Frequently Asked Questions: Free School Meals/Uniform Grants

FAQs on free school meals and uniform grant to include applying and eligibility.

Free School Meals

Applying

How do I apply for free school meals?

A Free School Meals/School Uniform/Physical Education Clothing applications for the current 2023/24 school year can be made online. Visit our Apply for Free School Meals/Uniform Grant page for more information. 

What do I need to do when completing my application for the 2023/24 year?

You will need to upload proof of your qualifying benefit with your online application.

If applying under Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit all pages of your Tax Credits Award Notice (TC602) for the year 6/4/23 to 5/4/24 must be submitted with your completed application. Tax Credits Award Notices (TC602) before these dates cannot be accepted.

If you have not received your 6/4/23 to 5/4/24 Tax Credits Award Notice (TC602) but have received a Tax Credits Annual Review Notice (TC603R) for the year ended April 2023 which states “Check now no later than 31/7/2023” then you can upload this with your application. Tax Credits Annual Review Notices (TC603R) which state “Reply now no later than 31/7/2023” cannot be accepted.

If you misplaced/lost your TC602/TC603R you must contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on their helpline 0345 300 3900 to request a replacement.

If you have not received a (TC602/TC603R) or replacement from HM Revenue and Customs by the end of July 2023 you can submit an application for consideration with a letter stating why a TC602/TC603R is not attached. This may delay your claim.

If you are applying under Universal Credit, you must attach all pages of your most recent Universal Credit Payments breakdown, which can be found by logging into your Universal Credit account and clicking on your most recent payment details where you will be shown the breakdown of all payments and deductions of how your Universal Credit has been calculated. This will ensure you provide us with all of the necessary information.

If you are applying under Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Guarantee Element of State Pension Credit you must submit your Proof of Benefit letter with your application. This letter must be dated no earlier than the beginning of the month before you submit your application.

What are my responsibilities as a Parent/Guardian?

You must:   

  • Check your e-mail inbox plus your spam/junk mail folders for replies from the Meals and Uniform Section as this is how we will inform you if your application has been approved/rejected or if you need to do anything further;
     
  • Submit to the Meals and Uniform Section a fully completed application including proof of your qualifying benefit. The child(ren) applied for must be in your actual custody, included in the payments for Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit and the name(s) must be entered as they appear on the Birth Certificate unless they have been legally changed; and
     
  • Notify the Meals and Uniform Section immediately of any changes in family circumstances or benefit entitlement.

What happens/how will I know if my application is not successful?

If your application is not successful/approved because you do not meet the criteria you will be sent an email and you can log into your account to view details of what you need to send us. In this case you must submit your application again and attach the correct information to the application. Check your spam/junk mail regularly in case the email was delivered there. It is your responsibility to resubmit your application promptly with the correct information or your child/children may not have support in place for the start of the school year.

What happens/how will I know if my application is successful?

If your application is successful you will be sent an e-mail confirming this. The Education Authority will inform schools each week of children eligible for Free School Meals.

What information do I need to have beside me before I apply?

If you are in receipt of Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit/Working Tax Credit you need to have the correct proof of all pages of your most recent benefit document saved onto your phone or computer before you begin the application process.  If you are in receipt of Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Guarantee Element of State Pension Credit you must have your Proof of Benefit letter saved onto your phone or computer.

English is not my first language and I find it difficult to know what I have to do.

Please see our accessibility information to find out more about the Recite Me tool and how to use it. 

I am not very good with computers. Can I get any help with completing the application?

Please telephone our Helpdesk and one of our trained staff will be able to help you. 

I am finding it difficult to get evidence that I am in receipt of Benefits / Universal Credit. Can anyone help me with this?

if you have not been able to obtain the Proof of Benefit letter
or do not understand how to download evidence of your Universal Credits you can go to your local SSA office Digital Hub.

 Staff there will be able to help you obtain the correct evidence needed to support your application and assist you to make your application for Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance.

How long will it take for my application to be processed?

If you have submitted the correct documentation it can take at least five weeks for your application to be processed during the months of June to October.

