Universal Credit claimants urged to check if they can avoid paying NHS charges

The number of people claiming Universal Credit has almost doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), as nearly six million people are now entitled to this extra help because they either have no income or are surviving on a low income. That means around three million British people might not know that they could also benefit from free NHS prescriptions, eye tests and free dental, saving them hundreds of pounds per year.

It’s not just people who are not working who might qualify for extra help towards NHS costs, more than a third (39 percent) of people who are claiming Universal Credit in the UK are in work.

And although they are working, they are classed as being on a low income, so it’s important that they get the help they need.

Those on Universal Credit are entitled to free NHS prescriptions, dental treatment and other health costs if their earnings are below £435 in their last Universal Credit assessment period, or £935 if they are a parent of a child still living at home or have a limited capability for work.

But it’s not just Universal Credit claimants that are entitled – it’s worth checking if people are receiving other means-tested benefits as well.

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Am I eligible for a free NHS medical exemption certificate?

A person might be entitled to help with NHS costs if they are receiving:

  • Income support
  • Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income related Employment and support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit

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As Parliament debates the end of the Universal Credit uplift of £20, low income families will be looking for ways to manage on less money, so it’s more important than ever that those who are eligible to a free NHS certificate are getting the help they are entitled to.

It could add up to hundreds of pounds saved over the course of a year – other people who are eligible for help towards healthcare include older people over the age of 60 as well as people with certain medical conditions.

Pregnant women, children under 16, NHS inpatients and some people with a physical disability may also be able to get help.

Meanwhile, proposals to scrap free prescriptions for people over 60 have been called a “tax on the sick”.

At the moment pensioners are eligible for free prescriptions at age 60, but the change would mean they would only get free prescriptions when they can claim pension at age 65 plus.

If the controversial proposals get the green light, it would free up to £300million according to the Government – funds which could be used to help the NHS recover from the pandemic.

Prescription charges are a major source of revenue for the health service, generating almost £3billion every five years, but some believe it would be a false economy and put more pressure on the health system.

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Charities including Age UK have written a letter to the Government highlighting its concern that scrapping free prescriptions for those in the 60 to 65 age category could have a “devastating impact” on some older people’s health.

The letter accuses the Government of introducing an “additional levy on poor health” which would affect the most vulnerable in society.

Rather than save the NHS money, Age UK believes tens of thousands of people may require hospital treatment if the change goes ahead.

The easiest way to check whether someone is eligible for free NHS prescriptions and help with other NHS costs is to use the eligibility checker on the NHS website.

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