Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Help with health costs

This advice applies to England

Most NHS treatment is free, but there are a number of things for which there may be charges. This information tells you what you might be able to get help with, and whether you might be entitled.

What health costs you can get help with

You might be able to get help with NHS costs - for example prescription costs or travel costs if you need to go abroad for treatment. Check what help you could get to pay for NHS costs on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

You'll need to show evidence to prove you're eligible for help. You might be able to get some prescriptions and treatment without proof, but you'll usually have to provide it later. If you can’t do this, you might have to pay the original costs plus a penalty charge.

Help with health costs if you get Universal Credit

If you're getting Universal Credit (UC), you're entitled to help with health costs if you had earnings less than £435 during the assessment period before your health cost.

You’ll also be entitled to help with health costs if you had net earnings less than £935 during the assessment period and your UC payment includes an element for a:

  • child
  • health problem
  • disability
  • limited capability for work or work-related activity

If you're part of a couple, your net earnings are combined.

If you're entitled to help with health costs, you can get:

  • free NHS prescriptions
  • free NHS dental treatment
  • free wigs and fabric supports
  • free sight tests
  • help with travel costs for NHS treatment
  • help with the cost of glasses and contact lenses

If you were getting UC up until 31 October 2015 and you paid NHS charges for any of the health costs above, you might be able to claim a refund for these costs.

See how to get help with health costs while getting UC on the NHS website. 

Help with prescription charges

Free prescriptions

In England, depending on your income, you can get prescriptions free of charge if you:

  • are on Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. Your partner and children will also be entitled to free prescriptions if they are included in your benefit award. If you are getting Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to free prescriptions, depending on your income
  • are 60 or over (you must show proof of age to the pharmacist)
  • have a listed medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate. Ask your GP if you think this might apply to you
  • are having treatment for cancer, the effects of cancer or the effects of cancer treatment and you have a valid medical exemption certificate. You get free prescriptions for all NHS medication, not just the cancer medication
  • you are on prescribed medication to prevent a pandemic disease, for example, pandemic influenza
  • have a continuing physical disability which means you cannot go out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • are under 16. You must show proof to the pharmacist
  • are still in full-time education and aged 16 to 18. You must show proof to the pharmacist
  • get a war or service disablement pension, need prescriptions for your disability and hold an exemption certificate
  • are a prisoner
  • are pregnant, or have had a baby in the last 12 months and have a valid exemption certificate. This includes if you have had a miscarriage after the 24th week of pregnancy, or your baby was stillborn
  • have got a community care order and you are expected to take medication for the treatment of your mental disorder

You can see a full list of people who can get help with with NHS prescription costs on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

If none of the categories mentioned in this list apply to you, you might still be able to get free prescriptions if you're on a low income.

Apply for a medical exemption certificate 

To apply for a medical exemption certificate ask your GP, hospital or pharmacist for form FP92A. Read more about medical exemption certificates on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

You can check if your medical exemption certificate is still valid, or if it entitles you to free prescriptions or dental checkups on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

Apply for a maternity exemption certificate 

To apply for a maternity exemption certificate, ask your GP, midwife or health visitor for form FW8. Read more about maternity exemption certificates on the NHS Business Services Authority website.

Prepayment certificates

If you need frequent prescriptions but do not qualify to get them free of charge, you can buy a prepayment certificate which will save you money.

You can get a prepayment certificate which lasts for either 3 or 12 months. You can pay for the 12 month certificate by direct debit, in 10 equal monthly instalments.

Before buying a prepayment certificate, check that you're not entitled to free prescriptions, as it can be difficult to get a refund once you have paid for your certificate.

You can apply for a prepayment certificate online or fill in an application form and send it by by post to:

NHS Help with Health Costs
PPC Issue Office
PO Box 854
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE99 2DE

You can read more about applying for a prepayment certificate on the NHS Choices website.