Eligibility

Can I apply if I am a student who receives benefit in my own name?

Yes. Complete an application in your own name.  Enter ‘Self-Claimant’ at “Relationship to Child(ren)” and enter your own name, date of birth and school in the section for child(ren).

Can I apply for free school meals if my child has a statement of Special Educational Needs and requires a special diet?

Yes. However, you can only apply using a paper application form which will need to be verified within EA by the Statutory Assessment and Review Service. Please do not complete the online form. Please contact the Meals and Uniform Section to request the Special Diet Application Form.

Can I apply for free school meals if my child attends a Nursery School?

Yes, if your child is in full-time nursery school/nursery unit/reception class.

Children attending part-time nursery school/nursery unit/reception class are not eligible for free school meals.

Can I apply for free school meals if I have a fostered child in my care?

No. If you or the foster carer are in receipt of funding you are not eligible to make application for free school meals.

Can I apply for free school meals if my child is at an EOTAS Learning Centre or Educational Guidance Centre?

Yes. Enter your child’s main registered school on the application and e-mail [email protected]  or telephone 02890418044 to inform us of the EOTAS/Educational Guidance Centre where your child is attending. 

Can I apply for free school meals if my child attends a full-time course at a Regional College/FE College?

Yes. If eligible your child can be entitled only if he/she has not reached the age of 18 on or before 31 July and is not attending a paid training course.

Can I apply if my child is waiting for results and is unsure of what school he/she will attend in September?

Yes. Enter the name of the school he/she is most likely to attend and inform the Meals and Uniform Section by phone or in writing if this information changes.

Can I apply for free school meals if my child has reached 16 years of age on or before 1 July and is not attending a Regional College/FE College?

Yes. Free school meals will be processed. The Meals and Uniform Section will write to the school/college at the beginning of the new school year to confirm that your child is attending.

Can I apply for free school meals if my child attends full-time at an Independent School?

Yes, you can apply for free school meals if your child attends full-time at an Independent School.  However, your child will not be eligible for a uniform allowance. 

Can I apply if I am an Asylum Seeker?

Yes. You must attach evidence to show that you are supported by the Home Office Asylum Support Assessment Team (ASAT) or that you have applied for support.

Can I apply if I receive Universal Credit?

Yes. If you receive Universal Credit with net household earnings not exceeding £14,000 per year (£1166.66 per month or less) you are eligible to apply. You must attach all pages of your most recent Universal Credit Payments breakdown, which can be found by logging into your Universal Credit account and clicking on your most recent payment details where you will be shown the breakdown of all payments and deductions of how your Universal Credit has been calculated. The relevant pages need to include your full name and address; the dates of payment and all entitlements and deductions.  This will ensure you provide us with all of the necessary information with your application

I receive Universal Credit but my income varies from month to month. How will you calculate my yearly income to determine if I am eligible for Free School Meals and Uniform Allowances?

Claimants who receive Universal Credit have their yearly income assessed by using the household take home pay on their most recent, monthly Universal Credit Statement x 12.  This is because claimants do not receive a yearly Universal Credit Statement (showing 12 months income).

If your income varies each month and the take home pay shown on your most recent monthly Universal Credit Statement does not show your typical monthly income, you can apply again after receiving future Statements which show a lower take-home pay.  After you are entitled it will be your responsibility to inform us if future statements show a monthly income which is higher than £1166.66 per month (£1166.66 x 12 = £14,000) as this means you would no longer be eligible for Free School Meals.  We advise that you only inform us of any changes if two monthly statements in a row show a take home pay of above this amount.

General

Can free school meals be backdated?

No. The Meals and Uniform Section requires parents to submit an application for free school meals in each school year. A free school meal (not money) is available directly to the child on each school day when that child is physically present at school within the relevant school year once the child has been awarded free school meals entitlement by the EA.  There is no financial assistance to parents either before entitlement is awarded or in lieu of free school meals. Therefore no back payments can be made.

Will I be notified if my children are entitled to free school meals?

