Deadline to sign up to the Government's new Healthy Start system looms, but those eligible have faced big problems applying
Low-income households eligible for the Government's Healthy Start vouchers have just a few days to apply for a prepaid card to avoid missing out on payments. The existing paper vouchers are being phased out this month and families and expectant mothers must switch to the new system to continue to get help with food and milk costs.
Those eligible need to apply for the new prepaid card by Thursday 10 March to avoid a gap in their payments, but MoneySavingExpert.com has heard from a large number of people who say they have faced serious problems signing up to and using the new system.
According to the latest figures from the NHS Business Services Association (NHSBSA), in January 2022 some 204,146 people eligible for the scheme weren't claiming paper vouchers.
The scheme gives monetary support to women on a low income who are either pregnant or have parental responsibility for at least one child under the age of four, to buy milk, fruit, vegetables, instant formula, tinned pulses and some multivitamins.
Below we round up what you need to know.
How to apply for the new Healthy Start prepaid card
You can apply online for the new prepaid card now. Head to the NHS Healthy Start website and follow the instructions. It's the same process for both new and existing claimants.
You'll then get money added to your card each week. If you qualify, you'll get:
- £4.25 each week of your pregnancy from the 10th week
- £8.50 each week for children from birth to one year old
- £4.25 each week for children between one and four years old
If you're struggling with money, you can also use our Benefits Calculator to check you're not missing out on any financial support you may be entitled to.
Many have encountered big problems with the new Healthy Start system – though we're told the online application system has been fixed
Since the announcement of the prepaid card in November last year, many users have criticised the new scheme. Some have said they were rejected for the new card on application, despite having received the paper vouchers previously, while others said their card was rejected from shops that take Healthy Start vouchers.
People have also complained that when phoning the Healthy Start helpline, which costs up to 55p a minute, they have been unable to get through, have been left on hold for long periods of time, or have even been cut off.
We asked the NHSBSA if it would consider extending the end date for paper vouchers because of the problems people have encountered, but it said it would not. But it added that it only administers the Healthy Start scheme on behalf of the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and does not control any date changes.
However, it has today (Friday 4 March) told us it has fixed problems with the online application service that should help to resolve some of the issues people have faced.
A spokesperson said: "We would encourage anyone who believes that they are eligible and has had an online application rejected to try again now that the fix is in place."
The NHSBSA also said it is aware that phone lines are extremely busy and, to help, it has set up a separate automated phone line for people who are calling to activate their card and check their balance. You can reach this on 0300 330 2090. On the cost of the helpline, the NHSBSA would only say that this is set "at local rates".
People vented their frustration on Facebook
How to complain if you've had problems with Healthy Start
If you're having difficulty using or applying for your new prepaid card, then see the information on the Healthy Start FAQs page. You can also call the helpline number on 0300 330 7010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The NHSBSA is also encouraging rejected applicants to reapply following a fix to its online application process.
There is also a separate automated phone line for people who are calling to activate their card and check their balance. You can reach this on 0300 330 2090. Remember, both Healthy Start phone lines will cost you up to 55p a minute – you can check the charges on the Healthy Start website.
If you're still having difficulty, then you can complain to the NHSBSA. You can either fill in the online form, or phone the NHS low income scheme complaint number on 0300 330 1343. Again, there is a charge for this number, which you can find more about on the NHSBSA website.