NHS change may see over 60s lose free prescriptions – could you get them without charge?

Martin Lewis discusses prescription prepayment certificates

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Free prescriptions can be a vital entitlement for older individuals living in England, many of whom already have a limited income later in life. At present, the free prescription age is set at 60, however, the Government has recently consulted on whether it would be sensible to increase the eligibility to state pension age. State pension age currently stands at 66 and is set to rise in the future, meaning those in the 60-65 age category – and indeed potentially others over time – could have to wait longer to remove the payment.

Without an exemption, those living in England are required to meet a charge of £9.35 per item.

Those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, do not need to pay as devolved government rules mean all these individuals get prescriptions for free.

Older age and location, however, are not the only determining factors as to whether a person can get a prescription without charge.

In fact, there are a number of other exemptions which are currently made available through the NHS. These could be useful as some in the 60-65 age group could find they are eligible for a free prescription in another way.

The consultation acknowledges this when it comes to age, stating: “People in higher age groups are more likely to have long term conditions than people in other age cohorts, some of which would qualify as disabilities. 

“People in this age group are also more likely to be diagnosed and treated for various cancers, but this is a current ground for entitlement to exemption.”

Under 16s and those who are 16 to 18 and in full-time education will also be entitled to get free prescriptions from the NHS.

Those who are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months also will not have to pay, as long as they have a valid maternity exemption certificate.

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The next eligible groups for a free NHS prescription are those individuals who have a valid medical exemption certificate known as a MedEx.

These are for those with a specified medical condition, or individuals with a continuing physical disability preventing them from going out without help from another person.

People who are NHS inpatients – remaining in hospital overnight – can also get a prescription for free.

This, too, will be the case for individuals who hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for their accepted disability.

Free prescriptions can also be gained by those who are in receipt of the following benefits: 

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit, as long as they meet the criteria

Some individuals will have a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs known as HC2, and this means they will not have to pay.

Finally, an exemption is available to those with a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or award notice. 

They will qualify if they 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. 

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To find out if one is eligible, there is a simple way to check, as the NHS has developed an eligibility checker online.

Entitled ‘Check what help you could get to pay for NHS costs’ it is designed to be a straightforward process.

A decision has not yet been made on whether the free prescription age will rise, and the process for doing so.

However, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson previously told Express.co.uk: “The age people get free prescriptions in England has not changed since 1974 for women, and 1995 for men so we are consulting on aligning the upper age exemption from prescription charges with the state pension age.

“We continue to protect the most vulnerable and support is available for those on a low income and those on certain benefits. 

“Almost 90 percent of prescription items dispensed in the community in England in 2019 were free of charge, and there are other exemptions in place for certain medical conditions and expectant or new mothers.” 

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