Free School Meal vouchers to return after backlash over ‘disgraceful’ food hampers - how to claim them and who is eligible

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has branded some of the free school meal offerings sent to families as “disgraceful” after images of the meagre food parcels went viral online.

Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that he was “absolutely disgusted” after seeing a picture of one of the food packages sent to a disabled mother of two.

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Williamson said that the national voucher scheme for free school meals will be re-launched next week after the government faced urgent calls to bring back the programme.

He said: “All schools still have the option of doing locally procured vouchers if that is the route they want to do, but the national scheme will be available from next week.”

‘They’re appalling’

Johnson told the Commons: “I don’t think anybody in this House is happy with the disgraceful images that we’ve seen of the food parcels being offered. They’re appalling, they’re an insult to the families that have received them.”

The Prime Minister added: “It’s not good enough. You can’t assume households have other ingredients to make the lunches, and clearly the packages were totally and woefully inaccurate.”

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His comments come after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford tweeted that he had spoken to the Prime Minister in regards to the parcels.

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He wrote: “Just had a good conversation with the prime minister. He assured me that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place.

“He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.”

Rashford has long campaigned to keep children fed during the pandemic with free school meals.

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‘Government response has been far too slow’

Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Children and Early Years Minister, criticised how long it has taken for the government to take action.

She said: “The government’s response has yet again been far too slow, with national food vouchers only becoming available from next week - two weeks after schools moved to remote learning.

“Children are going hungry now - this cannot wait.”

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Who is eligible for the vouchers?

Your child may be able to get free school meals if you receive any of the following:

Income supportIncome-based Jobseeker’s AllowanceIncome-related Employment and Support AllowanceSupport under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999The guaranteed element of Pension CreditChild 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 four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax CreditUniversal 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)

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Children who get these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.

Additionally, your child may be able to get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both:

Younger than the compulsory age for starting schoolIn full time education

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In regards to infant free school meals, your child will be able to get free school meals in they’re in a government funded school and in:

Reception classYear 1Year 2

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Tell your local authority if you also get any of the qualifying benefits. Your child’s school can get extra funding if you do.

How to apply

To apply for the free school meals, you’ll need to enter your postcode into the postcode checker on the government website here.

Based on your postcode, the checker will direct you to the relevant page on your local authorities website.

Different councils have different methods of application - for example, some websites will require you to fill out an online form, whereas others might need you to fill out an application form and email it to the relevant person.

You’ll be able to find all the details to apply on your local councils website.