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Thousands eligible for free NHS prescriptions without realising - see criteria

By William Morgan

Receiving a medical diagnosis and a prescription can sometimes feel like two lots of bad news, with repeat prescriptions making a permanent dent in your finances. In a cost of living crisis, lowering these costs can be essential for both your mental and physical health.

Almost one billion medicines were dispensed for free by the NHS last year, with nearly 90 percent of all prescriptions being dispensed for free.

Thankfully, people living with medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, or epilepsy qualify for free medication, but it is not just the long-term sick who qualify. In fact, millions of Brits are entitled to receive free prescriptions but might be unaware that they meet the qualifying criteria - which vary from age to income and working status.

Who gets free prescriptions on the NHS?

Many Brits are unaware that they qualify for free prescriptions. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In Scotland and Wales, all prescriptions are completely free.

Currently, in England, everyone over the age of 60 and under the age of 16 is able to get an unlimited number of prescribed items free of charge.

The other groups who benefit from free prescriptions are:

  • Those who are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months, with a valid maternity exemption certificate
  • Students and apprentices in a form of post-16 education
  • Anyone with a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • People with a continuing physical disability that prevents them from going out without help from another person, with a valid medical exemption certificate
  • War pensioners with an exemption certificate and where the prescription is for an accepted disability
  • Any NHS inpatient
  • Those receiving welfare benefits such as Universal Credit - if they also meet the NHS' financial criteria.

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Universal Credit claimants are not all entitled to free prescriptions but those who earn less than a certain amount are.

Applicants on £435 or less per month, or £935 if they have responsibility for a child, should be entitled to free prescriptions.

If you’re getting one of these benefits, your partner and any dependent young people under 20 are also entitled to free NHS prescriptions.

You can check your eligibility for free prescriptions using the NHS's criteria checker.

What if I can't afford my prescription?

The NHS offers a variety of options for those with prohibitively expensive prescriptions, as the fixed £9.35 cost of each dispensed item can quickly build up.

Described as a "season pass" to NHS medication, for a fixed three-monthly or annual cost, anyone can get an unlimited number of prescribed items.

The three-month certificate costs £30.25, while the 12-month plan costs £108.10. Meaning both plans become cost-effective if you pay for just one or two items per month.

The health service says that this season pass can save people hundreds over the course of a year, describing the cost-saving as:

  • Two items per month – You save £116.30 with a 12-month PPC
  • Three items per month – You save £228.50 with a 12-month PPC
  • Four items per month – You save £340.70 with a 12-month PPC

The Prepayment Certificates can be purchases online and come into effect on the day of purchase. You can find out more on their website.

Are free prescriptions going to be scrapped?

Those aged over 60 will want to make use of their free prescriptions, as the government opened a consultation into scrapping them in December 2021. Under government proposals, the Department of Health and Social Care would raise the age of exemption to 66, to match the State Pension age.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The vast majority - around 89 percent - of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.

“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age.

“No decision has yet been made - We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”

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Dive Deeper:
Prescription charges - exemptions, how to buy them cheaper and who has to pay for them
The finer details explained as charges are frozen in the midst of the cost of living crisis
NHS free prescriptions: Age rise would see millions of older Brits miss out
More than three million elderly Brits will lose out on free medication if government proposals come into effect. Goverrnment reports…
NHS prescription charge frozen as desperate Tories scramble for cost of living help
This will be the first time in 12 years the cost of medicines has not gone up in line with…
Prescription charges frozen as ministers grapple with cost-of-living crisis
Health Secretary Sajd Javid said the Government is ‘putting money back in people’s pockets’.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Boost your income before summer by claiming benefits, discounts or reductions
To combat the cost of living crisis make sure you are maximising your income and not missing out.
NHS prescription charges frozen amid cost of living crisis to 'put money back in people’s pockets'
Meanwhile, ministers have been resisting calls for a windfall tax on the profits of the energy companies which have been…
Get all your news in one place