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Is Your Child Entitled to Free School Meals?

By: Jack Claridge - Updated: 15 Apr 2021 | comments*Discuss
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When your child begins full-time education the issue of what they will do at lunchtime is one that has to be looked at and considered. It is not always possible for a child to either return home for lunch or to be provided with a lunch of their own – either by giving them money or making them a packed lunch – so therefore one must consider free school meals as an option.

Availability of Free School Meals

Free school meals are provided in the United Kingdom where the local education authorities see fit. Although it is law that all children should be given the option of a free school meal, should their circumstances permit, not all local education authorities in conjunction with their respective councils can afford such a provision. Free school meals now only apply in England and Wales – again where provisions exist – but in Scotland this is something that is only allowed at the discretion of individual education departments.

Who is Eligible?

The first things to remember is that your local education authority is responsible by law to provide your child with free school meals should you fall into any of the categories – or criteria- that are required for them to do so. It is a given that any student in full time education is entitled to free school meals.

Those who are most eligible for free school meals are the following:

  • Children whose parents receive Family Income Support
  • The children of parents receiving Income Based Job-Seekers Allowance
  • Any student whose parents receive Child Tax Credit but do not recieve Working Tax Credit and whose annual family income is less than £16,190 as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs (2016 - these values are changed anually).
  • Those children who are supported by Part VI of the Immigration & Asylum Act 1999
  • Children who are being cared for by guardians who receive Pension Credit (under the ‘Guarantee Credit Element’).
Nursery School children are only eligible for free school meals if they are being taught before and after the lunch break. Also students within sixth form education may be eligible given the relevant criteria but students undertaking further education are not eligible and therefore the provision of a lunch is at the discretion of the student and/or parent.

Your local council or education authority will be able to provide you with further information on any special circumstances that they may perceive as being reasonable grounds for receiving free school meals.

Applying for Free School Meals

When you first apply for a place at a particular school for your child they will ask you – if the provision to do so is there – if your child wishes to take advantage of the free school meals system. If this is the case you will be required to fill out an application form or renewal of free school meals application form and also provide proof of your child’s eligibility. With this form you will be asked to provide the school with a copy of your Pension Guarantee Credit notice, proof of Income Based Job Seekers Allowance of Child Tax Credit.

It is worth noting at this stage that if you do not – or cannot – provide the school with the relevant information, which they will forward on to the local education authority, your child will not be allowed to take free school meals and as a result you as the guardian or parent may incur a daily charge for a meal if your child wishes to have one in school.