Help with dental treatment

Depending on your income, you're entitled to free NHS dental treatment, including check-ups, if at the start of the treatment you:-

  • are getting Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. Your partner and children will also be entitled to free treatment if they are included in your benefit award. If you are getting Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to free dental treatment, depending on your income
  • are under 18
  • are 18 and in full-time education
  • are pregnant, or have had a baby during the last twelve months. This includes if you have had a miscarriage after the 24th week of pregnancy, or your baby was stillborn
  • are a prisoner.

You can read more about help with dental costs on the NHS Choices website.

You may have to show your dentist proof that you are entitled to free treatment. If your circumstances change before treatment ends, you will still be able to get free treatment.

If you are not in one of the categories listed above, you might still be able to get free dental treatment on the grounds of low income – see under heading, Help with health costs if you are on a low income.

Help with sight tests

Depending on your income, you'll be entitled to free NHS sight tests if you:-

  • are getting Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. If you are getting Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to free NHS sight tests, depending on your income
  • are under 16
  • are under 19 and in full-time education
  • are 60 or over
  • need complex lenses
  • are registered blind or partially sighted
  • have diabetes or glaucoma
  • are aged 40 or over and are the parent, brother, sister or child of someone with glaucoma, or you have been advised that you are at risk of glaucoma
  • are a war pensioner, and need a sight test because of a disability for which you get a war pension
  • are a hospital patient, and need a sight test for the management of your eye condition.

If you are not in one of the categories listed above, you may be able to get help towards the costs of a private sight test, on the grounds of low income – see under heading, Help with health costs if you are on a low income.

You can read more about free NHS sight tests on the NHS Choices wesbsite.

Help with the cost of glasses and contact lenses

Depending on your income, you'll be entitled to help towards the cost of prescription glasses or contact lenses if you:-

  • are getting Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. Your partner and children will also be entitled to a voucher if they are included in your benefit award. If you are getting Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to help, depending on your income
  • are under 16
  • are under 19 and in full-time education
  • need complex lenses
  • are a prisoner on leave from prison
  • are aged 16 or 17 and are financially maintained by your local authority.

If you are entitled to help towards the cost of prescription glasses or contact lenses, you will get an NHS optical voucher.

Find out more about NHS charges and optical voucher values on the NHS Choices website.

If you are not in one of the categories listed above, you may still be able to get help towards the costs of prescription glasses or contact lenses on the grounds of low income – see under heading, Help with health costs if you are on a low income.

You can read more about optical vouchers to help reduce the cost of glasses or contact lenses on the NHS Choices website.

Help with travel costs for NHS treatment

Depending on your income, you can get essential travel costs paid to and from a place where you receive certain types of NHS treatment, if you are:

  • getting Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit. If you are getting Working Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to help, depending on your income
  • get a war or service disablement pension and need to go to hospital for treatment for that disability.

You can read more about help with travel costs on the NHS Choices website.

If you need someone to travel with you for medical reasons, you can get their travel costs paid as well.

You can claim a refund of your travel costs by filling in form HC5 and giving it to the place you go to for NHS treatment. If you can't afford to pay your travel costs in advance, you can ask for an advance payment. Alternatively, you may be able to get help from your local authority.

For more information, see Extra help if you're on benefits or your benefits have stopped.

If you are not in one of the categories listed above, you might still be able to get help with your travel costs on the grounds of low income – see under heading, Help with health costs if you are on a low income.

Help with the cost of wigs and fabric supports

If you have been prescribed an NHS wig or fabric support by a hospital, you will be able to get it free if you are getting Universal Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit, depending on your income. If you are getting tax credits, you may be entitled to help, depending on your income.

If you aren't getting one of these benefits or tax credits, you may be entitled to free wigs or fabric supports if you:

  • are under 16
  • are under 19 and in full-time education
  • are a hospital in-patient when the wig or fabric support is supplied
  • get a war or service disablement pension and need a wig or fabric support because of your disability
  • are a prisoner.

If you are not in one of the categories listed above, you might still be able to get help with the cost of wigs and fabric supports on the grounds of low income – see under heading, Help with health costs if you are on a low income.

