CHRISTMAS is an exciting time for many families but it can be a difficult period for those who are struggling financially.
Free school meals were available in school holidays during the pandemic – we explain what help is on offer over the upcoming Christmas holidays.
Term times vary across the country, but most schools in England will close for the Christmas holidays on December 20 before returning on January 3, 2022.
During the height of the pandemic, the government funded free school meals for eligible children in the school holidays.
There was also a scheme in place to cover free lunches while schools were closed during lockdowns.
That support has now been replaced with funding for local councils to help hard-up families.
Originally it was provided through the Covid Local Support Grant, which allowed councils to hand out school meal vouchers as well as cover other essential expenses.
That grant closed on October 1, but it has been replaced with other funding for councils.
There are two schemes available for councils to support struggling residents this winter.
The £220 million Holiday Activities and Food programme was in place during the 2021 Easter and summer breaks and will continue over the Christmas holiday.
Councils will also receive funding from the £500 million Household Support Fund.
Local authorities can choose how to spend the money and decide who is eligible in their areas.
Two Northamptonshire Councils have agreed to cover free school meal payments during the Christmas holidays, according to the BBC.
Other councils are yet to announce what free school meals provision will be available over the festive period – we will provide an update with more details when we have them.
Who is eligible for free school meals?
Your child may be able to get free school meals during term time if you get any of the following benefits:
- 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 guaranteed element of 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 – paid for 4 weeks after you 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)
Older children who get paid these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.
Your child may also get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and they attend nursery.
All children in infant school – year two or below – are eligible for free school meals in term time, regardless of their parents income.
What is the Holiday Activities and Food grant?
The government has provided councils with a fund to cover holiday activities for children from low income families.
The scheme ran during the Easter and summer holidays this year and will continue over the 2021 Christmas break.
Families who are eligible for free school meals can attend the activities and holiday clubs for no extra charge.
Other children may have to pay a fee to attend.
While this isn't a food parcel or voucher, free food is provided at many of these holiday clubs.
Check your local council website to find out what is available in your area over the school holidays and how to sign up.
Where to go for extra help
If you find that your council isn't providing free school meals this winter, or you're not eligible, there is other support available.
Make sure you're getting all the help you're eligible for by using an online benefits calculator.
Food banks can provide families with emergency supplies – you will need to be issued a voucher by a local community organisation such as a school or GP.
You can search for your nearest food bank on the Trussell Trust website.
If you're worried about your finances, you can contact charities such as Citizens Advice and Turn2Us for free advice.
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