How to apply for free school meals during lockdown 3

SCHOOL children from the poorest families are to continue to get free meals during the third lockdown in England.

Primary and secondary schools have closed until at least February half term, after some opened for just one day following the Christmas break.

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The PM bowed to significant pressure to order schools to move to remote teaching for the next six weeks at least.

They will only stay open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Nurseries are allowed to stay open as usual.

GCSE and A Level exams in the summer have also been cancelled – they'll be replaced by teacher assessments instead.

In his address to the nation, Mr Johnson confirmed that free school meals will continue throughout lockdown.

How can I apply for free school meal vouchers?

HOW you claim the free school meals depends on where you live.

For example, you can either get a form to fill in from your school, call your local council or fill in an online form.

Start by entering your postcode into the website to see what the process is in your area.

There’s a different process if you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales.

It's worth pointing out that if you claim housing benefit or council tax support you can apply for free school meals when you are filling out your forms.

The government has confirmed that the scheme will work in a similar way to how it did during the previous lockdowns last year.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I know there is, understandably, concern about free school meals.

"We are going to provide extra funding to support schools to provide food parcels or meals to eligible children.

"Where schools cannot offer food parcels or use local solutions, we will ensure a national voucher scheme is in place so that every eligible child can access free school meals while their school remains closed."

According to campaign group Food Foundation, around 200,000 UK kids skipped meals during the first coronavirus lockdown because they didn't have enough food.

Here we take you through everything you need to know about claiming free school meals during England's third lockdown.

How do I get free school meals when my child's school is closed?

Families of children who usually qualify for free school meals are eligible for either supermarket or local shop vouchers, or food or meals sent to their home.

Similar to previous lockdowns, it is up to the schools to decide which form of support is offered.

The voucher scheme isn't open yet, but previously schools could either order them directly from the retailers to email them to families or send via post.

Parents or carers were then able to spend vouchers in Aldi, Asda, McColl’s, Morrisons, M&S Food, Sainsbury's, Tesco or Waitrose.

Alternatively, schools can send out food to children using their regular in-house catering team, a local meal delivery service or private catering provider.

Schools will have their costs covered by the DfE.

What should I get?

If your kids qualify for free school meals, your school can claim up to £3.50 per eligible pupil a week to provide food parcels.

The government is urging schools to use this approach wherever possible.

However, Marcus Rashford yesterday fumed "it's not good enough" as he shared a small food parcel sent to a family meant to last for ten days.

According to government guidance, the food parcels should:

  • contain food items rather than pre-prepared meals due to food safety considerations
  • minimise the fridge and freezer space that schools and families will need to store foods
  • contain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches for their child/children across the week
  • not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home to prepare meals
  • not contain items restricted under the school food standards
  • cater for pupils who require special diets, for example, allergies, vegetarians or religious diets – schools should ensure there are systems in place to avoid cross-contamination
  • contain appropriate packaging sizes for household use, rather than wholesale sizes

Alternatively, schools can also claim vouchers worth £15 per child to cover one week's worth of meals.

The national voucher scheme hasn't yet reopened for applications, so we'll update this article once it does.

Which children are eligible for free school meals?

Eligibility for free school meals varies slightly between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland because the nations set their own rules.

But you may be able to claim free school meals for your child if you, or your child, get any of the following benefits:

  • 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 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 £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

If you qualify, kids get the support from nursery age through to sixth form.

Separately, in England all pupils in reception and year's one and two, regardless of income, can get free school meals during term time in state schools.

In Scotland, children in primary, year's one, two and three can claim free school meals regardless of family income.

Use the relevant government tools online – in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales – to check if you can get free school meals.

Can children get free school meals during the holidays?

Children who are entitled to free school meals during term time can now claim them during the holidays.

A £170million winter grant scheme was launched at the end of last year to cover free meals during the school holidays until March 2021.

An extra £220million will be available this year to provide holiday activities and free meals for kids throughout the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021.

The government u-turn came after a national campaign by England footballer Marcus Rashford, who called for free school meals for households on Universal Credit all year round.

What other help is there?

Parents or soon-to-be mums on a low income or certain benefits are entitled to extra help towards the cost of feeding their child.

Families with children under four-years-old may be entitled to a weekly Healthy Start Voucher.

Currently, they are worth £3.10 a week but will rise to £4.25 from April 2021.

They can be spent in supermarkets, corner shops, greengrocers, market stalls, pharmacies, food co-ops and milk floats or vans.

You can find your nearest shops that accept them using the Healthy Start tool on its website.

As of January 4, Lidl tops up the value of the vouchers by £1.15 to £4.25, three months ahead of a government increase.

Households struggling to put meals on the table maybe able to get help from a local food bank.

You normally need a referral from a charity, doctor or support worker to access a food bank.

Visit Citizens Advice for more information on this; the charity itself can also provide referrals.

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