THOUSANDS of households struggling with the cost of living can get up to £60 in vouchers to pay for food this half term.
Those with children who are eligible for free school meals can get help via the Household Support Fund (HSF).
The scheme was first established in 2021, extended for the second time in the 2022 March budget, for a third time in November and a fourth time in the 2023 Spring Budget.
It's there to help those on the lowest incomes with the rising cost of living.
Each council gets a different portion of funding depending on the size of the catchment area, population, and need.
The vouchers or grants on offer vary by location so you'll have to check to see what you can get.
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Certain families can get upwards of £60 to help with grocery bills over the May half-term.
The help is being dished out to families who are entitled to free school meals.
The vouchers will come via email or through the child's school as normal.
For example, in England, you are entitled to free school meals if your child is between Reception or Year 2 regardless of your income.
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From Year 3 onwards you have to be receiving certain benefits to be in line for the meals.
The rules are different in Scotland and Wales.
The best thing to do is check out your local council's website for eligibility rules.
But we've rounded up some of the councils offering vouchers to children on free school meals over half term.
Windsor and Maidenhead
Parents in Windsor and Maidenhead could get up to £120 in free supermarket vouchers to help them this half term.
The vouchers will be sent via text message or email and eligible families do not have to apply for this support.
Households will get a £40 voucher per eligible child.
So if you have three children, you could get up to £60 in help.
Sutton Council is offering thousands of children who get free school meals supermarket vouchers worth £15 to cover any extra food costs this half term.
The vouchers are being issued via email or through the child's school.
You'll need to decide which supermarket you want your voucher to be for. Food vouchers are available for:
You can apply for food vouchers if:
- Your child goes to a school in Sutton and is registered for free school meals
- You have a child attending an early years setting for their free childcare entitlement and the child is aged two and taking up their free entitlement in a Sutton setting or the child is aged 3 or four and is registered for the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP)
- You are resident in Sutton who would be eligible for free school meals under the current criteria but your child is electively home-educated or in Education somewhere other than at school
As part of the Household Support Fund, all children in receipt of free school meals are entitled to a payment of £15 per week in school breaks in the form of supermarket vouchers.
If you have already registered and are entitled to free school meals in Wandsworth, you will automatically receive your voucher.
Vouchers are sent prior to school break, at the latest.
When the vouchers are ready a text message and an email will be sent to the family, using the contact details provided by their child's school.
Ahead of the school holidays, families of primary, secondary and sixth-form college pupils who currently receive free school meals will automatically be sent supermarket vouchers to help them buy food.
Eligible pre-school-aged children in Devon County Council-maintained nurseries (including academies) also received the vouchers if they usually attended sessions before and after lunch.
Families of children that are eligible for free school meals will receive a voucher to the value of £15 per week of the school holiday to use at:
- M&S Food
The letter or email containing the unique code to get the vouchers will be sent to the main contact details the council has on record.
This is usually the parent that made the original application for free school meals.
What are free school meals?
Free school meals are available to millions of pupils across England, Scotland and Wales.
The idea behind them is that children get access to at least one nutritional meal per day from Monday to Friday.
But the criteria to get them varies across all three countries.
Scotland and Wales have committed to eventually rolling out the benefit for all primary school pupils.
At present in Scotland, all students can get free school meals between reception and year five, regardless of the parents’ income.
In Wales, all pupils in reception get free school meals, and by the end of the year, this offer will be extended to all year one and two pupils.
By the end of 2024, all primary school pupils in Wales will get free school meals.
In England, all children in reception, year one and two can get a free meal in school.
After that point, you will have to be receiving certain benefits which prove you need help paying for your child's meals.
You might get free school meals in England for a children beyond Year 2 if you receive one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- The guarantee element of Pension Credit
- Tax Credits
- Universal Credit
In all three nations, you qualify if you are in receipt of certain benefits regardless of income including: income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and support under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
In England and Wales, this also includes the guaranteed element of Pension Credit, and working tax credit.
But for millions of families on Universal Credit, there are income requirements.
In England and Wales, you must have an income of £7,400 a year or less, not including benefits.
Those on child tax credits must earn under £16,190 a year.
Because eligibility criteria can be quite varied, it's best to contact your local council and see what you might be in line for, especially if you are on a low income.
How can I apply?
The application process for free school meals is different depending on where you live.
In England, you can find out whether your child is eligible on your local council's website.
If your child is entitled to free school meals, they'll also qualify for the Holiday Activity and Food Programme, which offers support over school holidays.
If you don't know what council area you fall under, you should use the government's council locator tool found online.
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You should apply through your local council if you live in Wales and Scotland too.
In Northern Ireland, residents have to contact the Education Authority to get any help.
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