Parents/guardians will receive an email advising them of entitlement. The school will also be informed.

I have received an e-mail telling me that my application was submitted but I haven’t been informed as to whether my application has been successful. What should I do?

You should log back into your account and check the progress of your application. You will be able to see if a decision has been made about your application (‘Approved’ or ‘Not Successful’). If your application has been approved, you will be able to click into it and see the start date for free school meals. If your application states ‘Returned’, this means that information or evidence was missing and we need you to submit the application again with this information/evidence.

During the months of June to October it takes at least five weeks for a valid application to be processed.

If you do not receive a decision about your application after 5 weeks you should e-mail the Free School Meals and Uniform Helpdesk on [email protected] giving as much information as you can i.e. the name under which you applied, your National Insurance Number and the submission number you received when your application was acknowledged.  Please state clearly in your email that you applied more than five weeks ago.

Is the Free School Meals Holiday Food Grant still available?

A The Department for the Economy has confirmed that the arrangement of providing Free School Meals Holiday Payments through direct payments into households for eligible further education (FE) students ceased from 1 April 2023. This aligns with Department of Education’s approach for school pupils.

Free School Meals vouchers continue to be available during term time within FE colleges for eligible students.

Uniform Grants

Applying

How do I apply for a uniform allowance?

A Free School Meals/School Uniform/Physical Education Clothing applications for the current 2023/24 school year can be made online. Visit our Apply for Free School Meals/Uniform Grant page for more information. 

 

What do I need to do when completing my application for the 2023/24 year?

You will need to upload proof of your qualifying benefit with your online application.

If applying under Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit all pages of your Tax Credits Award Notice (TC602) for the year 6/4/23 to 5/4/24 must be submitted with your completed application. Tax Credits Award Notices (TC602) before these dates cannot be accepted.

If you have not received your 6/4/23 to 5/4/24 Tax Credits Award Notice (TC602) but have received a Tax Credits Annual Review Notice (TC603R) for the year ended April 2023 which states “Check now no later than 31/7/2023” then you can upload this with your application. Tax Credits Annual Review Notices (TC603R) which state “Reply now no later than 31/7/2023” cannot be accepted.

If you misplaced/lost your TC602/TC603R you must contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on their helpline 0345 300 3900 to request a replacement.

If you have not received a (TC602/TC603R) or replacement from HM Revenue and Customs by the end of July 2023 you can submit an application for consideration with a letter stating why a TC602/TC603R is not attached. This may delay your claim.

If you are applying under Universal Credit, you must attach all pages of your most recent Universal Credit Payments breakdown, which can be found by logging into your Universal Credit account and clicking on your most recent payment details where you will be shown the breakdown of all payments and deductions of how your Universal Credit has been calculated. This will ensure you provide us with all of the necessary information.

If you are applying under Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Guarantee Element of State Pension Credit you must submit your Proof of Benefit letter with your application. This letter must be dated no earlier than the beginning of the month before you submit your application.

What are my responsibilities as a Parent/Guardian?

You must:   

  • Check your email inbox plus your spam/junk mail folders for replies from the Meals and Uniform Section as this is how we will inform you if your application has been approved/rejected or if you need to do anything further.
     
  • Submit to the Meals and Uniform Section a fully completed application including proof of your qualifying benefit. The child(ren) applied for must be in your actual custody, included in the payments for Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit and the name(s) must be entered as they appear on the Birth Certificate unless they have been legally changed;
     
  • Notify the Meals and Uniform Section immediately of any changes in family circumstances or benefit entitlement;
     
  • Provide the correct Bank/Building Society Details of the person claiming benefit and ensure that this account can accept payment by BACS.  Uniform allowances can only be paid into a bank account stating the claimant’s name.  If you do not have a bank/building society account then your uniform allowance will be paid by a cheque;
     
  • Provide the correct ID to cash your cheque (if paid by cheque) at Danske Bank (NI), i.e. current full driving licence, valid passport, electoral card, Translink Smart Pass, student ID/registration card or EU/UK National Identity Card.

