Thousands of families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are missing out on free food vouchers that could help with the cost-of-living crisis.

Families have been warned they could be missing out on the Healthy Start scheme.

Collectively, eligible families who haven’t applied are losing out on more than £880,000 per week.

The NHS scheme offers support to families with young children and pregnant women who are on a low income and receiving qualifying benefits.

It can be used to buy healthy food such as milk, infant formula, and fruit and vegetables.

South Wales Argus:

Those eligible could receive top-ups of £4.25 or £8.50 per week based on their child’s age.

You can apply by email or phone if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant, or have at least one child under 4 years old, and get Income Support, Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit run-on) and you do not get Child Tax Credit, or Pension Credit (which includes the child addition).

You can also apply by email or phone if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant and either under 18 years old and not getting any benefits, getting Child Tax Credit and not getting Working Tax Credit and your family’s annual income is £16,190 or less, or getting income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

You can view full eligibility criteria, and apply online here.

Despite the benefits, the Healthy Start scheme's current take-up rate is just 63.9 per cent, below the government’s target of 75 per cent for March 2023.

Which? is calling for action from the government and supermarkets to increase awareness of the program via promotions, well-trained staff, and accessibility for stores and online purchases.

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer rights and food policy, said: “The Healthy Start scheme has potential to help many hard-up families who are struggling with the unrelenting cost of living crisis and have had to skip meals or use food banks as a result.

“However, poor take-up means millions of pounds’ worth of help is going unclaimed.

“There is an important role for the government to expand the scheme and increase its value, but we're also calling on supermarkets to help customers by better promoting what is available and providing extra top-ups for those who use the scheme.

“Supermarkets also need to make it easier for all customers to work out which items offer the best value for money, by making sure their pricing is clear and easily comparable between items.

“Supermarkets must ensure everyone has access to basic, affordable food ranges, especially in areas where they are most needed.”