You can read more about help getting wigs and fabric supports on the NHS Choices website.

Help with health costs if you are on a low income

If you have difficulty in meeting your health costs and do not qualify for any other kind of help, you may be able to get help under the NHS low income scheme.

The amount of help you get will depend on the amount of income you have. You might not be entitled to any help at all if you have too much capital. There are two types of certificate: a full help certificate (HC2), and a limited help certificate (HC3), which tells you how much you have to pay.

Full help certificate

If you are entitled to a full help certificate, you will get:-

  • free NHS prescriptions
  • free NHS dental treatment, including check-ups
  • free NHS sight tests (including sight tests at home) and full value vouchers for glasses or contact lenses
  • full repayment of necessary travel costs for hospital treatment
  • full repayment of travel costs if travelling abroad for treatment
  • free NHS wigs and fabric supports
  • travel costs if travelling abroad for treatment.

Limited health certificate

If you are entitled to a limited help certificate, you may be able to get some help with the costs of:-

  • dental treatment and check ups
  • private sight tests
  • vouchers for glasses or contact lenses
  • wigs and fabric supports
  • necessary travel costs to and from hospital for NHS treatment
  • travel costs if travelling abroad for treatment.

You will not be entitled to any help with the costs of prescriptions.

How to apply for help on the low income scheme

To apply for either a full help certificate (HC2) or a limited help certificate (HC3), you need to complete form HC1. You can:

You do not have to wait until you need treatment before you apply for a certificate. Send the completed form HC1 to:

NHS Business Services Authority - NHS Low Income Scheme
Bridge House
152 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE1 6SN

Tel: 0300 330 1343 0845 850 1166
Email: nhsbsa.lis1@nhs.net
Website: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk.

You can read more about applying for NHS Low Income Scheme on the NHS Choices website.

How to claim a refund under the low income scheme

If you do not have a certificate under the low income scheme when you pay a health charge, but think that you might be entitled to one, you can make a claim for a refund.

To claim a refund of prescription charges, you must ask the pharmacist for form FP57 (or HCS(R) in Scotland) at the time that you pay the charge. You will not be able to get this form at a later date. For all other health charges, you will need form HC5 to claim your refund. These are available from local benefit offices, NHS hospitals and some practitioners. The forms should be sent to the the NHS Business Services Authority – see above.

If you are entitled to help under the low income scheme, any refund due will be paid when you get your certificate.

Penalty charges if you get help but can't prove you are eligible

If you get help with health costs without showing any proof you are eligible, you could be asked for this proof later. If you can’t provide any, you may have to pay the original costs plus a penalty charge. 

The penalty charge will be five times the charge that you should have paid, up to a maximum of £100. You will get a letter telling you what the penalty charge is, how to pay it, and what you can do if you think there has been a mistake.

If you fail to pay the penalty charge, the NHS can take action to recover the debt in court. The penalty charge will be increased by fifty per cent if you do not pay within 28 days of the date that the penalty notice is sent. You may be able to pay in instalments if you can't afford to pay straight away.

Help with healthy food costs for families

You might be able to get free vitamins and vouchers for milk, fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk. 

To get the free vitamins and food vouchers from Healthy Start, you must be either at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4 years old. You must also be claiming either:

  • Income Support

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance - but only if you're pregnant

  • Child Tax Credit - and your household earns £16,190 a year or less

  • Pension Credit

  • Universal Credit - and your household earns £408 a month or less

If you get Child Tax Credit you can’t get the vitamins and vouchers if you also get Working Tax Credit - unless you get the ‘run-on’ payment. Working Tax Credit run-on is the payment you get for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.

If you’re under 18 and pregnant, you can still get vitamins and food vouchers even if you don’t get any of these benefits.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for an application form, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and ask them to send you a form.

Calls cost up to 9p a minute from landlines and up to 55p a minute from mobiles. It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract.

Did this advice help?
Why wasn't this advice helpful?
Did this advice help?

Thank you, your feedback has been submitted.