Universal Credit claimants may be able to claim free NHS prescriptions – are you eligible?

Free NHS prescriptions to end from April? What you need to know

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Those who are in receipt of the benefit payment are entitled to either free or reduced cost healthcare on the NHS depending on their circumstances. Specifically, claimants are able to get discounted healthcare costs depending on their earnings for the most recent assessment period. Due to the exponential rise in the cost of living, with energy bills and inflation soaring, many benefit claimants will be looking for ways to reduce their spending by accessing further support, such as free NHS prescriptions.

Those who are not eligible for an exemption or discount in their NHS prescriptions have to pay £9.35 per item.

However, residents in Scotland and Wales do not have to pay any fee towards their medication as prescriptions are free in both countries.

In January 2020, the Government introduced new prescription forms for residents in England.

This updated prescription form includes a new exemption box U, which stands for “Universal Credit and meets the criteria”.

As part of Government legislation, this box is for patients who are eligible for free NHS prescriptions because they claim Universal Credit.

However, their earnings in their last assessment period must be within the entitlement threshold.

Anyone who claims free NHS prescriptions because they get Universal Credit, but has not been given the updated form, should tick the Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance box in the meantime.

A claimant’s “most recent assessment period” refers to the assessment period that ended just before the date they claimed free NHS healthcare.

For those getting Universal Credit, this period of time lasts a full calendar month, according to the NHS website

Someone is eligible for either free or discounted healthcare costs if their earnings during that period were £435 or less.

If someone’s earnings were £935 or less, if their Universal Credit claim includes an element for a dependant or they have a limited capacity to work, they will also be entitled to free or discounted healthcare costs.

For those who are part of a couple, the net earning threshold will be applied to their combined net earnings.

Anyone looking to apply for free or discounted NHS healthcare should use their Universal Credit award notice as evidence to their eligibility.

Various charities, such as Age UK, are calling on the UK Government to expand free NHS prescriptions to all residents in England, not just those who can claim an exemption through illness or Universal Credit.

Further criticism has been directed over the Government’s proposal to align access to free prescriptions with the state pension age, which many believe will hurt older Britons further.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, explained: “This policy proposal seems all the more unfair because prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales.

“There’s a strong public health case for heading in that direction here in England too.

“Instead, our Government wants to do the opposite: make many more people pay for their medicines, and at an age when it’s all the more important they take them, to control conditions that left untreated can lead to really serious medical problems, piling more pressure onto the NHS.

“If ever there was a self-defeating policy this is it, and we know that many medical experts agree with us.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson previously told Express.co.uk: “Around 90 percent of community prescriptions in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60, or have certain medical conditions.

“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link between this and the state pension age. No final decisions have been made and we will publish the consultation response in due course.”

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