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Free NHS prescriptions: The benefits and medical conditions that qualify



Experts have warned free prescriptions may be scrapped from April.

On the NHS, those aged 60 or older can currently request free prescriptions.

However, anyone who qualifies could soon face charges for their medication as the cost of a prescription could rise from £9.35 – as Birmingham Live reports.

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The Government announced plans last year to lift the age people in England qualify for free prescriptions from 60 to 66, the same age as the State Pension.

They justified this with the explanation many people aged 60 to 65 are still in employment and will therefore be able to meet the cost.

The move to axe free prescriptions has been described as a “bitter pill to swallow for millions” by charity Age UK – and is causing confusion over who may or may not still be eligible for medicine charges to be waived in pharmacies.

We have rounded up the current rules on who qualifies for free NHS prescriptions ahead of the potential changes.

Who can get free prescriptions

The NHS says you can – currently – get free prescriptions if you meet the following criteria:

  • are 60 or over (though this looks set to go up in April)
  • are under 16
  • are 16 to 18 and in full-time education
  • are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
  • have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
  • are an NHS inpatient

Which benefits qualify for free prescriptions?

As well as the above criteria, you are also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner receive:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • The guarantee credit element of Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit – if you had zero earnings or had net earnings of £435 or less in your last assessment period; your payment includes an element for a child; or you (or your partner) had limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA), and either had no earnings or net earnings of £935 or less in your last assessment period

You will also not pay medicine charges if you are under the age of 20 and are the dependant of someone receiving the above state benefits.

Free prescriptions may also be available to those receiving Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits. Specifically, you would need to be named on:

  • a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate – if you do not have a certificate, you can show your award notice. You qualify if you get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less
  • a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)

Note that those receiving Personal Independence Payment – a benefit for long-term health problems and disabilities – do not automatically qualify for free prescriptions. But specific medical conditions will make you eligible for avoiding medication charges.

In such cases, you would need to be issued with a medical exemption certificate. You would need to ask your doctor for an FP92A form to apply for a certificate, which lasts five years.

The NHS says medical exemption certificates are issued if you have:

  • cancer, including the effects of cancer or the effects of current or previous cancer treatment
  • a permanent fistula (for example, a laryngostomy, colostomy, ileostomy or some renal dialysis fistulas) requiring continuous surgical dressing or an appliance
  • a form of hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison’s disease) for which specific substitution therapy is essential
  • diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism
  • diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone
  • hypoparathyroidism
  • myasthenia gravis
  • myxoedema (hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement)
  • epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy
  • a continuing physical disability that means you cannot go out without the help of another person (temporary disabilities do not count, even if they last for several months)

In addition, if you are on a low income you may be able to apply to get free prescriptions. You would need to get a HC2 certificate through the NHS Low Income Scheme. To do this, get the HC1 form from your local jobcentre or hospital or by phoning 0300 123 0849.

Anyone who finds they must pay for their medicine should investigate whether it’s cheaper to get a Prescription Prepayment Certificate. This costs £30.25 for three months or £108.10 for 12 months. You will save on costs if you need two or more prescriptions every month.

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