Free school meals UK: how to apply for vouchers and who is eligible as government makes U-turn on Marcus Rashford campaign

A number of measures have been announced to support disadvantaged children following the high-profile campaign

(A mural by grafitti artist Akse P19 of Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford - Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
(A mural by grafitti artist Akse P19 of Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford - Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK government has agreed to spend more than £400m to fund free school meals for disadvantaged children in England, following a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.

After a motion to provide free school meals was voted down by Conservative MPs in Parliament last month, a petition backing the campaign picked up more than one million signatures.

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What did Marcus Rashford say?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the young England and Manchester United star on Saturday (7 November) to confirm that funding would be provided to feed children from poorer backgrounds during the Christmas holidays.

In a statement, Mr Rashford said: “Seeing the role everyone has played in supporting our most vulnerable children has been the greatest moment of my life. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding.

“I am fully committed to this cause, and I will fight for the rest of my life for it, because in my mind, no child should ever go hungry in the United Kingdom. I don’t want any child to go through what I went through, and any parent to experience what my mother experienced.

“I now call on the Government to collaborate with the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, something the Prime Minister and I discussed on the phone last night, to guarantee that no child does.”

What support has been announced?

An extra £170m worth of funding will be provided to pay for the Covid Winter Grant Scheme to support families throughout the colder months.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also announced that the Holiday Activities and Food programme will be extended to cover the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks next year.

The Health Start payments, given to people in low income who are expectant mothers or have young children to help pay for fresh fruit and vegetables, will also be raised, from £3.10 to £4,25 per week, from April 2021.

Local authorities will receive the funding at the start of next month. It will be ring-fenced, meaning at least 80 per cent will be used for support with food and bills.

The DWP confirmed that the £170m winter grants will be administered by councils in England, rather than schools.

Can I claim free school meals for my child?

Eligible families can apply for the support through their child’s school or local authority.

While there are differences in how free school meals are administered in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the eligibility criteria below will apply to most.

Children between the ages of four and 16 who live in households claiming any of the following support will most likely be eligible for free school meals

- Income support

- Income-based jobseekers 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 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 applied on or after April 1, 2018, your household income is less than £7400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

People already claiming housing benefit or council tax support can apply for free school meals on the same form.

You can find out more about receiving this support by checking the relevant government website, either for England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.