HARD-UP families who are struggling for cash this Christmas can get help to pay for food through different schemes.
The festive season is always an expensive time of year, but this year could be even tougher due to rising costs.
Food inflation reached 12.4% between January and November, meaning some items are seeing their highest prices for years.
According to the British Retail Consortium’s chief executive Helen Dickinson, meat, dairy and eggs have seen the highest price increase.
Plus, the recent bird flu outbreak is set to see turkey prices double for your Christmas dinner.
It means that a helping hand can go a long way – and there are ways to get free cash and vouchers to get you by.
We explain five schemes available that struggling Brits can apply to – and who is eligible.
The Healthy Start scheme offers prepaid food cards to women who are more than 10 weeks pregnant or women or men who have children under four.
They typically must also be on certain benefits, including:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Child Tax Credit with a family income of £16,190 or less per year
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit with no earned income or total earned income of £408 or less per month for the family.
However, if you are under 18 and pregnant you can get the money, even if you don’t receive any of the above benefits.
Families that qualify get £4.25 a week per child or double that depending on how old the child is.
For example, if your child is younger than 12 months old, you get £8.50 each week.
Women who are more than 10 weeks pregnant get £4.25 a week, and it’s the same amount for each child between one and four.
The food cards can be spent at any location that accepts Mastercard.
That means you can use it at supermarkets, markets, petrol stations, butcher shops and more.
Also, Sainsbury’s is offering an extra £2 to customers who shop with a Healthy Start card.
You can apply via email or phone on [email protected] or 0300 330 7010.
Household Support Fund
Thousands of households can get £60 of free supermarket vouchers to spend on food and essentials.
The help will be dished out under a new round of £421million funding given by the government to the Household Support Fund.
Councils have been given a slice of the new pot of funding on offer, which will be given out to struggling residents to help pay for bills and essentials.
For example, cash-strapped households in the North Somerset Council catchment area can get £60 to put towards food and essentials.
To be eligible, you must be a care leaver – any adult who has spent time in care – or have a child who receives free school meals.
What you can get depends on your personal situation and also which your local council is.
Councils have their own schemes and decide what help they will give out to struggling Brits in their areas.
To apply, you will need to check what help your local council is offering under the Household Support Scheme for more information.
Each council also has its own application process for the scheme – and different eligibility criteria in some cases.
You can find who your local council is by using the gov.uk council checker tool.
Most local councils run their own welfare assistance schemes for households on low incomes or who are dealing with a crisis.
Grants can sometimes be worth up to £1,000.
But, like the Household Support Fund, exactly what you’ll be entitled to will depend on where you live as councils decide what they’re offering.
Who can apply for help will vary depending on local authority as well.
Again, if you don’t know what local council area you fall under, you can find out by using the government’s locator tool.
Greggs Foundation Hardship Fund
The bakery chain offers families in need help through its Gregg Foundation Hardship Fund.
Unfortunately, the scheme is only available to households in North-East England, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Teesside.
Households can get help to buy a number of items, including appliances, flooring baby equipment and supermarket vouchers worth £100 per family.
Applications have to be made on behalf of individuals from recognised social organisations such as charities registered with the Charity Commission, housing associations and social services acting on behalf of a family or individual in need.
So to get help through the scheme you don’t have to do anything and will be contacted if you’re eligible.
To find charities near you offering hardship grants you can use Turn2US’ grant search tool on its website.
Free school meals
Free school meals are on offer during term time and they will also be available to some families over the festive period.
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 choose to dish out help under the new round of funding given by the government to the Household Support Fund.
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.
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.
For more information see our guide here.
If you’re looking for more support 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.