Food Banks & Charities In The UK – Who Can Use Them & How
Food Banks & Charities In The UK – Who Can Use Them & How

Food Banks & Charities In The UK – Who Can Use Them & How

Everything you need to know about food banks in the UK and how to use them.

Food banks are used across the UK to help those who are struggling to access food, and since the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, more and more people are relying on them. Between April 2021 to March 2022, 2.1 million emergency food parcels were given out at food banks across the UK, which was an increase of 14% from the previous year.

Students have been hit hard with rent increases, the student housing crisis and the rising costs of living across the UK, meaning more and more students are struggling to afford their bills or basic necessities such as food and toiletries.

If you’ve been struggling financially, here’s everything you need to know about food banks and food charities across the UK, how you can use them and the support you could get if you need it.

What is a food bank?

Food banks aim to provide help to those locally who are in a crisis. Food banks provide non-perishable food and food vouchers to those who are struggling to afford the food that they need. Food banks are run by volunteers and are non-profit charitable organisations that are there for those who need to use them. Within the last 5 years, the need for food banks across the UK has increased by 81%, indicating that more people than ever are relying on the support.

Who can use food banks?

Food banks are for anyone that needs to use one, including those on low incomes, those who are unemployed and students who are struggling financially. Normally you will need to get a referral to be able to use a local food bank, which you can get by contacting someone at Citizens Advice. You can also get in touch with a local food bank to discuss a referral or speak to a counsellor or GP to ask them to get you a referral. Whoever you talk to will ask you some questions about why you need support to help determine what support is available to you.


How do food banks work?

Food banks normally work by giving you a food voucher which you can redeem in exchange for a food parcel. This food parcel will usually contain enough food for 3 days and may also have basic toiletries such as deodorant or toothpaste. You will normally have to visit your local food bank in person to redeem your voucher.

Food vouchers explained

Once you get referred to a food bank you will be given a food voucher which you can exchange at your local food bank. You may have to visit on a certain day or at a certain time. Once you’ve received your voucher you can take it to your local food bank and exchange it for a food parcel, which will give you enough emergency food to last you for 3 days. You can also discuss if you have allergies with the volunteers at the food bank.

How many food vouchers are you allowed?

Once you’ve redeemed your food voucher, you will need to get a referral for another one if you need to use the food bank again. You can discuss with your advisor if you think you need to use the food bank regularly and they will refer you again if they feel like this is the best option to help you. Some food banks will have a limit on how many times you can use them, however, if you have a referral you can normally go back multiple times. Food banks are there to help those who need it, and if you’re struggling you will be eligible to use food banks whenever you need them.

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How to access a food bank without a referral

Some food banks might not require a referral. Typically food banks that are run by churches won’t need a referral and will be open to everyone, so it may be worth looking in your local area. You can check for your local food banks here. However, you will need a referral for the majority of food banks and can talk to a free advisor at Citizens Advice or from The Trussell Group at any time.

How many food banks are there in the UK?

There are at least 1,172 independent food banks in the UK and 2,565 including those run by The Trussell Group, which is the UK’s largest food bank network. Additionally, there are food banks that are run by the Salvation Army as well as centres run by schools, universities and hospitals, which accounts for around 3,500 additional food aid providers outside of the traditional food bank model.

How many people use food banks?

Due to the increase in poverty across the UK, the number of people using food banks has increased rapidly over the last few years. The Trussell Trust reported that there has been a 22% increase in demand for emergency food parcels in 2022 compared to at the start of 2020. Research from The Independent has also shown that more and more first-time users of food banks have emerged, including those who are in full-time employment or education further highlighting the severity of the cost of living crisis.

More than 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty and research from The Trussell Trust shows that in the 2021-22 financial year, 2,173,158 people across the UK relied on a food bank throughout the year. In comparison between 2019-20 pre-pandemic this figure stood at 1,909,156.

Food banks and charities

The Trussell Trust

The Trussel Trust is a nationwide network of food banks across the UK. They also offer additional support and charity work to help those in need, with the aim of ending hunger and poverty in the UK. They have a team of dedicated volunteers working to run their food banks and charity events, as well as a strategic plan to ensure everyone can afford the essentials that they need and a compassionate and just society.

“As a nation, we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.

It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a food bank as a result.” – Chief Executive Emma Revie.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is a Christian church and registered charity aiming to help those across the UK who are in need, including those who are homeless, children and older people. They provide emergency assistance, debt advice as well as food banks to those who need to use them. You can find your local Salvation Army food bank here.

Feeding Britain

Feeding Britain is a charity that supports a network of 66 regional anti-hunger partnerships comprising of more than 600 local organisations, including schools and community centres. Some of the work they’ve done includes providing 2.2 million meals to vulnerable people across the UK, supporting 6,500 households with their Pathways From Poverty programme which reduces long-term dependency on food banks and providing 100,000 children with nutritious meals during the school holidays.

City Harvest

City Harvest is a charity committed to sharing food and nourishing others. The volunteers help to provide re-distribute food that would otherwise be wasted to those who need it the most, reducing both waste and inequality. Although based in London, their work aims to help support those across the UK by delivering free food to food banks, charities and schools.

The Felix Project

The Felix Project is an organisation that collects fresh and nutritious food that can’t be sold and instead re-distributes it to those in need. This includes schools and refuge centres so that they can cook healthy and nutritious meals for those who are vulnerable.

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Alternative support if you can’t afford food

If you can’t get a referral or access to a food bank, there are other ways you can get support if you’re struggling financially and can’t afford to buy food.


FareShare is a network of charitable food redistributors, taking surplus food that would otherwise go to waste and instead passing it on to charities and community groups. This includes schools, community kitchens, homeless shelters and more. You can check your local area or council website to see what community centres may be open near you to take advantage of the free food on offer.


FoodCycle provides community meals to anyone who needs it. With an aim to reduce food poverty and loneliness, the volunteers provide delicious food and a good conversation to help support those who may be struggling with their mental health or who don’t have access to food. Anyone regardless of their background is welcome to a FoodCycle kitchen and you can check for your local one here.

School-based food banks

Other alternatives include school-based food banks, these are independent food bank services that are run by schools or universities for their students and their families. Swansea University has launched a food bank exclusively for students who may need to use it.

Soup kitchens

Soup kitchens are run by volunteers and provide hot and fresh meals to those who are vulnerable or in need. Most big cities will have one and they are always looking for volunteers and offer meals without any judgement to those who may need them. It’s worth having a Google of your university and local area and seeing what events are on at your local soup kitchen as they will often run events throughout the week.

Social supermarkets

Social supermarkets are shops that sell discontinued food for lower prices than regular supermarkets, and they are designed for those on low incomes or those who may be struggling to afford food. Food banks are for those who are in an immediate crisis and need emergency food, but social supermarkets can help those who need to rely on support on a more regular basis. Some social supermarkets include Community Grocery, Community First and The Feed.


How to donate to food banks

If you do not need to rely on a food bank or food support and want to help those that do, there are lots of ways that you can help. All of the charities listed in this article are always looking for volunteers or food donations to help keep their services running. You can donate money on The Trussell Group website by either a one-off or recurring donation, or you can take non-perishable food items such as cans, pasta, rice and long-life items to your local food banks or community centres. Find out more about donating here.

What do food banks need?

Food banks rely on regular donations and volunteer support in order to keep their services running. Those working at food banks and community centres are usually unpaid volunteers and the food they provide is often donated by those who can afford to. If you want to help you can either donate money or non-perishable food items or sign up to volunteer if you have spare time and want to get involved.