What happens/how will I know if my application is not successful?

If your application is not successful/approved you will be sent an email and you can log into your account to view details of what you need to send us. In this case you must submit your application again and attach the correct information to the application. Check your spam/junk mail regularly in case the email was delivered there. It is your responsibility to resubmit your application promptly with the correct information or your child/children may not have support in place for the start of the school year.

What happens/how will I know if my application is successful?

If your application is successful you will be sent an e-mail confirming this. 

What information do I need to have beside me before I apply?

If you are in receipt of Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit/Working Tax Credit you need to have the correct proof of all pages of your most recent benefit document saved onto your phone or computer before you begin the application process.  If you are in receipt of Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Guarantee Element of State Pension Credit you must have your Proof of Benefits letter saved onto your phone or computer.

English is not my first language and I find it difficult to know what I have to do.

Please see our accessibility information to find out more about the Recite Me tool and how to use it. 

I am not very good with computers. Can I get any help with completing the application?

Please telephone our Helpdesk and one of our trained staff will be able to help you. 

How long will it take for my application to be processed?

If you have submitted the correct documentation it can take at least five weeks for your application to be processed during the months of June to October.

Eligibility

Can I apply if I am a student who receives benefit in my own name?

Yes. Complete an application in your own name.  Enter ‘Self-Claimant’ at “Relationship to Child(ren)” and enter your own name, date of birth and school in the section for child(ren).

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if my child attends a Nursery School?

If your child is in full-time or part-time nursery school/nursery unit/reception class, he/she will not be eligible for a uniform allowance.

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if I have a fostered child in my care?

No. If you or the foster carer are in receipt of funding you are not eligible to make application for a uniform allowance.

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if my child is at an EOTAS Learning Centre or Educational Guidance Centre?

Yes. Enter your child’s main registered school on the application and e-mail [email protected]  or telephone 02890418044 to inform us of the EOTAS/Educational Guidance Centre where your child is attending. 

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if my child attends a full-time course at a Regional College/FE College?

A uniform allowance is not paid for students at Regional/FE Colleges. If the full-time course includes Physical Education an allowance can be paid for PE.

Can I apply if my child is waiting for results and is unsure of what school he/she will attend in September?

Yes. Enter the name of the school he/she is most likely to attend and inform the Meals and Uniform Section by phone or in writing if this information changes.

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if my child has reached 16 years of age on or before 1 July and is not attending a Regional College/FE College?

Yes. The Meals and Uniform Section will write to the school/college at the beginning of the new school year and when confirmation of your child's return is received the uniform allowance will be paid as soon as possible. Payments for students over 16 years of age will not be paid until September/October.

Can I apply for a uniform allowance if my child attends full-time at an Independent School?

Your child will not be eligible for a uniform allowance.  However, you can apply for free school meals if your child attends full-time at an Independent School.

Can I apply if I am an Asylum Seeker?

Yes. You must attach evidence to show that you are supported by the Home Office Asylum Support Assessment Team (ASAT) or that you have applied for support.

Can I apply if I receive Universal Credit?

Yes. If you receive Universal Credit with net household earnings not exceeding £14,000 per year (£1166.66 per month or less) you are eligible to apply. You must attach all pages of your most recent Universal Credit Payments breakdown, which can be found by logging into your Universal Credit account and clicking on your most recent payment details where you will be shown the breakdown of all payments and deductions of how your Universal Credit has been calculated. The relevant pages need to include your full name and address; the dates of payment and all entitlements and deductions.  This will ensure you provide us with all of the necessary information with your application

I receive Universal Credit but my income varies from month to month. How will you calculate my yearly income to determine if I am eligible for Free School Meals and Uniform Allowances?

Claimants who receive Universal Credit have their yearly income assessed by using the household take home pay on their most recent, monthly Universal Credit Statement x 12.  This is because claimants do not receive a yearly Universal Credit Statement (showing 12 months income).

