Thousands of families to get free food vouchers this Christmas
Thousands of low-income families whose children receive free school meals during term time are set to get supermarket vouchers to help them through the festive period.
Children are eligible for free school meals if their parents claim one of the following benefits:
- Income support
- Income based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income-related employment support allowance
- Support under part VI of the immigration and asylum act 1999
- The guarantee 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 four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit
- Universal credit – if you applied on or after 1 April 2018 and your household income is less than £7,400 a year after tax and excluding benefits
The exact amount you’ll get varies from area to area depending on your local council’s policy, but families could receive up to £60 per child over the Christmas period.
The vouchers can be used at most major supermarkets such as Aldi, B&M, Farmfoods, Iceland, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Waitrose and Tesco and some can be exchanged for cash at your nearest Post Office.
Families will get their vouchers from either their child’s school or nursery. If you don’t receive yours by the start of the Christmas holidays and you think you’re eligible, you should contact your school or nursery directly.
Children who get the vouchers are also entitled to further help from the holiday and activities programme (HAF).
This provides free activities and healthy food during main school holidays such as Easter, summer, and Christmas.
All this support comes from the household support fund – government funding given to councils to distribute to financially vulnerable residents.
You don’t need to be getting benefits to get help from the fund, which can also provide cash to help with energy bills, household costs or to buy essential white goods.
Where can you get extra help this Christmas?
If you’re not eligible for the food vouchers and struggling to feed your family this Christmas, there’s several different places you can turn to for help.
If you need to use a food bank, you can get a referral from official sources like your child’s school, a doctor, social worker, or your local Citizen’s Advice.
You can find your nearest food bank at Trussell Trust. The Independent Food Aid Network also has a map of 1,172 independent banks operating across the UK. Get in contact with them and they’ll be able to provide you with details on how you can get referred.
What will I get from a food bank?
Food banks offer you a food parcel. You usually need a referral to use a food bank, and some food banks will only allow you to be referred once, so you can’t rely on it as a long-term solution.
You will need to be able to collect your food parcel from the address that will be given to you once you’ve been referred. If you can’t get to a food bank because you live rurally, they might deliver to you.
If you can’t cover day-to-day costs, like food, you should check you’re claiming all the financial help you’re entitled to. We speak to lots of people who aren’t claiming all the benefits they should be. Make sure you’re not missing out on help you’re entitled to by using our online benefits calculator.
Free supermarket food
If you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant or caring for at least one child under 4, you could be entitled to help to buy healthy food and milk through the Healthy Start scheme.
If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money on it that you can use in some UK shops. Your card will be topped up every four weeks and can be used to buy:
- Plain liquid cow’s milk
- Fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables
- Fresh, dried, and tinned pulses
- Infant formula milk based on cow’s milk
You can also use your card to collect:
- Healthy Start vitamins – to support you during pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Vitamin drops for babies and young children – suitable from birth to 4 years old
The government has given funding to local councils to provide food for children during school holidays who usually receive free school meals. Each council has chosen how to spend this money locally so what’s on offer differs from council to council.
If your council hasn’t been in touch with you about this, visit Gov to get your council’s details and ask for more information.
Other places worth knowing
Even though not all these places give away free food, they’re much more affordable than typical supermarkets and can help you feed a family with very little money.
Foodcycle offers completely free hot meals to people who need them on a weekly basis. You don’t need a referral or to book – just turn up. Visit Foodcycle to find your closest centre.
Community fridges bring people together to eat for free, connect, learn new skills, and reduce food waste. They’re places where you can collect free surplus food and sanitary products with no questions asked. There are hundreds of community fridges across the country. Find your nearest one at www.hubbub.org.uk
Acting as a cross between food banks and supermarkets, Community Grocery, allows members to access food and life skills support, such as cookery classes. It isn’t completely free – you pay £5 a year for membership - which enables you to visit your local Community Grocery up to three times a week for free food. You also don’t need a referral to join.
Your Local Pantry is similar to the Community Grocery scheme. For a few pounds a week you can fill your basket with food worth considerably more including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and store cupboard favourites. You also don’t need to be referred to join. Apply at Local Pantry.
Feeding Britain is an award-winning charity with a vision of a UK where no one goes hungry. It run a number of initiatives to help people access free or low-cost food and meals. Visit Feeding Britain to see what’s happening locally to you.
Apps offering free food
Olio is an app that lets people pass on food that they don’t need to people living nearby. Once you’ve downloaded the app and chosen your local area, you can see who’s offering what near you. Run on a first come, first served basis, you’ll need to collect any of the food you claim.
There might also be ‘random acts of kindness’ or ‘buy nothing’ Facebook groups for your local area, where people give away surplus food and other household items for free.
Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.
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