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Help with health costs

This advice applies to Scotland

Most NHS treatment is free, including all prescriptions, but there are some things you might be charged for.

NHS dental treatment 

Everyone is entitled to free NHS dental check-ups. But you might have to pay for treatments like a scale and polish, a filling or a root canal. A dentist can also charge for any missed appointments. 

NHS dental treatments are free if, at the start of your treatment, you’re:

  • under 26 
  • pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months. This includes if you’ve had a miscarriage after the 24th week of pregnancy, or your baby was stillborn
  • getting a war disablement pension - you'll get a refund for dental charges for treatment needed because of a disability that you get a pension for
  • getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit
  • getting Universal Credit and your income is below certain limits. 

Your partner and children will also be entitled to free treatment if they’re included in your benefit award.

If you're named on a valid HC2 certificate under the NHS low income scheme, you'll be entitled to free dental treatment.

You might have to prove to your dentist that you’re entitled to free treatment. If your circumstances change before your treatment ends, you’ll still be able to get it for free. Read more about getting help with dental costs on NHS inform.

Dental treatment if you’re on a low income 

If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get help with health costs.

For example, you might be entitled to free dental treatment if you get:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit with a disabled worker or a severe disability element.

You can find out how to apply for help with health costs on NHS inform.

Dental treatment if you’re getting Universal Credit 

If you're getting Universal Credit (UC), you'll only get free dental treatment if your income is below certain limits during your most recent assessment period. 

Your assessment period starts on the day of the month you first made a claim for Universal Credit, and between the same dates each month after that. For example,  if you made a claim on 18th May, your assessment period will always start on the 18th and end on the 17th of the next month. Check your award notice for the date of your original claim.

You can get help paying for dental treatment if you get UC as a single person or a member of a couple if:

  • your UC does not include a child element or limited capability for work and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £435 or less

  • your UC includes an element for a child and/or limited capability for work, and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £935 or less.

You can apply for a refund if you had to pay for dental treatment while your entitlement was being checked, as long as you’re entitled to free dental treatment on UC. 

Eye tests

You can get free NHS eye tests if you’re:

  • a UK resident 
  • an asylum seeker
  • a refugee. 

Most people aged between 16 and 59 can have a free eye test every 2 years. But if you have diabetes or are sight impaired, you can have a free test every year.

If you’re aged under 16 or over 59, you can also get a free eye test every year.

Read more about free eye tests on NHS inform.

Glasses and contact lenses

You can get help towards the cost of prescription glasses or contact lenses if you:

  • are under 16
  • are under 19 and in full-time education
  • are aged 17 or 18, you may be able get help if you live in a household that gets Universal Credit
  • wear complex lenses
  • are on an NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • are on a low income 
  • are a war pensioner - you’ll get a refund for glasses or contact lenses needed because of a disability that you get a pension for
  • get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit
  • get Universal Credit and your income is below certain limits.

If you can get help towards the cost of prescription glasses or contact lenses, you’ll get an NHS optical voucher. Your partner and children will also be entitled to a voucher if they’re included in your benefit award.

Glasses and lenses if you’re on a low income 

If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get help with the cost of prescription glasses or contact lenses. 

For example, you might be entitled to help if you get:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit with a disabled worker or severe disability element.

You can find out more about applying for help with health costs on NHS inform.

Glasses and lenses if you’re getting Universal Credit 

If you're getting Universal Credit (UC), you'll only get help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses if your income is below certain limits during your most recent assessment period. 

Your assessment period starts on the day of the month you first made a claim for Universal Credit, and between the same dates each month after that. For example, if you made a claim on 18th May, your assessment period will always start on the 18th and end on the 17th of the next month. Check your award notice for the date of your original claim.

You can get help if you get UC as a single person or as a member of a couple and:

  • your UC does not include a child element or limited capability for work, and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £435 or less
  • your UC includes a child element and/or limited capability for work, and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £935 or less.

If you get UC and are entitled to help with the costs of glasses and contact lenses, you can apply for a refund if you had to pay for these while your entitlement to UC was being checked.

Repairs and replacement glasses and contact lenses

To get help with the cost of repair or replacement, your glasses or contact lenses must not be covered by a warranty, insurance or after-sales service.

Your optician can tell you if you can get help with the cost of repair or replacement glasses or contact lenses. They will give you a voucher if you’re entitled to one.

The value of the voucher will depend on which part of your glasses needs to be repaired or replaced.

Travel costs to and from the hospital or clinic

You can get the costs of essential travel to and from NHS treatment paid if you’re:

  • getting a war or service disablement pension and need to go to hospital for treatment for that disability
  • on a low income
  • getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit 
  • Universal Credit and your income is below certain limits.

Your partner and children will also be entitled to help if they’re included in your benefit award.

Travel costs if you’re between 16 and 20 years old

If you’re between 16 and 20 years old and are living in a household where someone responsible for you gets Universal Credit or has a low income, you might be able to get help with travel costs. 

Read more about claiming for travel costs as a young person on NHS inform.

Travel costs if you’re on a low income 

If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get help with travel costs to and from hospital.

For example, you might be entitled to help if you get:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit with a disability element.

You can find out more about help with travel costs on NHS inform.

