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Free school meals during coronavirus (COVID-19): What you need to know

Date published: Date modified: 2023-02-10

The government have provided updates on free school meals during COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

There have been further updates to schools providing pupils with free school meals which take effect from next week.

Schools will now be able to give out food vouchers instead of food parcels from 18 January 2021, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced. This means that parents can decide what food to provide for their children as opposed to receiving a food hamper.

Free School Meals During COVID-19: Government Guidance

During the national lockdown, schools are expected to continue supporting children eligible for free school meals. The same guidance applies for further education students – whether they are in school or studying remotely.

As stated on gov.uk, ‘the steps schools take during this national lockdown period will depend on local circumstances’. This means that schools have the option to:

  • Provide lunch parcels through the school catering team or food provider
  • Provide vouchers for a local shop or supermarket
  • Use the national voucher scheme – which is reopening and can therefore be used on 18 January 2021

Schools will be able to claim additional funding where lunch parcels or vouchers for local shops or supermarkets are being provided.

Food Parcel Requirements

The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, stated that some food parcels provided for pupils did not meet the guidelines, which followed an announcement to replace the free school meal hampers with the national voucher scheme.

Gavin Williamson commented on the standards of the food parcels provided to parents and carers - There are clear standards that are set there that they need to deliver against and if they do not deliver against them, action will have to be taken.”

DfE stated that they are ‘committed to ensuring that eligible pupils receive a high standard of free school meals whilst they are at home during term time’.

Guidance has also been published on these standards.

The National Voucher Scheme

From next week, schools will be able to replace the free school meal parcels with vouchers, using the national voucher scheme. Until then, schools should continue to provide school meal parcels or alternatives.

Parents and carers will be given £15 under this voucher scheme, which can be used in supermarkets to buy a week’s worth of food for their child.

Edenred will be operating the national voucher scheme, which will be centrally managed by the Department for Education. DfE will supply order vouchers to cover the period between 18 January - 12 February. Edenred have also confirmed that any support provide from 4 January 2021 through food parcels or locally arranged vouchers can be claimed back from the DfE.

Further communication from Edenred is expected next week, including information on how to access the ordering site.

DfE advised that you should receive an email advising you to reset your password, or activate your account for the first time. You will then be able to (as stated on Gov.uk):

  • Order a single voucher to cover multiple weeks
  • Order a single voucher to cover more than one eligible child
  • Set a weekly £15 rolling voucher

The provided date and guidance will be closely reviewed by the government and will be dependent on when schools can allow pupils to attend for face-to-face learning. This includes providing vouchers for a local shop or supermarket, or sourcing vouchers through an alternative provider (e.g. Wonde). 

As well as using the national voucher scheme, schools still have the option of providing lunch parcels through a caterer or food provider or via a locally arranged solution. 

Applying for Free School Meals

If you haven’t checked already, your child may be eligible for free school meals. You can check this the eligibility here.

You can find full guidance and more information about the national voucher scheme here.

SAAF Education provide a variety of services in the education sector – this includes finance support & training, payroll and supply & recruitment. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can support you.

Funding and Claiming  

In our latest blog, what support funding is available during coronavirus (COVID-19)? we covered how to claim on additional costing and funding for free school meals. Read our blog here to find out more.


SAAF Education is a leading UK provider for support services within the education sector. Offering Finance, Payroll and Supply & Recruitment services to over 400 schools, academies and MATs. 

If you would like to learn more about how SAAF Education can support your school, academy or trust, contact us.

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By SAAF Education
SAAF Education 340 110

15 January 2021


Supply & Recruitment
Education Support
Academy Support

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