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Understanding NHS Prescription Charges

Gwyn Williams
Mar 7, 2022 11:00:31 AM

NHS prescription charges vary in different parts of the UK. If you live in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, you don't have to pay prescription charges. Some items are always free, including contraceptives and medicines prescribed for hospital inpatients. 

The NHS website provides everything you need to know about NHS prescription charges in England. The information below is from the NHS website and is correct as of 3/3/2022: 

Who can get free prescriptions 

You can get free NHS prescriptions if, at the time the prescription is dispensed, you: 

  • are 60 or over 
  • 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 

You're also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you're under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving: 

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria 

If you're entitled to or 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) 

People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help. 

Check you're eligible for free prescriptions 

There's a simple way to find out if you're eligible for free NHS prescriptions and any help with other NHS costs. 

Use the eligibility checker. 

Free prescriptions for certain medical conditions 

People with certain medical conditions can get free NHS prescriptions. 

Medical exemption certificates are credit-card-size cards. They 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) 

Find out more about medical exemption certificates. 

How to apply for a medical exemption certificate 

Ask your doctor for an FP92A form to apply for a medical exemption certificate. 

Your GP will sign the form to confirm that your statement is correct. At your GP's discretion, a member of the practice who has access to your medical records can also sign the form. 

Your certificate will be valid from 1 month before the date the NHS Business Services Authority receives the application form. 

The MedEx lasts for 5 years and then needs to be renewed. You may receive a reminder that your certificate needs to be renewed. 

If you do not receive a reminder, it's your responsibility to make sure it's renewed. 

Check if your exemption certificate is valid 

Free prescriptions for pregnant women 

If you're pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months, you get free prescriptions if you have a valid maternity exemption certificate. 

Maternity exemption certificates are credit-card-size cards. 

To apply for a maternity exemption certificate, contact your doctor, midwife or health visitor. 

The certificate will last until 12 months after the expected date of birth of your baby. 

If your baby's born early, you can continue to use your certificate until it expires. 

If your baby is born late, you can apply for an extension. 

If you apply after your baby is born, your certificate will last for 12 months from your baby's birth. 

Find out more about maternity exemption certificates. 

Free prescriptions if you have a low income. 

If you have a low income, you may be eligible to receive financial help through the NHS Low Income Scheme. 

To apply for an HC2 certificate, complete form HC1, which is available from Jobcentre Plus offices or most NHS hospitals. You might also be able to get an HC1 form from your doctor, dentist or optician. 

You can also get an HC1 form by calling 0300 123 0849. 

You qualify for a full help HC2 certificate (which includes free NHS prescriptions) if your income is less than or equal to your requirements, or your income is greater than your requirements by no more than half the current English prescription charge. 

You qualify for a limited help HC3 certificate if your income is greater than your requirements by more than half the current English prescription charge. 

The HC3 certificate shows how much you have to pay towards your health costs. 

Certificates are usually valid for between 6 months and 5 years, depending on your circumstances. 

Find out more about the NHS Low Income Scheme 

How can I claim a refund on a prescription charge? 

Ask the pharmacist, hospital or doctor for the refund form (FP57) when you pay for your prescription. You cannot get one later. 

You must apply for a refund within 3 months of paying the prescription charge. 

If you receive Universal Credit and meet all the criteria to be entitled to help with health costs but did not get a refund form (FP57), contact the NHS Business Services Authority. They'll consider applications for refunds on a case-by-case basis. 

If you paid for a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) and have become exempt from paying for prescriptions, you may be able to get some or all of the money back for your PPC. 

The NHS Business Services Authority website explains how to claim a refund for the PPC fee. 

You can also call the Department of Health and Social Care publications order line on 0300 123 0849 to order a leaflet. 

Important numbers 

  • NHS Help with Health Costs helpline: 0300 330 1343 
  • Prescription services helpline: 0300 330 1349 
  • Queries about medical exemption certificates: 0300 330 1341 
  • Queries about prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs): 0300 330 1341 
  • Queries about tax credit certificates: 0300 330 1347 
  • Call 0300 123 0849 to order a paper copy of the HC12, HC5 and HC1 (SC) forms 

Save money with a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) 

If you know you'll have to pay for a lot of NHS prescriptions, it may be cheaper to buy a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) – effectively a prescription "season ticket". 

