With the cost of living crisis continuing, free schools meals are often a lifeline for families, and experts say they can save upwards of £440 per year, per child.
Food costs have rocketed in recent months, and are showing no signs of falling, so the offer of free school meals for London’s state primary pupils will be welcomed by many.
But how do you get them? Do you need to register? And what can you get if you’re outside the capital?
Here is what you need to know.
How to claim free school meals
All children attending state primary schools in London should automatically be enrolled to receive free school meals for the 2023/24 academic year, under the emergency measure announced by Sadiq Khan.
However, parents in London whose children already qualified for free school meals under the existing government scheme should continue to apply as before.
Your school should be in touch to ask for the information they need to plan the number of meals they’ll need to make, and to cater for dietary requirements.
There’s no obligation to have the free meals, and children will still be allowed to take a packed lunch – rules on these are set by individual schools.
In the rest of England, free school meals are provided for all children in Reception class, Year 1 and Year 2 of state schools – but to take up the offer you need to register your interest with your local council.
Older children may be able to get free school meals if parents receive any of the benefits listed below, but if you don’t qualify for these and are struggling financially, you can ask your school or local authority about eligibility.
- 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 (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
- 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)
Those in Northern Ireland can apply if receiving certain benefits.
Sadiq Khan said: ‘We’re deeply concerned by the number of primary school children going hungry in London’s classrooms.
‘Eligibility criteria for the Government’s existing free school meals offer is strict, which means many parents/carers and children who need this helping hand have been missing out.
‘As someone who received free school meals myself, I’m incredibly proud that we’re able to step up and provide this crucial lifeline…I firmly believe that every child deserves the chance to be able to grow up healthy and thrive, regardless of their background or circumstances.
‘But for this to happen, children must be able to access healthy, nutritious meals.’
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