Travel costs if you’re getting Universal Credit 

If you're getting Universal Credit (UC), you'll only get help with travel costs if your income is below certain limits during your most recent assessment period. 

Your assessment period starts on the day of the month you first made a claim for Universal Credit, and between the same dates each month after that. For example, if you made a claim on 18th May, your assessment period will always start on the 18th and end on the 17th of the next month. Check your award notice for the date of your original claim.

You can get help if you get UC as a single person or part of a couple and:

  • your UC does not include a child element or limited capability for work, and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £435 or less
  • your UC includes a child element and/or limited capability for work, and you had earnings, or combined earnings, of £935 or less.

If you get UC and are entitled to help with your travel costs, you can apply for a refund if you had to pay for these while your entitlement to UC was being checked.

If you cannot afford to pay your travel costs in advance, you can ask for a budgeting advance. Find out more about getting a Universal Credit budgeting advance.

If you’re between 16 and 20 years old in a household where someone responsible for you gets UC and is in one of the situations above, you can also get help with the cost of travel. 

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

You can claim a refund of your travel costs by filling in an HC5 form and giving it to the place you go to for NHS treatment. You must make a claim for a refund within 3 months. Read more about applying for a refund in the Scottish government guide to help with health costs.

If you can't afford to pay your travel costs in advance, you can ask for a budgeting advance. Find out more about getting a Universal Credit budgeting advance

If you live in the Scottish Highlands and Islands 

If you live in the Highlands and Islands, there’s a maximum amount that you’re expected to pay for travel costs. You can ask for a claim form at the clinic, hospital ward, or hospital cashier department.

Read more about help with travel costs for people living in the Highlands and Islands in the Scottish government health costs guide.

If your child is in hospital 

If your child is under 18 and in hospital, you can claim back some of the costs of food and travel from the Young Patients Family Fund. This includes if your baby is in a neonatal unit. 

You must claim within 3 months of your child getting out of hospital, and you must give proof of the money you’ve spent, such as receipts or bank statements.

Find out how to claim from the Young Patients Family Fund on mygov.scot.

If you’re travelling abroad for treatment

If you’re travelling to a country outside the UK to get NHS treatment, you might be able to get your necessary costs paid. You might also get travel costs for a companion if it’s medically necessary. 

You should get your local health board to agree to the costs before you travel.

Wigs and fabric supports

You can get a free NHS wig or fabric support, if you have been prescribed one, whatever your age, income or personal circumstances.

Food and vitamins

If  you're pregnant or have a child under 3, you might be able to get free vitamins and a Best Start Foods prepaid card to spend on:

  • milk
  • vegetables
  • eggs 
  • pulses - like beans and lentils.

Other help with health costs if you’re on a low income

If you have difficulty paying health costs and don’t qualify for any other kind of help, you might be able to get help using the NHS low income scheme.

The amount of help you get will depend on the amount of income you have. There are 2 types of certificate: 

  • a full help certificate (HC2)
  • a limited help certificate (HC3), which tells you how much you have to pay.

Before you apply for an HC2 or HC3 form, you’ll have to fill out an HC1 form. You can get an HC1 form on NHS inform. You might also be able to get one from your doctor, dentist or optician.

If you’re living with a parent or carer and are 16 or over

If you’re living with a parent or carer and are aged 16 or over, you might be able to get help with health costs. If you don’t already get help because of your parent’s or carer’s low income, you should make your own application.

If you’re in a care home

If you live in a residential care or nursing home and don’t pay the full or standard rate for the accommodation, you can get help with health costs. You should complete a HC1 form. You can get an HC1 form on NHS inform.

Full help certificate (HC2)

If you’re entitled to a full help certificate, you’ll get:

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

Limited health certificate (HC3)

If you’re entitled to a limited help certificate, you might be able to get some help with the cost of:

  • dental treatment and check-ups
  • private eye tests
  • glasses or contact lenses
  • wigs and fabric supports
  • travel costs to and from hospital 
  • travel costs if you travel abroad for treatment.

There’s more information about the help with health costs scheme on NHS inform.

How to claim a refund under the low income scheme

If you don’t have a certificate under the low income scheme when you pay a health charge, but you think you might be entitled to one, you can claim a refund. You must make the claim within 3 months of paying for the treatment.

To get a refund, you’ll need to get a receipt for your treatment. You’ll also need an HC5 form. The HC5 form can be printed from the NHS Business Services Authority website, or you can get it from local benefit office, NHS hospital and some practitioners. 

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

If your claim was unsuccessful 

If your claim for help with health costs was unsuccessful and you don’t agree with the decision, you can ask for a review. There is more information about how to ask for a review on the NHS Business Service Authority website.

If your circumstances change

If you were entitled to get free treatment when it was arranged, you won’t have to pay even if your circumstances change before you finish the course of treatment.

You don’t need to tell the NHS Business Services Authority that your circumstances have changed, unless you have a 5-year certificate.

Penalty charges for false claims

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

The penalty charge will be 5 times the charge that you should have paid, up to a maximum of £100. This is in addition to the original charge. 

If you don’t pay the penalty charge, the NHS can take action to recover the debt in court. The penalty charge will be increased by 50% if you don’t pay within 28 days of the penalty notice being sent.

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