If your income varies each month and the take home pay shown on your most recent monthly Universal Credit Statement does not show your typical monthly income, you can apply again after receiving future Statements which show a lower take-home pay.  After you are entitled it will be your responsibility to inform us if future statements show a monthly income which is higher than £1166.66 per month (£1166.66 x 12 = £14,000) as this means you would no longer be eligible for Free School Meals.  We advise that you only inform us of any changes if two monthly statements in a row show a take home pay of above this amount.

General

Can school uniform allowance be backdated?

No. The Meals and Uniform Section requires parents to submit an application for uniform in each school year and a uniform allowance will only be awarded after the claim for the relevant school year has been assessed. The Meals and Uniform Section does not accept or process back-dated claims for uniform allowances.

What are the current Uniform Allowance rates?

 

 

Total  

Uniform 

PE

 Primary School pupils   (born on or before 1 July 2019)

£42.90   

 

 

 Secondary School and Special School pupils

 

 

 

 Under 15 years of age on 1 August 2023

£87.60

 £61.20

 £26.40

 15 years of age or over on 1 August 2023

£93.60

 £67.20

 £26.40

Pupils at Regional Colleges/FE Colleges who are not in receipt of any financial support which includes provision for clothing suitable for Physical Education and where Physical Education is part of their course

    £26.40

 

When will I receive my uniform allowance?

Payment of uniform allowances are made from the end of July. If you enter bank/building society details on the application you should check your account for payment. If no bank/building society details are entered or if you gave given incorrect account details you will receive a cheque by post.

EA have now changed their banking provider from Bank of Ireland to Danske Bank. For those who receive cheques and are not able to lodge to a bank account, cheques can be cashed in Danske Bank branches when presented at the counter with official photographic proof of identification.

I have received an e-mail telling me that my application was submitted but I haven’t been informed as to whether my application has been successful. What should I do?

You should log back into your account and check the progress of your application. You will be able to see if a decision has been made about your application (‘Approved’ or ‘Not Successful’). If your application has been approved, you will be able to click into it and see the start date for free school meals. If your application states ‘Returned’, this means that information or evidence was missing and we need you to submit the application again with this information/evidence.

During the months of June to October it takes at least five weeks for a valid application to be processed.

If you do not receive a decision about your application after 5 weeks you should e-mail the Free School Meals and Uniform Helpdesk on [email protected] giving as much information as you can i.e. the name under which you applied, your National Insurance Number and the submission number you received when your application was acknowledged.  Please state clearly in your email that you applied more than five weeks ago.

 

Applying Online – Technical Support

Do I need to register on the portal to apply for a place for my child, even if I received Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance in the 2022/23 school year?

Yes, all applicants will need to register for the 2023/24 school year and create an account before an application can be submitted. You will need a valid email address and will be asked to create a password which must have a minimum of 14 characters.

After registering, you will be able to log in on any subsequent visits to the website with your username and password to check the status of your application.

My child has a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN Stage 3): If you do not qualify for Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance under your benefit/income but your child has a Statement of Special Educational Needs (at stage 3) and also requires a Special Diet, you do not need to register or apply online.  If your child received Free School Meals under the special diet criterion during the 2022/23 current school year then a pre-populated application form was sent to you which you must complete and return to your local office.

If your child/children did not receive Free School Meals under the Special Diet criteria in 2022/23, you can request a Special Diet Application form by contacting the Meals and Uniform Service.

What details do I need to register on the portal?

You will need a valid email address and will be asked to create a password which must have a minimum of 14 characters.

What should I do if I have registered on the Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance Portal but have not received an email?

Check for an email from Education Authority Free School Meals.  Please check in your ‘spam’ or ‘junk’ folders.  Please also ensure that your email inbox is not full – i.e. that you are still receiving emails from other email addresses. 

If you are unable to find the email and it has been at least 24 hours since registering, please contact the Meals and Uniform Service or try registering with a different email address.

What should I do if the link in my registration email does not work?

Try copying and pasting the link directly into your internet browser.  If you continue to experience difficulties contact the Meals and Uniform Service.

When searching for my address during registration, I cannot find it on the drop down menu, what should I do?

