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Frequently asked questions about free school meals

Have you got a question about free school meals? We’ve put together some of the most common questions about free school meals and our answers.

If you can't find the answer you are looking for here please call our free school meals team email: or tel: 01629 536481 or 01629 535743.

Who can get free school meals?

If you get any of these benefits, you will get free school meals for your children:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • The guarantee element of State Pension Credit
  • Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Child Tax Credit (with an annual income of less that £16,190)
  • You can get this help if you get Working Tax Credit and you are in the four week 'run-on' period where your Working Tax Credit is due to stop because you have stopped work or reduced your hours
  • Universal Credit (NB this benefit is only just being introduced in Derbyshire - see our Universal Credit information page).

You cannot get free school meals if you are claiming Working Tax Credit.

Young people age 16 to 18 who receive the  benefits or Tax Credits in their own right are also entitled to receive free school meals.

How do I apply for free school meals?

Just fill in the online form, contact the team on tel: 01629 536481 or 01629 53743 or email:

Can any age children get free school meals?

All children at Derbyshire schools, aged 5 to 18, can get free school meals if they qualify. If your child is aged 3 to 5 and at 1 of our nursery schools they are only able to have a free school meal if they stay for the whole day at school.

I've filled in the form and sent it to you, what happens next?

If your child qualifies for free school meals

For primary school children we'll send you a letter within a week of you filling out the online application to let you know. Your child or children can then get their free school lunch straight away. If you are unsure of what your child needs to do at lunchtime please ask your school office and they will be able to help.

For secondary school children we'll notify you by email or letter within a week of you filling out the online application to let you know. Your child or children can then get their free school lunch straight away. The system for paying for school meals varies at each secondary school. Some have a cashless system, and if they do, your child will be provided with an account which will be credited daily with a specific amount of money which will be sufficient to buy a main course, pudding and drink. If you are unsure of what your child needs to do at lunchtime please ask your school office and they will be able to help.

If your child does not qualify

If your child doesn't qualify for free school meals we'll notify you by email or letter within 2 weeks of you filling out the online application. If you believe that you should receive free school meals the notification will explain how you can appeal. This will normally mean you will have to send us supporting documents like a letter from the benefits office confirming your benefits or a Child Tax Credit award notice. If you do this we will look at your application again.

Do I have to keep applying each year?

No, you your application will last throughout the entire school life of your children. Your children will keep receiving free school meals until you tell us that your circumstances have changed.

Can I sign up to free school meals any time of year?


Do children having free school meals sit separately from children who pay for their school meals?

No, all children sit in the same area and receive the identical high standard of food.

Will other children know my child has free school meals?

No, only the school staff will know your child gets free school meals.

What are school meals like?

Our meals are good for children, and enjoyed each day by thousands of pupils. They are tasty and low in sugar and fat and have to meet Government standards. There are choices each day and plenty of vegetables, salad and fresh fruit on offer. Find out more information about school lunches.

Can my child get vegetarian meals?

Yes they can. There is a vegetarian choice each day and sandwiches and jacket potatoes can be made available at most schools.

My child has a special or medical diet, can you cook what they need?

Yes, we can cater for any allergies or diets. Speak to your child's school and they will be able to help you.

What do I do if another of my children starts school and I already have other children on free school meals?

Just call the free school meals team tel: 01629 536481 and we can add them to the application you already have with your other children. Please let us know about any changes since you applied, like a change of address or school.

Do I need to fill in different forms if my children go to different schools?

No, you can use the same online form as you have to name each child and say which school they go to.

Can I get free school meals for any other young family members living with me?

As long as you receive benefits and Child Tax Credit for the child.

Can my partner claim free school meals for my children?

Yes, as long as you live at the same address.

Can I claim free school meals for my foster child?

If you're fostering a child you get foster carer's allowance. This is to cover costs such as school meals, so you will not be eligible for free school meals.

What is my annual household income?

This is the total income figure for your household for the current tax year as decided by HM Revenue and Customs. This means if you claim Child Tax Credits as part of a couple then your income will be the total joint income figure as on your Tax Credit Award letter.

What is pupil premium?

This is extra money received by schools. The pupil premium is paid to schools for each child claiming free school meals and it's currently around £1,000 per child per year. Once a child claims free school meals their school is paid the pupil premium for the next six years. If that child moves school then the funding moves with them. Schools decide how they spend the pupil premium funding.

What do I do if my circumstances change or I stop getting some benefits?

You must tell us as soon as any of your circumstances change by phoning us on tel: 01629 536481.

Do children on free school meals get different food to everyone else?

No, all children get the same food.

If my children get free school meals do they have to have them every day?

No they don't have to - but it will save you money and time in making a packed lunch!