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English councils cut back on school holiday food vouchers – here's what other help you can get

Several councils in England have either scrapped or cut back on their provision of summer holiday vouchers for children eligible for free school meals, according to a BBC investigation, but there is still some help out there for those affected by the cuts. 

Usually those who children who get free school meals during term time also qualify for extra help during the school holidays. How this works depends on where you live but families can typically get help towards meals, the cost of activities as well as cash payments to help with childcare costs. 

Research conducted by the BBC, however, shows that 11 local authorities in England have scrapped food vouchers this summer, while 32 have reduced payments compared to last year. The biggest drop was found in Southampton, where families received a one-off payment of £30 per child this year, compared to £90 in 2021 

Check if you can get alternative support

If you have been affected, there are some alternatives but it depends on where you live. We explain your options below but see our Free school meals guide for more. 

The 'Holiday Activity and Food Programme'

If you're eligible for benefits-related free school meals (even if your child is too young to get them), your child is also able to take part in the 'Holiday Activity and Food Programme', which takes place over the summer, Easter, and Christmas holidays. 

The programme is designed to give children aged 4+ access to "enriching activities", and at least one free meal a day. The actual content of the programme varies council by council but you should be able to choose from a range of activities. 

Access to HAF isn't automatic, you MUST APPLY each holiday. The way you do this varies by council – see our Free schools meals guide for more info on how to apply. 

Hardship grants

If you’re unable to apply for the HAF programme you could apply for a hardship grant - this is money you do not have to pay back. These can be offered by the Government or small charities. Some can offer support to anyone, while others only help certain groups of people.

You can search and apply for grants via the Turn2Us website.

Foodbank referrals

Another alternative for those in need is to contact Citizens Advice on how to be referred to a foodbank. Once you’ve been referred, you’ll be given a voucher for your local food bank that you can then exchange for food and essentials. See our Grant grabbing guide for more info on how to apply and who to go to. 

Free or cheap meals for kids eating out

Also check out the latest restaurant deals over the summer as many are offering money off for kids and free meals for children when an adult eats. Although this won't be a satisfactory solution for many do see our Cheap restaurant deals page, which may be able to help. 

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