If your address hasn’t been found after you search using your postcode, you will need to manually enter your address in the fields provided.

I have forgotten my password, what can I do?

On the login page click on the ‘send you out a new password’ link and follow the on-screen instructions. You will be asked to enter your email address.

You will only receive an email if an account matches the details you have provided. If you have already registered and you have not received an email, firstly check your ‘spam’ or ‘junk’ email folder and if there is no email, contact the Meals and Uniform Service. When creating a new password, please ensure that it has a minimum of 14 characters.

How do I change my password?

Once you are logged into the Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance account, click on ‘Update your user profile’.  You should then follow the on-screen instructions and enter a new password.

Why has my password not been accepted?

When you create a new password it must have a minimum of 14 characters.

How do I change my email address?

Once you are logged into the Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance account, click on ‘Update your user profile’. You should then follow the on screen instructions and enter a new email address along with your current password. This then sends an email link to your new email address and you can follow the steps through to log in.

What do I do if I have made an error on my application?

If you have made an error in your application please email [email protected] quoting your application number and provide full details of the change required.

 

What are mandatory fields in the application?

The fields marked with a red asterisk * implies that this is required information and must be answered before you can submit the application.

What should I do if I have submitted my application but have not received an email confirmation?

You can log into your account and check that your application has been submitted. Your profile screen will tell you the status of your application and will also give you the ID to quote if you need to contact our Meals and Uniform Service to report any issues.

You can also check your Spam or Junk folders for the email. 

Where can I find out more information about the Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance process?

Information on the Free School Meals and Uniform Allowance process is available on our website and includes:

  • How to apply;
  • Eligibility;
  • Frequently Asked Questions;
  • Contact details;
  • Key Dates;
  • Guidance and Videos on applying online and document upload.

 

I cannot find my child’s school on the application form. What should I do?

  • Ensure that you have selected the correct school or college type in the box above where you enter the school name.
  • Search for a key word in the school name and do not try to type the full school name.  For example, for St Patrick’s PS Moneymore, you could search under ‘Moneymore’ or ‘Patrick’
  • On some devices, the drop-down list with school names will only appear if you click on ‘space’ after you key part of the school name. Please click ‘space’ after the school name.  
  • In case you know the school under a different name than used by us, you can check the Search Schools function at to verify the school’s proper name on the dropdown list.

If these suggestions do not solve the problem, please contact the Meals and Uniform Service .

I am having difficulties uploading my proof of benefit documents. What can I do?

  • If you are having these difficulties when using a mobile phone, if possible, try to complete the process using a computer, laptop or tablet and using the Google Chrome browser.
  • Please make sure that the document which you are uploading is in one of the allowed formats as stated in the application form.
  • There is a limit regarding how many pages you can attach for each benefit and the total file size which you can upload.  Please make sure that you are not attaching pages from an additional document as well as the document requested by us.
  • After clicking on ‘Upload’, please allow sufficient time for the upload to be processed.  While this is happening you will see a ‘timer clock’ icon.
  • For some documents, the file size may be smaller if you can save the document as a pdf file.  For example, if you receive Universal Credit, after clicking into the details of your most recent statement, you can click on ‘print’ and an option will appear to save the complete document as a pdf file.
  • If you are still having problems uploading photographs, you can scan your document and upload it as a pdf file.  If you don’t have access to a scanner, you can download a free scanner app (e.g. MS Lens or HP Smart).

If these suggestions do not solve the problem, please contact the Meals and Uniform Service .

I can’t add all of my children on the application. What can I do?

The application has a tab called ‘Add a child’.  When you add your first child you need to click on ‘Add a child’ each time that you want to add another child and enter your children one at a time.  Do not submit your application until you have added all of your children, including those who will be starting full time Nursery or school in September and any who are aged over 16.

Where can I get help?

You can contact the Meals and Uniform Service Monday to Friday 9am - 4.30pm by:

Telephone:    028 9041 8044  

Email:            [email protected]

Last updated: 21/02/2024