If you have young children and you are claiming a means-tested benefit, there are several other entitlements you may be eligible for. This guide will tell you about Free School Meals, the Healthy Start scheme (in England/Wales/Northern Ireland), Best Start (in Scotland) and getting help with school uniform costs.
If you have children in reception, year 1 or year 2 and they go to a state school they are entitled to free school meals regardless of your household income.
From year 3 onwards your children could get free lunches, and sometimes milk, at school if you are receiving one of the benefits below:
Any child of a Universal Credit claimant, who was getting free school meals as at 1 April 2018 under the old criteria (no income threshold), or makes a successful new claim after 1 April 2018 under the new criteria (with the income threshold) will keep their free school meals until March 2022, even if the household’s income rises above the income threshold - as long as they remain on Universal Credit.
At March 2022 if the pupil is still at school they will keep their free school meals until they move to the next phase of education (primary or secondary).
Because of the changes it means that one child could be entitled to a free school meal and a sibling not entitled. For example, if a Universal Credit claimant with 2 children has net earnings of £10,000 and applied for free school meals for their eldest child in September 2017, the application would have been successful as there was no income threshold. The free school meal for that child is protected. In September 2018 the younger child is not eligible for a free school meal because the household income is over the newly introduced threshold.
In addition to the eligibility rules above you can also claim in Scotland if you receive Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and your income is under £6,900. The household income limit for Universal Credit claimants is also slightly different at £610 a month.
The Universal Credit earnings threshold is £14,000 a year in Northern Ireland. You are also eligible in Northern Ireland if your child has a statement of special educational needs and is designated to need a special diet, or they board at a special school.
Free school meals are administered by local authorities or in Northern Ireland the local education and library boards. To make a claim contact your local authority (you can find contact details via the gov.uk website) or get more info and a form from your local education and library board.
With Healthy Start you can get:
If you're on certain benefits you could qualify. You'll need to be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four.
If you are pregnant and under the age of 18, you will automatically qualify whether or not you get other benefits.
You won't qualify if you get Working Tax Credit, unless it's just the four week extension of your payments - often called a 'run-on'. You may get a run-on after you stopped qualifying for Working Tax Credit - for example if you’ve stopped work or reduced your hours.
You don't have to get Child Benefit to qualify for Healthy Start. If you qualify for Healthy Start through Child Tax Credit, you’ll automatically get an application form in the post.
Healthy Start is administered by the Department of Health. To check that you qualify and to make a claim go to the Healthy Start website.
Best Start, which has been available in Scotland since 12 August 2019, has two parts - Best Start Foods and Best Start Grants.
With Best Start Foods you can get:
Best Start Food is designed to replace Healthy Start for people living in Scotland. If you are already getting Healthy Start Vouchers you will eventually be moved from Healthy Start to Best Start.
With Best Start Grants you can get up to three cash payments for each child. The following grants can be spent on anything you like:
Best Start Grant is designed to replace Sure Start Maternity Grant for people living in Scotland. It does not replace the School Clothing Grant, which you may also be able to claim. See the end of this guide for more info.
You can get a Best Start Food payment card or Best Start Grant:
You can apply for Best Start Foods when you're pregnant, or any time up to your child turning 3 years old. This goes up to 4 years old for a child who is over 2 years old when you apply and you also get Healthy Start Vouchers for.
Find out more and apply on the mygov.scot website.
Local authorities, and sometimes schools, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, can provide a grant of around £100 a year to help with the cost of buying a school uniform and sports kit.
Eligibility criteria is often the same as for Free School Meals above, however some elements and amounts may be different in each area.
The gov.uk website allows you to search for the details of your authority's scheme including how to apply for the grant.