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Decent vision should not be an 'optional extra' and government help is needed, warn eye care professionals - check if you qualify for support

Decent vision should not be an 'optional extra' and government help is needed, warn eye care professionals - check if you qualify for support

Millions of people across the UK are struggling to afford eye care due to the cost of living crisis, industry experts have said. They're now urging the Government to increase the amount people can get to cover the cost of glasses and contact lenses. Here's what you need to know, plus the support available.

Currently, the amount you can get towards eye care costs from the NHS varies between £39.90 and £219.80 depending on your prescription and the strength of your lenses. But trade body the Association of Optometrists (AOP) has launched a campaign calling on the Government to increase this amount by 12.5% - roughly £5 extra per person - to help people who are struggling financially.

It comes after the AOP's survey of 1,000 people in the UK found that many were wearing out-of-date prescriptions, "making do" with taped together glasses, or even borrowing glasses from friends and family because they couldn't afford to buy their own.

Adam Sampson, chief executive of the AOP said: “People are being forced to make decent vision an optional ‘extra’ — a truly concerning reality. It’s imperative that action is taken now to minimise the long-term damage to people’s eyesight.” 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "The recently-appointed national clinical director for eye care will work with ministers to oversee the recovery and longer-term transformation of services so that patients receive the right care at the right time."

How to get a free eye test

  • Some may be able to get a free eye test if they meet certain eligibility requirements, for example: 

- Dependent on your age - if you're under 16, aged 16, 17, or 18 and in full time education, or you're over 60. 
- Dependent on your health - if you're registered blind or at risk of glaucoma (these are just some examples).
- Dependent on your income - if you're on certain means tested benefits, such as Universal Credit and you either had no earnings or had earnings of £435 or less in your last assessment period (other examples and benefits also apply). 

You can check full eligibility on the NHS website - this is applicable UK-wide. If you're told to pay when you didn't need to, ensure you get a receipt that shows you paid for the test and the date of payment and then reclaim the cost (you can see the link above to the NHS website for more on how to do this).

Download an HC5(O) refund claim form for optical costs from the NHS Business Services AuthorityYou can also visit our Cheap and free prescriptions guide for more ways to save on medication and healthcare needs. 

  • If you work at a computer, check if your employer offers free eye tests

If you work at a computer, you could be entitled to a free eye test through your employer. Each employer will have a different arrangement for this - some will let you book your own eye test and claim the money back on expenses, while others may prefer that all staff are seen by the same optician. It's best to speak to your employer and ask how it works for you. See our free eye tests guide for more. 

  • For everyone else, look out for free and discounted eye tests

Glasses retailers do offer discounted or free eye tests from time-to-time, so keep an eye out for these. Ace and Tate, for example, currently offers free eye tests at its stores.  

How to get free or discounted glasses or contact lenses 

  • Some may be able to get NHS optical vouchers to help towards costs, for example:

- Dependent on your age - if you're under 16, aged 16, 17, or 18 and in full time education, or you're over 60. 
- Dependent on your income - if you're on certain means tested benefits, such as Universal Credit and you either had no earnings or had earnings of £435 or less in your last assessment period (other examples and benefits also apply). 

You can check full eligibility on the NHS website - again, this is applicable UK-wide.  

These vouchers are given to you by your optometrist when you go in for an eye test, so make sure you let them know ahead of your appointment if you're eligible. They'll ask you to show proof of your entitlement to the voucher.

  • Check if you can get help towards glasses and contacts via your employer

You might be able to have your eye care costs covered if you have a healthcare cash plan provided for by your employer. This means if you shell out for NHS or private treatment from the optician (as well as from dentists or physios, for example), you send your provider the receipt and it gives you the cash back up to an annual limit (the more you pay, the bigger the limit). See our Healthcare cash plan guide for further details. 

  • Everyone else should look for retailer discounts

Retailers may also offer discounts and sales on eye wear, so keep an eye out. We have a regularly-updated list of Cheap deals on glasses. This currently includes a pair of Ted Baker prescription specs for £37 delivered (normally £135).  Meanwhile, our contact lenses guide has more info on how to halve the annual cost of your contact lenses.

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