Free school meals

Find out if your child is eligible for free school meals and how to apply

Free school meal vouchers

We are providing meal vouchers funded by the Department for Work and Pensions Household Support Fund.

You can use the vouchers to buy food only. You can use them in most supermarkets.

The following vouchers will be sent to parents or guardians by the school or college:

  • £75 in July 2023
  • £60 in December 2023

Who will get the vouchers

The free school meal vouchers are for anyone in receipt of free school meals who are on roll with Essex Schools. This includes:

  • children and young people aged 4 to 19 who are registered for free meals with their school or college
  • children aged 2, 3 and 4 who are entitled to pupil premium or where the setting receives the IDACI funding supplement
  • children aged 2 who are entitled to the funded early education entitlement for 2 year olds

In exceptional circumstances this will also apply to a child or young person in an independent special school outside of Essex. This must be part of a planned process to which the local authority has been party.

More information

These vouchers are separate from the free meals that your child receives during the school day.

For more information, visit the School Vouchers website.


Children in reception, year 1 and year 2 automatically get free school meals. This is called Universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) and you do not need to apply for it.

If you are a low income family and your child will be using free school meals, you can support your school by letting them know you are using the service. Your school will then be eligible to apply for more funding to support the provision of education for children in the school.

Read the list of bullet points under 'Children in year 3' to determine whether you are a low income family.

Children in year 3 and above

Your child may be eligible for free school meals if you are receiving any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (not Working Tax Credit), with an annual income below £16,190
  • Pension Guarantee Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance, income related
  • Support under part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act, 1999
  • Working Tax Credit run-on, paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit, with a household income of £7,400 or less (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

In accordance with national Department for Education advice, we cannot accept evidence of provisional tax awards.


Your application will be refused if you're not receiving any of the listed benefits. Please consider this before applying.

If you have previously applied, and your child has been awarded Free School Meals, you do not need to re-apply unless there is a change in your circumstances, such as change of address or school.


Your application will be processed within 15 working days, but it can take longer if you apply in August or September.

We will contact you and the school if your child is entitled.

If your child’s school is not listed in the dropdown list on the application form, you must contact the school directly to apply for free school meals.

Change of circumstances

If your child changes school or address, you will need to reapply for free school meals.

Related content

Pupil Premium

Pupil Premium is extra funding schools can claim for children from low income families. GOV.UK has more information about the funding, including how schools should spend it.

Essex School Meals Service

The School Meals Service works with around 250 schools across Essex. We provide a complete food safety service to schools. We give advice on sourcing quality produce, seasonal menus and recipes for children to enjoy.

GOV.UK has set out standards for school food. We use these standards when making our menus. This contributes to the health and education of children and young people.

Healthy eating

We use a range of foods to encourage healthy eating:

  • fibre and starchy foods like bread, wholegrain pasta, wholegrain rice and cereals
  • fruit and vegetables, providing vitamins, minerals and fibre
  • protein through fish, meat, beans and pulses
  • calcium for bone development in milk and dairy products
  • semi-skimmed milk to reduce saturated fats

The best model for learning about healthy eating is The Eatwell Guide from the NHS. It makes healthy eating easier to understand. It shows the types and amounts of foods which make up a nutritious and well-balanced diet. It can help children learn that to be healthy they need to select a variety of foods from the five food groups.

Packed lunches

We encourage children to have a school meal. But we know that some children might prefer a packed lunch.

A balanced lunchbox should contain:

  • starchy foods like bread, wholegrain rice, potatoes or wholegrain pasta
  • protein foods like meat, fish, eggs or beans
  • a dairy item, like cheese or yogurt
  • vegetables or salad
  • a portion of fruit

Always check your child’s school website to read their packed lunch policy.

The NHS Change4Life has a guide for some healthy, balanced ideas.