Free NHS Prescriptions in the UK: Are You Entitled?
With inflationary pressures and budgets being stretched to afford essential items such as medicine, it is key to understand if you are eligible for a free NHS prescription and how you can save money on NHS prescription charges. The cost of prescriptions can be expensive, so any extra saving may help you.
Who can get free prescriptions?
If you live in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, prescriptions are currently free with access to free medicine. If you live in England, the prescription cost is currently £9.35 per item. However, out of 1.1 billion items dispensed in 2018, 90% of prescription items dispensed in England were actually free of charge. This is because certain groups can get a free NHS prescription.
The groups that are eligible for free prescription / medicine:
- Aged 60 or over
- Under 16
- 16 to 18 and in full-time education
- Pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate
- Have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate
- Have a continuing physical disability that prevents you from going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate
- Hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
- You're an NHS inpatient
- You are 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.
- 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)
- Named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.
How can I check if I am eligible for free prescriptions in England?
It’s your own responsibility to check that you’re entitled before claiming free medicine and prescriptions. If you claim free prescriptions that you’re not entitled to, you could have to pay a penalty charge of up to £100.
If you are unsure if you are eligible, the NHSBSA has a handy online tool that is currently in beta, which helps you assess if you have an exemption. The tool can also be used to check if you are entitled to free NHS dental check-ups and treatment.
Please note you don't need to check if you are automatically entitled to free NHS prescription if you are under 16, aged 16-18 and in full-time education, or getting certain benefits or you're named on the claim as a partner or child.
How can I save money on prescriptions in England with an NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC)?
If you're not currently entitled to free prescriptions, you may still be able to save money on NHS prescriptions through a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC). A 3 or 12 month PPC covers all your prescriptions for that period, no matter how many you need.
A prescription costs £9.35 per item in England, but a PPC costs £30.25 for 3 months and £108.10 for 12 months. You can pay in 10 monthly instalments if you buy a 12 month PPC.
So if you need more than three prescription items over a 3 month period or 12+ prescriptions in 12 months, it would work out cheaper to get a PPC. If you require a significant amount of medication, then you could save £100's by opting for a PPC, and it could be a good way of getting cheap prescriptions.
Typically the price of NHS prescriptions increases in April each year, so it may be worth an extra check in March to see if it would be worthwhile to opt for a PPC to beat any price increases.
It is also worth noting that prescriptions are not always the cheapest option as some common medicine is available over the counter and may work out cheaper.
Example savings of 3/12 month PPC versus single prescription
|Number of prescribed medicines per month||3 months cost||Net saving buying 3 month PPC*||12 months cost||Net saving buying 12 month PPC**|
|2 items a month||£56.10||£25.95||£224.40||£116.30|
|4 items a month||£112.20||£81.95||£448.80||£340.70|
|6 items a month||£168.30||£138.05||£673.20||£565.10|
* Net saving = Cost of prescriptions minus 3 month PPC cost
** Net saving = Cost of prescriptions minus 12 month PPC cost
How to order a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC)?
To order a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC), there are three options available
If you’ve applied for a PPC and pay prescription charges while waiting for it to arrive, you can get a refund as long as you get an NHS refund form (FP57) when you pay (as you can’t get one later) and the PPC covers the date you paid for your prescription. PPCs can be backdated by up to one month. You must claim your refund within 3 months of paying.
What is the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS)?
Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) allows you to send prescriptions electronically to a dispenser of your choice e.g. Boots pharmacy. The key benefits of Electronic Prescription Service:
- Prescribers can process prescriptions more efficiently and spend less time dealing with prescription questions
- Dispensers can reduce use of paper, have improved stock control, and provide a more efficient service to patients thus saving money
- Patients can collect repeat prescriptions from a pharmacy without visiting their GP, and patients won't have a paper prescription to lose
How to order repeat prescriptions online
Ordering a repeat prescription online is now recommended for patients. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), you may not be able to physically go into your GP surgery to collect repeat prescriptions. If you receive medicine on repeat prescription, you can now use several apps and websites to order your repeats online. You can then collect your medicines from a pharmacy or have them delivered to your home.
Apps and websites that let you order a repeat prescription and use a pharmacy or dispenser of your choice:
- NHS App
- NHS website's repeat prescription service
- Airmid (selected GP surgeries only)
- Co-op Health
- Evergreen Life PHR
- Patient Access (selected GP surgeries only)
- SystmOnline (selected GP surgeries only)
Some pharmacies have their own apps and websites, including:
- Echo (by Lloyds Pharmacy)
NHS Prescription FAQ's
Are prescriptions always the cheapest option for medicine?
It's always worth comparing over the counter costs for common medication versus getting a prescription. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy over the counter e.g. skin creams.
Will people over 60 continue to get free NHS prescriptions in England?
There is currently a government consultation paper that is reviewing if over 60's will continue to get free NHS prescriptions. The two ideas being proposed are
Idea 1:You will have to be 66 and older to get free prescriptions. If you are aged 60-65 you will have to start paying for your prescriptions.
Idea 2: If you are aged 60-65 and already getting free prescriptions, you will keep getting them for free. People aged 59 and younger will have to wait until they are 66 to get free prescriptions.
This is only at consultation stage currently so no decision has been made and would need legislation to amend.
How can I check if my prescription prepayment certificate is still valid?
You can check the NHS beta tool to see if your PPC is still valid and associated expiration date
Is there an online tool to help me understand if I am eligible for a free NHS prescription?
Find out if you're entitled to free NHS prescriptions, NHS dental treatment and help with other NHS costs using the beta eligibility checker tool at the NHS website.
How much is a 3 month and 12 month prescription prepayment certificate in England?
A PPC costs £30.25 for 3 months and £108.10 for 12 months. You can pay in 10 monthly instalments if you buy a 12 month PPC. A prescription costs £9.35 per item in England, so depending on usage a PPC may give greater cost savings.