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Pregnant or have a child under four? Check if you can get £17+ a month to help with food costs as over 200,000 are missing out

If you're pregnant or have a child under the age of four, and you're on a low income, you may be eligible for a Healthy Start prepaid card offering at least £4.25 a week to spend on healthy food, milk and vitamins. But more than 215,000 people are missing out – here's how to check if you're eligible and apply.

For full info on how the scheme works and what you can get, see our Maternity grants and support for new parents guide. If you're not currently getting any benefits and you're on a low income, it's also worth using our 10-minute benefits checker to ensure you're not missing out on vital support.

Who's eligible for Healthy Start

If you live in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, you can apply for NHS Healthy Start if you're more than 10 weeks pregnant or have parental responsibility for a child under four AND you're getting at least one of the following benefits:

  • Child tax credit (but only if your annual family income is £16,190 or less);
  • Income support;
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance;
  • Pension credit (but only if you get the child element – for example, where you've been granted a guardianship); or
  • Universal credit (but only if your family earns £408 or less a month in take-home pay from employment).

You can also apply if:

  • You're under 18 and pregnant, even if you're not claiming any benefits;
  • You claim income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) and you're over 10 weeks pregnant;
  • You or your partner get working tax credit 'run on' only (this is the tax credit you get in the four weeks immediately after you've stopped working for 16 hours or more a week).

If you live in Scotland, the Best Start Foods scheme has similar but slightly different criteria – for full details, see the website.

What you'll get

Those on the Healthy Start scheme get a prepaid debit card, which you can use in-store to buy fruit, vegetables, pulses, cow's milk, infant formula and collect free vitamins. The card is topped up with payments automatically every four weeks.

Families on the scheme get:

  • £4.25 a week for each week of a pregnancy (from the 10th week of pregnancy);
  • £8.50 a week for each child aged up to one year old;
  • £4.25 a week for each child between one and four years old.

For more details on how the scheme works see our Support for new parents guide.

The Scottish Best Start Foods scheme pays out different amounts – for full details, see the website.

Hundreds of thousands are missing out

More than one in three (37%) of the 575,000 people who are eligible in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are not claiming their Healthy Start cash, according to the latest figures from NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), which runs the scheme on behalf of the UK Government.

And in Scotland, around one in 10 of those eligible (12%) for Best Start Foods aren't claiming their entitlement, according to the latest figures from the Scottish Government.

Problems with Healthy Start payments

Last year, many users encountered problems applying for the scheme after paper vouchers were phased out in favour of the current online, prepaid card system. The NHSBSA says it's in the process of contacting everyone who may have been affected and is offering backdated payments to those eligible.

It added that it's not possible to say how many people are owed a backdated payment or what the total amount owed will be until it's heard back from those it's contacting.

If you think you might be owed a payment but haven't heard from the NHSBSA, you can call its helpline number on 0300 330 7010 or email

If you're having any problems using or applying for the prepaid card, see the information on the Healthy Start FAQs page.

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