Free school meals

Free school meals

Free school meals - what is it and can I get it?

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:

  • 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 Guarantee element of State 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' - the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get) at the time of your application. If your income goes above the threshold in the future, but you remain on Universal Credit, your child will still be eligible (see below). If you applied before 1 April 2018 there was no household income threshold for Universal Credit claimants.

If your child is currently receiving free school meals, they’ll remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling (primary or secondary) they’re in on 31 March 2022.

Eligibility for free school meals in Scotland and Northern Ireland


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.

Northern Ireland

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.

How do I claim?

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 website) or get more info and a form from your local education and library board.

Healthy Start - In England, Wales, Northern Ireland

With Healthy Start you can get:

  • Coupons to exchange for free vitamins
  • Weekly vouchers to buy milk, fresh or plain frozen fruit and vegetables, or infant formula milk

Healthy Start - can I get it?

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 - In Scotland

With Best Start, which has been available in Scotland since 12 August 2019, you can get:

  • A payment card that can be used to buy fresh eggs, milk, (plain cow’s milk and first infant formula), fruit and vegetables fresh, frozen or tinned, pulses (peas, lentils and beans - dried, fresh, frozen or tinned).
  • The card can be used in large supermarkets and smaller local shops, either online or in store, where ever a shop sells the healthy foods listed on your card and displays the Mastercard logo.

If you are in Scotland and are already getting Healthy Start Vouchers you will eventually be moved from Healthy Start to Best Start.

Best Start - can I get it?

You can get a Best Start payment card:

  • if your child is the right age for a payment
  • whether you're in work or not, as long as you're on certain payments or benefits (you can not get Best Start if you only get Child Benefit. You must still be getting one of the certain means-tested benefits or payments listed on the website).
  • as long as you're the parent of a child, or the main person looking after the child

You can apply for Best Start 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's over 2 years old when you apply
  • that you also get Healthy Start Vouchers for

Find out more about Best Start on the website.


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