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Guide - Free school meals

This guide is for people looking at whether they can access free school meals for their child and if they can, how to get them. This guidance applied to children of school age in England.


The guidance as to who can access free school meals changed during COVID-19 it has recently been reviewed and the government has agreed to extend eligibility permanently (from April 19th). The guidance is yet to be released and this page will be updated when it is.

Universal free school meals

Every child in the following school years can get free school meals regardless of their parents' immigration status;

  • Reception year

  • Year 1

  • Year 2

You do not need to make any application to the school or council for these and they are provided automatically, unless you choose to send your child to school with a packed lunch.


Free school meals from year 3 onwards - People in receipt of benefits

Free school meals from year 3 have usually relied on receiving certain types of benefits to be eligible. So if you are in receipt of something like universal credit, income support or child tax credit you can apply through your child's school for free school meals. More information can be found here.


Free school meals - Asylum seekers and refused Asylum seekers


Families who have an asylum claim and are in receipt of Section 95 support (asylum support) can access free school meals for their children.


Under the temporary guidance, families who have been refused asylum but are in receipt of support under Section 4 (asylum support) can access free school meals for their children.


You can provide evidence to the school such as the letter granting you support from the Home Office.


Free school meals from year 3 onwards - People with NRPF / without leave to remain

The rules have recently changed on this meaning that more groups of people can now access free school meals. This was changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the government have now decided to keep providing free school meals to certain groups of children.


Under the new temporary COVID-19 rules, you may be able to get free school meals for your child if;

  • You are a Zambrano carer and your income is below a certain threshold.

  • You have leave to remain in the UK on private or family life grounds with a condition of NRPF and your income is below a certain threshold.

  • You are a household with NRPF and are being supported under Section 17 Children Act 1989 (help from social services) with accommodation and/or financial support. This includes families with no leave to remain in the UK.

In addition to the above you must also meet the income threshold which currently is;

  • less than £31,500 in London.

  • less than £28,200 in London.

You can provide evidence of your child's eligibility by, for instance, copying your biometric card and leave information or if you are supported by social services, a letter from your social worker confirming support or a copy of your child in need assessment.


You may need to complete a self declaration. Templates can be found from Project 17 here.


Families without leave to remain who are not in receipt of support from social services are still not able to access free school meals. However, if you are working with a caseworker, they may be able to put in a request for discretionary provision of school meals in the short term, whilst you wait for, for instance, social services support. These requests are at the discretion of the school as they receive no additional funding for this.


How to apply

If you think you are eligible for free school meals your child's school should be able to help you. Details of suggested evidence to show your eligibility. is above and in the two links below.


These resources, including template letters and template declarations are really useful from Project 17.


The full guidance from the Government can be found here.




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