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Free school meals

Free school meals are available to all children in reception, year 1 and year 2. They are also available to primary and secondary children whose parents/carers receive certain benefits.

If your child receives/will receive benefits-related free school meals during the summer term they are eligible for the Covid Summer Food Fund. This entitles you to a food voucher to cover the whole of the summer holiday period. Please contact your school to arrange this.



If your child is eligible for free school meals, schools will continue to provide these.

This may be:

  • as a hot or cold meal in-school (for those children who are from the groups still attending school) or
  • as a meal or food parcel delivered to or collected by a family member

Schools now also have the option to provide a supermarket voucher to families instead of food, thanks to a centrally-funded national scheme developed by the Department for Education.

Arrangements will vary from school to school and you will be informed by your child's school, what arrangements have been put in place.

If you are in any doubt about this, or how you should collect or receive your child's meal/voucher, please contact the school directly.

If you are asked to collect a meal from school, you should observe all guidance about social distancing.

New claims

If you are in the process of applying for benefits because of coronavirus, please contact your school by telephone or email to apply for free school meals and to see if the school would be willing to provide a free school meal while your claim is going though. This would be at the school's discretion as a benefits claim may not always result in you being eligible.

See COVID-19: free school meals guidance for schools (government's guidance on free school meals).

Primary and secondary

Any child may qualify for a free school meal if you receive one of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit with an annual earnings threshold that does not exceed £7,400. 
  • Income Support.
  • Income Based Jobseekers Allowance.
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Child Tax Credit (provided a parent is not entitled to Working Tax Credit) and have an annual income, as assessed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, that does not exceed £16,190.
  • Working Tax Credit run on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.
  • Guaranteed Element of State Pension Credit.
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Children may also be eligible for additional benefits such as help with school uniform costs or travel to school

Changes to free school meal entitlement - universal credit rollout

From April 2018 the criteria used to determine which pupils are eligible for free school meals was updated to reflect the introduction of Universal Credit and the phasing out of other income-based benefits.

Transitional protection as part of Universal Credit rollout

To make sure families are not disadvantaged during this rollout, protection arrangements have been put in place. 

This means that:

  • Any child eligible for free school meals on 31 March 2018 will retain their eligibility until the end of the rollout, March 2022 regardless of whether their circumstances change.
  • Any child who becomes eligible during the rollout of universal credit (from 1 April 2018 to March 2022) will retain their eligibility until the end of the rollout, March 2022 regardless of whether their circumstances change.
  • Once the rollout of universal credit is complete, no child will lose their entitlement and will continue to be transitionally protected until the end of their current phase of education (i.e. primary or secondary).

Secondary schools may or may not ask you to complete free school meal paperwork again as part of their induction process but this would not affect your entitlement if you were currently eligible.

How to apply for free school meals

You can pick up an application form at your child's school or print one off from this page. Schools have a choice of which application form they use so if you are unsure which form to complete please check with your school. If you have more than one child at different schools you will need to complete a separate form for each school. Please return the completed application form to the school .

Application without paperwork

Icon for pdf Free school meals application form (no paperwork required) (PDF, 35.3kb)

For this application you won't need to supply proof of your eligibility as you give us permission to check the council's and the Department for Education's records on your behalf.

Application with paperwork

Icon for pdf Free school meals application form (paperwork required) (PDF, 30.8kb)

For this application you must provide the school with proof of eligibility for the relevant benefit. 

Contact us
School meals
03000 268 002
Our address is:
  • County Hall
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
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