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How to get free school meals over Christmas – are you eligible?

MANY children will be looking forward to Christmas, but school holidays can be a stressful time for families struggling financially.

Free school meals are on offer during term time and they will also be available to some families over the festive period.

Some councils will be providing free school meals over the Christmas holidays

Term times vary across the country, but most schools in England will close for the Christmas holidays on December 19 before returning on January 3, 2023.

Parents whose children qualify for free school meals can claim up to £40 per child, but this will vary depending on where you live.

The help given to each family depends on the local authority.

They can chose to dish out help under a new round of £421million funding given by the government to the Household Support Fund.

Councils have been given a slice of the funding on offer and can choose how to spend the money and decide who is eligible.

The funding can be dished out to struggling residents to help pay for things like bills and essentials, as well as helping keep children fed in the summer holidays.

Councils can also provide support through the Holiday Activities and Food programme (HAF).

Many councils have already announced what support will be on offer over the Christmas holidays for children who get free school meals.

For instance thousands of families in Bedford who are entitled to income related free school meals will be given vouchers for the Christmas period.

Funded through the Household Support Fund, Bedford Borough Council will continue to provide each eligible child £15 per week.

Meanwhile Oldham Council has announced families will get vouchers worth £20 a week per child over the winter break.

And Blackpool Council and Brighton and Hove City Council told The Sun they will also be providing children with vouchers.

If you live in Blackpool or Brighton, you can find more information on each scheme on the councils’ websites.

West Sussex County Council said it is bringing back its HAF over the Christmas break.

The free Christmas programme is open to all West Sussex children who receive benefits-related free school meals.

You can find your local council by entering your postcode into this handy tool on the government website.

You will then be able to contact your authority and find out what support is available to you and your family.

The Local Government Association said councils “want to do all they can to support those who are most vulnerable” from the rising cost of living.

A spokesman said: “Councils and local partners continue to use the Household Support Fund to help target crisis support to those most in need, while also providing local, wrap-around support services to tackle more deep-rooted issues and address longer-term needs, such as on debt, the energy efficiency of homes, and income advice.”

Who is eligible for free school meals?

Children whose parents claim certain benefits are eligible to receive free school meals:

  • 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 four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

If your child receives free school meals during term time then they should be entitled to vouchers during the holidays also.

However, check with your local council as this can change between areas.

You can apply for free school meals through your local authority’s website.

What is the Holiday Activities and Food grant?

The government has provided councils with a fund to cover holiday activities for children from low income families.

The scheme ran during the Easter and summer holidays this year and will continue over the 2022 Christmas break.

Families who are eligible for free school meals can attend the activities and holiday clubs for no extra charge.

Other children may have to pay a fee to attend.

While this isn’t a food parcel or voucher, free food is provided at many of these holiday clubs.

Check your local council website to find out what is available in your area over the school holidays and how to sign up.

Where can I go for extra help this Christmas?

If you find that your council is no longer giving out free school meals, or you’re not eligible, there is other support available.

Make sure you’re getting all the help you’re eligible for by using an online benefits calculator.

Food banks can provide families with emergency supplies – you will need to be issued a voucher by a local community organisation such as a school or GP.

You can search for your nearest food bank on the Trussell Trust website.

If you’re worried about your finances, you can contact charities such as Citizens Advice and Turn2Us for free advice.

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