Free School Meals UK: Who’s Eligible

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Free School Meals UK: Who’s Eligible

In the UK, Free School Meals are available to children who are eligible.  It is very important to make sure that those who may be struggling gain access to the help they are entitled to.  Eligibility changes depending on circumstances, location and the age of a child. We’ve put together this guide to bring together the various bits of writing and advice on Free School Meals in the UK.  Please note your children must apply to your local authority to gain access to free school meals unless your school gives them out as standard.


The circumstances under which a parent can apply for free school meals in the UK vary by location. There are broad overlaps, but also subtle differences between the home nations of the UK.  In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, if a child or parent receive any of the following, they should be eligible;

  • 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 (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
  • If the child is both younger than the compulsory age for starting school (with the school term starting after their 5th birthday) and in full-time education

Also in England, children in government-funded schools can receive free school meals in reception class, year 1 and year 2.  Your school can get extra funding by asking that the children receiving these to register with the local authority.

In Scotland, all children except those in independent schools, are entitled to free school meals until primary 3, regardless of circumstances.  For children who are older than primary 3, they can get free school meals under the same criteria as in England. Parents can also claim free school meals if they receive working tax credit and earn an income of up to £6900.

School Type

In all parts of the UK, children are eligible for free school meals if they attend a government-funded school.   This includes;

  • Faith Schools
  • Free Schools
  • Academies
  • City Technology Colleges
  • State Boarding Schools

In England, Wales and Scotland, those attending Independent schools are not eligible for Free School Meals.  In Northern Ireland, children can apply for Free School Meals if they attend an independent school, but they will not be able to get a uniform allowance.


Understanding how many children that attend your school are eligible is important, because of how it can affect your budgets.  What can also affect your budgets is the delivery of Free School Meals, depending on whether or not you have in-house catering or if you purchase external catering.

It’s very important to keep track of what meals are served and what isn’t, especially if you use external catering.  This is because many catering companies will charge a flat fee for the number of free school meals in total.  This number, however, rarely reflects how many children are present.  As you are probably aware, it is rare for a given day to have 100% school attendance. Often, however, catering companies will charge as though this is the case.  Being able to relay to the caterers which children are present can save significant amounts of money.

We designed our School Dinners module to fix this issue.  Magicbooking designed this with schools that provide Free School Meals, such as the Pegasus Academy Trust.  We found that schools were able to save large amounts of money using this service.  The amount of time spent on making sure the correct number of meals was ordered, was also reduced.  To see how, book a free demo using the tool below.