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Pregnant or have a child under four? Check if you can get help with food costs as 189,000 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 able to get £4.25 a week to spend on food, milk and vitamins by applying for an NHS Healthy Start card. But more than 189,000 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 make sure you're not missing out on vital support.

Check if you're 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).
There's no deadline to claim by and you can continue to do so for as long as you meet the qualifying criteria. 

If you live in Scotland, the Best Start Foods scheme has similar but slightly different criteria – for full details, see the website. Around one in 10 of those eligible in Scotland (12%) are missing out by not claiming, according to the latest data.

What you can get under Healthy Start

If you're eligible for the Healthy Start scheme, you'll 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, which can't be used online, 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 with up to £9.90 a week available – for full details, see the website.

Problems with Healthy Start payments should now be resolved

Last year, many users encountered problems applying for Healthy Start payments after paper vouchers were phased out in favour of the current online, prepaid card system. Most of the people who were owed a payment have now been contacted, the NHSBSA has confirmed.

However, 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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