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Hi. I have my son 42 months. I am single mother . I am working 10 hours a week and my son is going in the nursery for 15 hours a week. I am with Universal Credit. I wont to ask iff I can get free school meals . I think is to much only for 15 hours a week I need to pay 72£ a months for the food. Thank you
No - 15-Apr-21 @ 4:35 AM
Hello there, My daughter is 40 months old and is going 30 hours on preschool Kent. They're saying that the lunch is 2.40 at day but i am 18 hours working on universal credit single mum and I want to check is my daughter must have a free lunch meal and if yes do I need to aplly somewhere for it? Thank you
Rosy - 4-Mar-21 @ 10:43 AM
My daughter is in a private nursery and used to get hot school meals sent to them for lunch time. They now get nothing and I have to supply a packed lunch. This is ridiculousthe government won't support us unless we have a benefit. Yet my daughter is in the nursery as I am a key worker for the nhs and get no support at all with meals any ideas on help please it's not just my daughter it's key worker kids that are losing out on a hot meal as schools are closed
Suz - 14-Jan-21 @ 8:50 PM
My daughter recently started Upper school, she's been told she's entitled to free school meals and we've been given a voucher for £30 today, she wasn't entitled to free dinners at her previous school but she did get people premium when she first started because I was earning less than £17000 and my son in lower school isn't entitled to free school dinners and didn't get people premium. I get child tax credits and working tax credits, I now earn over £20000. We've been told she's on the list and is entitled to the free meals, where is the best place to speak to somebody so I can sort this out, I don't want to spend the voucher and find out I have to pay it back?
Razordogz - 15-Dec-20 @ 12:51 AM
Hi, I have a 2 year old daughter who is eligible for the free 16hours at nursery. I am on income support and have other older children who are in full time school getting free school meals, could you tell me if my two year old is entitled please? The nursery said she has to be over 3 to qualify? She does two full days in nursery. Thanks
Vicky - 14-Sep-20 @ 5:08 PM
I'm a widower who has two children, and one of them is a special need boy. The oldest son attends Hillingdon Manor school in Hillingdon borough, but we are residents of Hounslow borough. My son is eligible for free school meals. Hounslow council rejected my apply. Hillingdon borough resend me to apply at Hillingdon Manor school. The school  answered that it is a private school and they cannot help me with providing my son free school meals. What I need to do? Alex
Alex - 9-Sep-20 @ 9:33 AM
My daughter is entitled to free school meals since Reception however I have just been told my son who will be going into Reception in September is not eligible. How is this possible?
Neal4683 - 19-Aug-20 @ 4:49 PM
My autistic son has turned 18 now & my daughter has just turned 13. I now work 35hrs p.w but previously only 28 or 16.I've claimed tax credits for 18yrs although I was overpaid when my son was young & we had to have a bankruptcy order because of it. I've always struggled to pay for their uniforms literally only getting 2 outfits each.I've always made sure they had £2 each for lunch but why should they have gone without when someone who doesn't work gets everything for free? I don't understand....
Debbie - 18-Aug-20 @ 3:59 PM
I work full time, don't get tax credits or child tax credits but do get child benefit. Should I be entitled to free school meals?
Lou - 20-Jul-20 @ 10:44 PM
I'm a single mother who's recently moved to benefits due to a chronic illness. My son attends a independent school for children with additional needs prior to this he was a PRU for almost 2 years in receipt of free school meals. This school does not have facilities to provide children dinner was the only school available that could meet his needs all the others within our area declined application this school hes now attending is out of our attachment area in another town almost an hour away from our family home. For 2 years I have provided him with a pack lunch, as food is something he struggles with this has become an even bigger expense than when he 1st started. (stealing food) I cannot send him to school without a meal so this then means I have to purchase again. Do you have any advice on who i should contact in regards to seeing if any help is available with this please. Thanks in advance.
Channel - 1-May-20 @ 10:49 PM
My son has special need and is attending a special need provision in mainstream school at westminster borough, I want to find out if he is entitled to free meal as I do not collect any benefits only disability allowance for him.
Nik - 14-Apr-20 @ 3:54 PM
I work 30 hrs a wk and in receipt of working/child tax credits. Is my 11 yr old son entitled to free school meals as i was told he isnt...yet a friend of mine works more hrs...in recepit of tax credits and receives free meals for her 11 yr old.
Tone - 25-Mar-20 @ 7:34 PM
Hi I’m on child tax credit, child benefit & recieve free school meals. I’m considering going for a job I’ve seen, it’s 21hours a week in a charity shop at minimum wage..... but if I get it would I lose my free school meals? They really help as I get free school trips and help with uniform costs. I’m unsure if I’d be better off working & losing this? I’d really appreciate any help on this.
Annie - 4-Mar-20 @ 11:45 AM
I am on a low income £9.03 an hour and work 30 a week my 14 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with adhd and learning difficulties can i claim free school meals and a free bus pass for her.
Donz - 18-Dec-19 @ 11:48 AM
Ive been cut of wtc does that mean my son is now entitled to free school dinners.
Tash - 13-Nov-19 @ 2:00 PM
I receive a desability allowence and working but our annual income is less than £11000 Do my children are entitled to free school meal
Sara - 24-Oct-19 @ 10:23 PM
Hi, I work for a charity that funds a child at an independent school on a very low fee basis. The children in the family should be entitled, due to benefits received by the parent, to receive free school meals, however I'm wondering whether councils fund meals at a private, fee paying school? It's Westminster Council in question. Thanks for your help.
Charity - 9-Sep-19 @ 2:33 PM
My daughter is going into yr 4 she is entitled to free school dinners as on universal credit... do i have to renew it or does it just run on
Mand - 2-Sep-19 @ 7:59 PM
I have been getting free school meals do i have to renew them before they go back to school in september plus i have a child going from primary to secondary school what do i do
Tash - 28-Aug-19 @ 12:24 PM
Hi, My son has been attending full time secondary school in England since September 18 and has been eligible for free school meals as I'm in receipt of ESA, child tax credits and child benefit. Our benefits have not changed but my son's mental health issues have forced me to request that he attends school just part time, (All lessons prior to lunchtime.) I am hoping you could tell me if we are still eligible for free school meals as my income is very low and this is going to have a undesired effect on me financially. I am aware that it states free meals are for full time students but was wondering what the special circumstances consist of so that I can look into if we have grounds to request he should be eligible for free school meals. Thank you
Stacey O'T - 13-May-19 @ 10:11 AM
I was on income based JSA and claimed free school meals. I now have a part time job working 14 hours per week, earning £10k per year. Can I continue to claim free school meals until the end of the school year, or do I have to claim Universal credit, in that case I won't be entitled to free school meals as my income is over £7k?
Lizzy - 8-May-19 @ 8:33 AM
I am receiving disability allowance does my son entitle free school meals
Naz - 1-May-19 @ 10:06 AM
I've come off income support and now receive working tax credits but was entitled to free school meals for my child when will these stop and I have to pay for them?
Hayley - 24-Mar-19 @ 2:48 PM
Can I cancel my child’s free school meal? And if so how? I live in England by the way.
Em - 4-Nov-18 @ 11:47 PM
My son has started nursery in September however what I wanted to know was do people on JSA,child tax, ESA any Dwp benefit, do you still have to pay for nursery meals. The nurseries I have been too range from £5-15 a day even if it's 15hrs a week.
Nay - 7-Oct-18 @ 4:20 PM
@Vicky - if he was eligible before high school, he should be eligible at high school unless your financial circumstances have changed.
EllieB - 17-Aug-18 @ 10:07 AM
Hi my son is going to high school in September, will he continue to receive free school meals?
Vicky - 16-Aug-18 @ 4:30 PM
@Stacey - If your child doesn't have to be in nursery and you are receiving a free place, then you can't claim this back. The reason is that you don't 'need' your child to be in nursery over lunchtime (as you're not working), so this is your choice. The alternative is to place your child in nursery mornings or afternoons so you can feed your child at home (that's the government's take on it - if you see what I mean).
Alex90 - 10-Jul-18 @ 10:12 AM
So I get 15 hours free funding as I currently don’t work so I receive income support and child tax credits. I have to pay £18 a month just for nursery dinners anyone know if I can claim that back?
Stacey - 9-Jul-18 @ 11:11 AM
hi, i would like to know,if it"s possible, how much i have to wait for the answer for ,,free school meals,,? i don"t know how i will know if it is approved...thx
oana - 2-Mar-18 @ 6:23 PM
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