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Exclusive: One million people overpaid for prescriptions because they didn't get an NHS 'season ticket' – how to cut your medical costs

Exclusive: One million people overpaid for prescriptions because they didn't get an NHS 'season ticket' – how to cut your medical costs

More than one million people in England missed out on average savings of £40 in the 12 months to April 2021 because they did not use a prescription 'season ticket', according to data from our Freedom of Information request. These certificates typically offer savings to users who pay for more than one prescription a month. 

Figures from the NHS Business Services Authority disclosed to MoneySavingExpert.com show 1,063,648 people paid for at least 12 prescriptions in the 2020/21 financial year, with 16 being purchased on average.

Paying £9.15 for each prescription, rather than a single payment of £105.90 for unlimited prescriptions (which has now increased to £108.10) using the season ticket, shows an average overspend of £40 – or £43 million in total.

We explain more on how the season ticket, officially known as a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), works below, but did you know some medication can cost substantially less if bought over the counter? See our Cheap and free prescriptions guide to find out how you can save. Prescriptions remain free of charge for those residing in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Each year more people miss out on savings

The number of people who could have saved money from buying an annual PPC has risen steadily for each of the past six years, and it's the third year running that more than one million patients could have saved money using one.

How many people could have saved using an annual prepayment certificate in 2020/21

Financial year Number of patients in England who could have saved with an annual PPC
2015/16 745,764
2016/17 825,693
2017/18 828,257
2018/19 1,042,008
2019/20 1,058,147
2020/21 1,063,648

Never used a prescription season ticket? Here's how it works

A single prescription currently costs £9.35, while an annual season ticket currently costs £108.10 – though you can pay for it by direct debit in 10 instalments of £10.81 each. This means you'll save money if you buy 12 or more prescriptions in a year. Alternatively, a three-month season ticket currently costs £30.25, so you'll save if you buy four or more prescriptions in three months.

It's worth getting one of these season tickets now though, as prescription and PPC prices tend to rise each April, though we don't yet know the costs for the 2022/23 financial year.

You can buy a season ticket online, over the phone on 0300 330 1341, or at many pharmacies. It can be paid for by card or by direct debit. And if you've paid for prescriptions while waiting for your season ticket to arrive, you can use an NHS FP57 refund form (ask the pharmacy or dispensary which dispenses your prescription for one) to get your money back.

In the 2020/21 financial year, our Freedom of Information data revealed that there were 2,456,160 PPCs purchased in total, including both annual and three-month applications.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "England is the only one of the four UK nations that charges for prescriptions, and so it's frustrating to hear that many people are still paying more than they need to – especially at a time when every penny counts towards bills.

"We need to spread the word to anyone who regularly gets prescriptions – including some with chronic illnesses – to check out prepayment certificates. My simple rule of thumb is if you get more than one prescription a month, on average these 'season tickets' are the cheapest option as they cap what you need to pay. For a one-off payment, you get unlimited prescriptions for either three months or a year.

"So someone getting, say, two prescriptions a month would save over £100 a year. If you think that's you, check it out now in case we see another price hike at the beginning of spring."

Our readers have saved and so can you

Before buying a prescription season ticket, check first if you even need to pay for one

Before buying a prescription season ticket, always check first if you qualify for an exemption and can avoid paying for a prescription entirely. The NHS has an online 'Do I get free prescriptions?' tool where you can check your eligibility.

More people qualify than you think – not just those on a low income and in receipt of certain benefits. People aged under 16, 16 to 18, and 60 and over are also entitled to free prescriptions, as are those who are pregnant and those who have had a baby in the past 12 months, plus more.

Also be aware that if you're prescribed medication, such as painkillers or dermatology creams that are also available over the counter, often it's cheaper to buy them that way rather than buying them via prescription.

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