With almost 1 in 5 UK households – that’s over 1.6 million kids – eligible for free school meals, it’s absolutely essential to make sure you get all the help you qualify for. Despite this, there are tens of thousands of people who still haven’t signed up to the government scheme. Now that the £20 Universal Credit “uplift” brought in at the start of the pandemic is set to expire, this is a valuable system that many literally can’t afford to miss out on.

In some cases, struggling families either don’t know they can qualify for free school meals or don’t understand how to apply for them. There’s sometimes confusion over what help’s actually on offer, which can lead to people losing out. Here are the basic rules:

Your school-age child could be eligible for free school meals if:

  • You’re on Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
  • You’re getting help under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
  • You’re receiving the guaranteed element of Pension Credit.
  • You get Child Tax Credit (and aren’t also entitled to Working Tax Credit or earning over £16,190).
  • You get Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.
  • Universal Credit. If you applied after 1 April 2018, then your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and excluding benefits).

It’s also worth realising that these “school meals” could actually still cover your kids outside of term-time. While there’s pressure on the government to make the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent, they’re not keen to do it, so knowing exactly what you qualify for is incredibly important.

NHS Health Start Scheme

Not content with campaigning the government into a U-turn on offering free school meals over the summer holidays, Marcus Rashford’s now pushing for more families to take advantage of the NHS’ £8.50 per week Healthy Start scheme. Healthy Start provides vouchers that can be used for essentials like milk and baby formula. So far, though, only about 60% of eligible families have signed up for it – probably because they don’t know it even exists.

As for how you sign up for free school meals and other help, the first step’s a simple one:

There’s nothing more important than keeping your family fed – and at RIFT we understand exactly what a full belly’s worth. That’s why we work so hard to make sure UK workers get the tax refunds they’re owed for their meals when they’re travelling for work. Claiming back your overpaid tax for food can plump up your refund by a tasty £250-£500 per year.

If you’re already claiming back tax with RIFT, log into your account and make sure your details are up to date. If you’ve never claimed with us before, it’s a great time to get your tax refund claim moving with the UK’s leading specialists. However many mouths you’re feeding, don’t leave your cash on the taxman’s table. Get in touch and find out why you’re better off with RIFT.