Parents are being urged to check whether they're eligible to claim for free school meals as the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the harsher winter months.

The current crisis has had a major effect on the economy and the income of many families who may be struggling in the run up to Christmas.

As many people may be claiming benefits for the first time, it's worth noting some children could be entitled to free school meals - but this isn't to be confused with universal infant free school meals, which are available to all schoolchildren from reception until year two.

With the second national lockdown ending this week, a number of changes are to be introduced up and down the country.

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Last week, the government confirmed which areas of the country will be placed into which tiers, with the Liverpool City Region avoiding the harshest new coronavirus restrictions and entering Tier 2 of its new system.

It is a significant boost for a city region that was one of the first areas to be placed into the highest level of restrictions in October as Covid-19 infections spiralled out of control.

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But as uncertainty remains, it's worth checking if your child - whether you are their parent or guardian - is eligible for free school meals.

In the latest MoneySavingExpert.com newsletter, parents are being urged to be vigilant when checking their eligibility.

Who is eligible for free school meals?

If your child is in year three or above, they will typically be able to get free school meals if you fulfil the criteria in the following two steps:

Step 1

You are claiming one of these benefits:

Step 2

You are earning below a certain amount, but these amounts vary depending on where you live. In England, you qualify:

How to apply

Free school meals are run by the Department for Education and administered via councils. You need to register via your council, then you and your child's school will be notified of your application.

For people in England there is a free checker, which should link through to your council's free school meals registration page. MSE tested this and often were only sent to the council's main homepage – if this is the case, search "free school meals" in your council's search bar.