Free school meals, free school transport and school uniform grants explained
Finding the money for school meals, transport to school and school uniform can be difficult. We explain what help you may be able to claim to help with the cost of your child's school life.
Free school meals
Free school meals are provided for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 regardless of how much you earn.
In KS2 and above, your child may continue to get free school meals if you're on a low income.
Are you eligible for free school meals?
All pupils in Reception and KS1 in England are entitled to free school meals regardless of your income.
If your child is in Year 3 or above, you may qualify for free school meals if you receive:
- Universal Credit, if your household income is under £7,400 per year after tax and not including any benefits you get.
- Child Tax Credit, provided you’re not receiving Working Tax Credit and have a gross annual income of no more than £16,190.
- Income Support.
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
- Support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
- The guaranteed element of Pension Credit.
If your child currently receives free school meals based on your family’s income, they’ll remain eligible until they finish the stage of education they’re in (primary or secondary) on March 31 2022 even if your circumstances or earnings change.
How to apply for free school meals
Most schools will send home details of how to apply for free school meals when your child joins the school. If not, you can apply online through your local authority.
If you receive any of the benefits above and your child is in Reception or KS1, you should still tell your local authority, even though all children in these years receive free school meals: the school can claim extra funding called Pupil Premium if you do.
How much could you get for free school meals?
The exact amount your child gets per day is up to your local authority, but is usually around £2.50 per day.
In primary schools, their free school meal will be provided from the daily menu, regardless of what or how much they choose.
In secondary schools, when there is a wider choice of meals, your child is likely to have a daily credit applied to their catering account – typically, they’ll then buy their food using a swipe card or fingerprint recognition. If they go over their daily allowance, they will have to pay the extra amount. Unused credit does not roll over.
Free school transport
Your child may be entitled to free transport to school based on how far their walk to school would be, whether it’s safe to walk, and any special needs.
Are you eligible for free school transport?
All children between five and 16 are eligible for free school transport if:
- They live at least two miles from their school if they’re under eight, or:
- They live at least three miles from their school if they’ve eight or over, or:
- They cannot walk to school because of their special educational needs or disability (SEND) or other mobility problem, regardless of how far they live from the school, or:
- There is no safe walking route, no matter how far away they live.
If your child is entitled to free school meals based on your family income, or you receive the maximum Working Tax Credit, you qualify for free school transport if:
- They’re aged eight to 11 and their school is at least two miles away.
- They’re aged 11 to 16 and their school is two to six miles away, as long as there are not three or more suitable schools nearer to home.
- They’re aged 11 to 16 and the school is two to 15 miles away, if it’s their nearest preferred school on the grounds of religion or belief.
How to apply for free school transport
Find out if you’re eligible for free school transport through your local council’s website. Many councils will automatically work out whether you’re entitled to free school transport and will contact you directly without you needing to apply.
There is a separate way to apply for free school transport for children with SEND.
If your child isn’t eligible for free school transport, they may be able to use public transport at a reduced rate, for example through a student travel card.
How to use free school transport
Your child may be given a travel pass to show when they’re using school or public transport.
Younger children and those with SEND may not use a pass, but be registered, especially if they’re transported by taxi.
Help with school uniform costs
Some local authorities or individual schools provide financial help with the cost of school uniform.
How to apply for help with school uniform costs
Check with your local council if it has a scheme to subsidise school uniform costs. If not, contact your child’s school directly as they may be able to help.
How much help could you get with school uniform costs
How to use your school uniform grant
Your child’s school or the local authority will tell you how you can use your school uniform grant. You may, for example, have to use it at an approved shop or online retailer.