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New NHS tool lets you check if you can get free prescriptions

The NHS has launched a new tool that allows you to check if you're eligible for free prescriptions or other help with health costs.

The tool, which can be found on the NHS Business Services Authority website, asks a series of questions about your personal circumstances and health history, and takes about three minutes to use.

The prescription eligibility checker has already been in testing for several months but has now been officially launched as part of the health service's new 'Check Before You Tick' campaign, which aims to help people understand if they are entitled to free prescriptions and how to claim correctly.

Prescriptions are free for residents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But in England you'll usually pay £8.80 an item, unless you have an exemption.

For 22 ways to slash the cost of prescriptions and medicine, see our Cheap & Free Prescriptions guide.

What does the tool do?

The tool will tell you if you're eligible for free prescriptions on the NHS by asking you questions – for example, if you have certain medical conditions, what benefits you claim and what savings and investments you have.

Even if you're not eligible for free prescriptions, it will set out several options that could help you save on medicine costs. These include getting a 'prescription prepayment certificate' – effectively a season ticket that covers all your prescription costs for a set period of time – or applying for financial help based on your household income.

To check if you're eligible for free prescriptions, try the tool here.

Despite the tool having been tested for a few months in 'Beta', the NHS says it's at the stage where it's fully functional and ready to use.

Who can get free prescriptions?

Free prescriptions are offered to those who are 'ordinarily residents' in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – meaning people who live there legally and on a properly settled basis. In England, you may be eligible for them if you meet certain set criteria – for example, if you:

  • Get certain benefits, including income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Have a valid maternity exemption certificate
  • Have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • Have a valid war pension exemption certificate
  • Have an HC2 certificate (NHS Low Income Scheme)
  • Are over 60
  • Are under 16 (or 16-18 and in full-time education)

If you can get free prescriptions, you can just fill in the back of the form at the pharmacy to say so. 

It's important to only say you're eligible for free prescriptions if you actually are though. If you get it wrong and are found to have incorrectly said you're eligible, you could face a penalty charge notice of up to £100 and – in extreme cases – prosecution.

How can I cut my costs if I can't get free prescriptions?

Even if you can't get free prescriptions, there are other ways you can cut your medicine costs, such as:

  • Getting a prescription prepayment certificate. A three-month one costs £29.10 or a year's costs £104 – and once you've got it it covers all your prescriptions in that time. They usually save money if you use more than one prescription a month.

  • Ask your GP if a bigger prescription's appropriate. Doctors sometimes automatically write out prescriptions for smaller amounts, but in some cases (for example, if you're being prescribed hay fever medication and you know you'll suffer all summer) it may be worth asking if it's appropriate for you to be prescribed a bigger pack. Remember though, your GP's main focus is your health and they may have a medical reason for not prescribing a bigger pack. 

See our Cheap Medicines guide for a full list of tips, including how to save by switching from branded to generic medicines, how to find free or cheap flu jabs, how to buy for less at supermarkets and discount stores, and much more. 

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