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What to do if you can’t afford food

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Living costs are rising, and food is one of our most essential expenses. If you can’t afford groceries here are some ways to get free ingredients and even free meals. 

How can I get food with no money?

If you need to use a food bank you can get a referral from official sources like your child’s school, a doctor, social worker or your local Citizens AdviceOpens in a new window

You can find out where your nearest food bank is on the Trussell Trust siteOpens in a new window

Your local council can also put you in touch with charities and organisationsOpens in a new window who can give you a referral to a food bank. The council might be able to offer you vouchers or a grant to help you cover costs without visiting a food bank, so it’s well worth asking what’s available.  

If you can’t get a referral, you might still be able to visit a food bank. Check the map at Independent Food Aid NetworkOpens in a new window to find the contact details of local charities and food banks near you.

What will I get from a food bank?

Food banks will offer you a food parcel you’ll need to collect from the address given to you when you were referred. If you can’t get to a food bank because you live rurally, they might offer to deliver it to you.  

You usually need a referral to use a food bank, and some food banks will only allow you to be referred once, so you can’t rely on it as a long-term solution.  

If you can’t cover day-to-day costs, like food, you should check you’re claiming all the financial help you’re entitled to.

How to get free food from the supermarket

If you’re pregnant or caring for at least one child under 4, you might be able to join the Healthy Start schemeOpens in a new window This is a card loaded with credit that can be used in supermarkets towards formula, milk or healthy food like fruit and veg. The card is topped up every four weeks while you’re eligible.  

In Scotland, there’s a similar scheme called Best Start FoodsOpens in a new window for children under 3.  

The government has given funding to local councils to provide food for children who get free school meals during the summer, Easter and Christmas holidays. If your council hasn’t been in touch with you about this, use this council locatorOpens in a new window to find their contact details and ask for more information.  

Other places offering free or very cheap food and meals

Even though not all these places are giving away free food, they’re all much more affordable than a typical supermarket and can help you feed a family with very little money.  

Foodcycle offer completely free hot meals to people who need them on a weekly basis. All you need to do is turn up, you don’t need to book or be referred. You can find details of when and where you can get a free meal in your local area at FoodcycleOpens in a new window

Community fridges are places you can go to collect free surplus food donated by local businesses. There are hundreds of community fridges across the country, and you can find out where your nearest one is and when it’s open at HubbubOpens in a new window

Although it isn't 100% free, once you pay a £5 a year membership fee you can visit a Community Grocery up to three times a week for free food. You do not need to be referred to join. They also offer other services like healthy cooking and life skills lessons. You can find out more and find your nearest one at Community GroceryOpens in a new window

Pantries are similar to the Community Grocery scheme, for a few pounds a week you can fill your basket with food worth considerably more. You also don’t need to be referred to join, you can apply by visiting Your Local PantryOpens in a new window or going to your local Pantry in person.  

Feeding Britain has a list of affordable food clubsOpens in a new window and other community programmes if you can’t afford to buy food. You can find a map on their website.

Apps offering free food

Olio is a free app where people and businesses can give away unwanted food. Once you’ve downloaded the appOpens in a new window and chosen your local area you can see what’s being offered near you. You will need to collect any of the free food you claim, but there’s no referral needed, and no questions asked. It’s usually run on a first come first served basis, so you might want to turn on your notifications for the app.  

There might also be ‘Random acts of kindness’ or ‘Buy nothing’ Facebook groups for your local area where people can give away surplus food and other household items for free.

What’s the cheapest meal to make?

If you have a very limited budget to buy food, it’s best to focus on filling foods like pasta and rice, as well as tinned food that won’t go off quickly. Take a look at our guide to eating healthily on a budget

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