‘Holiday Hunger’ Food Grant Coming to an End

Free school meals in Northern Ireland: ‘Holiday Hunger’ Food Grant ending on 31 March 2023

Financial support during school holidays for families in Northern Ireland entitled to Free School Meals is coming to an end.

Since July 2020, the ‘School Holiday Food Grant’ scheme has provided a grant of £27 per fortnight, per child, during school holidays, to eligible low income households where children are entitled to Free School Meals.  This scheme applied during all school holidays, including the long summer holidays and at Christmas and Easter. However, the scheme ends on 31 March 2023.

This announcement, made by the Department of Education just a few days before the start of the Easter holidays, will cause real concern to parents who are already struggling with the rise in the cost of living. In particular, families have seen a huge rise in the cost of basic food items in the three years since the grant was introduced.

The Department of Education has confirmed that, due to budgetary pressures for the new financial year, from 1 April 2023 it can no longer afford to fund the scheme. There are currently just over 96,000 children in Northern Ireland who are entitled to free school meals and therefore would have been eligible to receive the School Holiday Food Grant for the upcoming Easter holidays.

In addition, the Department will no longer be funding a mental health and counselling programme for children in primary schools called Happy Healthy Minds, or a scheme to help children with their learning post-pandemic called Engage.

Eligibility for free school meals

The Education Authority oversees the free school meals scheme for primary and secondary school pupils. Additionally, assistance is available for children who have a statement of special educational needs and specific dietary requirements. Eligibility criteria is dependent on parents being in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Related Employment and Support Allowance
  • some Tax Credit claimants (with an annual taxable income of under £16,190)
  • some Universal Credit claimants (with net household income of less than £14,000).

Further information on free school meals and school uniform grants is available on our factsheet available here.  To apply, visit the Education Authority website. 

Personalised advice and guidance

Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service provides free, impartial and confidential advice to parents on the financial support their family is entitled to. Our dedicated advisors can be contacted on 028 9267 8200 or email hello@employersforchildcare.org.