A PPC covers all your NHS prescriptions, including NHS dental prescriptions, no matter how many items you need. 

But it does not cover the cost of other health items, such as the provision of wigs and fabric supports, which are only provided through the hospital service. 

There are 2 PPC options to choose from: 

  1. The 3-month PPC costs £30.25 and will save you money if you need more than 3 prescribed items in 3 months. 
  2. The 12-month PPC costs £108.10 and will save you money if you need more than 11 prescribed items in a year. 

How much can I save? 

If you need: 

  • 2 items each month – you can save £116.30 with a 12-month PPC 
  • 3 items each month – you can save £228.50 with a 12-month PPC 
  • 4 items each month – you can save £340.70 with a 12-month PPC 

There are several payment options available. If you choose the 12-month PPC, you can pay for this upfront, or by 10 monthly direct debit instalments. 

Check the current costs for NHS prescriptions 

How to apply for a PPC 

Check if you're entitled to free prescriptions before you apply for a PPC. 

It's quickest to buy a PPC online. The PPC will start from the day you submit your application, unless you request a different start date, but the start date must be within 1 month before or after the date of your application. 

If you prefer talking to someone, you can call the PPC order line on 0300 330 1341. Your certificate will be valid from the day you make the phone call, unless you request otherwise. 

Make sure you have your bank details or credit or debit card details ready. 

You can receive your certificate details by email if you provide an email address, print them at the end of your online application, or receive the details by post. 

Although a PPC is valid from the day of your application (unless otherwise requested), it may take a couple of days to receive the details of your certificate by post. If you pay prescription charges while you're waiting for the details to arrive, you can get a refund, as long as you get an NHS refund form (FP57) when you pay. 

Some pharmacies may be able to sell you a PPC. You will not be able to pay by direct debit if you buy a PPC at a pharmacy. 

Either contact your local pharmacy or view the list of registered pharmacies on the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) website to find which ones sell PPCs. 

Useful tips 

Remember to apply for a new PPC in plenty of time, otherwise you'll have to pay full prescription charges if it expires. 

It's important that you do not use your certificate after it expires. The NHSBSA checks that patients who claim for free NHS prescriptions are entitled to the exemption they have declared. 

Check that your certificate is valid before claiming free NHS prescriptions. 

If you have to pay for prescriptions while you're waiting for details about a new PPC and need to apply for a refund, ask the pharmacist for an NHS receipt (FP57) so you can claim back the cost. Your PPC must cover the date you paid the prescription charge. 

You can claim for the refund of prescription charges up to 3 months after paying. The FP57 explains what to do. 

If you buy a 12-month PPC by direct debit, you are entering into a commitment to pay all the instalments. 

PPC refunds 

You may be able to claim a full or partial refund if you become entitled to free prescriptions while your certificate is still valid. 

For full refund details, including the time limit for claiming, visit the NHSBSA's page about help with costs. 

MedAdvisor app 

To keep track of your medication supply and know when to order a new repeat prescription from your GP, download the MedAdvisor app on your smartphone or log in to our website and create an account. 
Once you've created an account, you will be able to view your full list of repeat medication and days’ supply left of each. The app will let you know when to order so you can only order what you need.

Once logged in, select the medication you wish to order, and the request will be sent to your GP surgery. After your GP has reviewed and approved your request, they will send the prescription electronically to your chosen pharmacy to dispense. 
The MedAdvisor app provides alerts to notify you when you need to order your prescription and real-time notifications when your medicine is ready to collect from your pharmacy. 
To order repeat medication using the MedAdvisor app, all you need to do is the following:

  1. Download the MedAdvisor app. 
  2. Select your pharmacy. 
  3. Order your medication. 
  4. Receive notification from the pharmacy once it's ready to collect.  

Download MedAdvisor 

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