It’s a new school year and now kids have returned after a long break, you might be wondering how to keep the costs down.

We’ve compiled some information on how you can get Free School Meals, and if you aren’t eligible, some resources on how to give them cheap healthy packed lunches.

Free School Meals Could your family get free school meals? If you are on any of these benefits you can apply:

  • Income Support

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit

  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)

  • Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit

  • Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

Your child can also get free school meals if they are in reception, year 1 or year 2. It’s easy to apply. You can fill out the form online.

Not only will your child get a free meal every day, but your school will also get extra funding from the government, so they can buy in more resources or pay more teaching assistants. 

Cheap Lunches

If you’re not entitled to a Free School Meal, then making a packed lunch could be a cheap, healthy option. Here are some great ideas for low cost packed lunches:

90p Healthy Packed Lunches

Cheap Packed School Lunches

If you want to keep your food budget low, join Facebook groups like ‘Feeding a family on £1 a day’ for ideas from other people across the UK

Financial Help

If you are a parent or carer struggling with costs at the moment, there is lots of advice and support out there. Visit our Children and Families page for more information or Citizens Advice ‘Help with School Costs’ and Turn 2 Us has released a 5 point guide of support with financial costs 

FairShare Credit Union also offers £500 low interest Family Support Loan to people receiving Child Benefit. 

NILS offers no interest loans to people in south Shropshire, up to £400 for essential items to be bought from local businesses. 

Just Credit Union has given 7 great tips for coping with an expensive school year.

Citizen’s Advice help over 900 people in Shropshire every month. Here’s a few ways they could help you:

1. Universal Credit: Applying to Universal Credit can be a complicated process, it’s worth getting help because you could miss out on money if you make a mistake. As well as having lots of information online for whichever stage you’re at with your Universal Credit claim – Citizen's Advice also have a team of dedicated advisors to help you.

You can call them on 0800 144 8 444 Monday – Friday, 8AM – 6pm OR chat to an advisor online here.

2. Debt: They have lots of advice online for dealing with all different kinds of debt. This can help you establish which debts to pay first, whether you need to pay a debt and setting up a payment plan. There are also a number of different letter templates which you can use to contact non-priority creditors – this includes credit card payments and overdrafts – to explain your situation and offer a repayment plan.

They also have an online budgeting tool takes an in depth look at your finances and helps you establish what you’re earning and spending and where you might be able to cut costs. This is particularly useful for handling debts and establishing what benefits you might be able to get.

Ring 03444 99 11 00 10 till 4pm Monday to Friday if you need to talk to an adviser about any issues to do with money.

3. Housing: Whether you’re renting privately, from the Council, currently without a home or own your own – CA's website is full of information on your rights whatever your situation. Due to Covid, court action for housing repossessions is currently on hold but will resume again on the 31st of October. Citizen’s Advice wants to make sure anyone at risk of eviction in Shropshire has the correct information before their court date, if this is you contact them ASAP.

Call them on 03444 99 11 00 10am til 4pm Monday to Friday.

Citizen’s Advice help millions of people across the UK every year with their free, impartial advice on a huge range of different issues:

· Benefits

· Housing

· Employment

· Family and relationships

· Consumer rights

· The legal system

· Immigration

· Health

If you look through their website it’s packed with straightforward information on your rights, simple explanations of laws or government processes and how to deal with many different problems.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for or need more personal, urgent help, you can call them and get confidential advice from a trained advisor.

What is a credit union? 

A credit union is non-profit alternative to a commercial bank. Traditionally, they operate for a collective of people – brought together by a ‘common bond’ such as a community or employment – to create a financial institution that aims to help the community.

Everyone who has an account with them – even if they just put in £1 – is a partial owner.

 And they’re very popular! The NHS has got one for its employees and in Ireland and the US they are used more than banks. There are even more ATMs in America for credit unions than banks! 84% of Just Credit Union members said they were ‘very likely’ to recommend to a friend.

Shropshire has two credit unions – FairShare Credit Union and Just Credit Union.

Low interest loans & savings accounts

Credit Unions are there for everyone but often lend to people traditionally unable to access loans at reasonable rates. Credit Union’s recognize that people may have had financial problems in the past and are more interested in ensuring a loan is affordable rather than your financial history. If they find you can’t afford the loan then they won’t lend to you, so you don’t get into further financial hardship, but they will pinpoint services which can help you.

One reason people turn to credit unions over banks is that banks won’t give small scale loans as they’re hard to make money from. Credit Unions APR’s are capped which makes them a much safer place to borrow from than payday lenders with very high interest rates or illegal loan sharks. FairShare offers loans from £50 to £15,000 and Just Credit offer loans starting at £250. 

But they’re more than just a loan. You will open a savings account with them to help you save and borrow at the same time, so by the time the loan is paid off you will hopefully have money left over!

Who are they for? 

Both of Shropshire’s credit unions common bonds are geographical for Shropshire (Just Credit also covers Telford and Wrekin). That means anyone who lives, works or studies in Shropshire can be a member– including anyone who works for a Shropshire based company too.

Just Credit Union was originally set up by Shropshire Council to help people who were financially excluded for any reason – maybe by their credit history, divorce, redundancy, sickness, or living in a remote location. They’re now independent and can be used by anyone, but they still keep this as key to how they work. They are NOT financial or debt advisors but will refer people onto them where necessary and they also regularly share tools and information with their members to help them make the most of their money.

Credit unions vs banks 

The main difference is that Credit Unions are NOT for profit. Whilst not a charity, Credit Unions have similar governance – with a volunteer board of directors and trustees who oversee management. . Credit Union’s are owned and managed for the benefit of their members and the profits are shared with the members who save with them.

Another difference is the size, credit unions are smaller and based in the community and they like to develop a personal connection with their members. All money saved with the credit union circulates in the local community, thereby supporting the local economy.

Get in touch now!

Both FairShare and Just Credit Union have adapted their systems to be largely online for Covid. Visit their websites to get set up.

You can find out more about Shropshire’s Credit Unions by visiting their websites:

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