  • Four days help over Christmas.

Access to HAF isn't automatic, you MUST APPLY each holiday! The way you do this varies by council. Some give your child a code at school which you can use to book activities with providers (this might be called a HAF code, or a Unique Booking Reference). Others have walk-in sessions, online booking portals, or small grants that you can use to pay providers for sessions.

Check how you'll need to apply by contacting your local council. You can find yours (and their website) using the government's 'Find your council' tool. Or you can search online for the name of your area, along with 'Holiday Food and Activities Programme.

Some councils have application deadlines, or limited spaces on some of the more popular activities programmes, so apply asap to make sure you don't miss out.

Further help

Torus Foundation can provide details of additional food provision and essential utilities to support families with children, other vulnerable households, and individuals.

Food vouchers may also be available through the Household Support Fund. Find out more by contacting your local council. Find out more and see if you are eligible at

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