Revealed: Over a million people overpaid on NHS prescriptions because they didn't buy a 'season ticket' - here's how you can save
More than one million people in England missed out on savings of around £40 in the 12 months leading up to this April because they didn't buy a prescriptions 'season ticket'. That's according to data from our Freedom of Information request. Here's what you need to know and how you can cut your medical costs.
Figures obtained by MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) from the NHS Business Services Authority, which manages NHS finances, show that 1,064,992 people paid for at least 12 prescriptions in the 2021/2022 financial year, with around 16 items purchased on average.
Yet by paying £9.35 for each prescription - the cost both at the time and now - for an average of 16 prescriptions, rather than a single payment of £108.10 for unlimited prescriptions using a 12-month season ticket, you end up overpaying by roughly £40 a year - or around £43 million in total. Some 1,063,648 people also overpaid for prescriptions in the 2020/21 financial year.
We explain more on how the season ticket, officially known as a 'prescription prepayment certificate (PPC)', works below, but did you know that 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.
More than a million people are missing out on savings each year
Every year people are missing out on savings, with the last financial year being the fourth year in a row that the number of patients losing out has reached over one million.
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 prescription 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."
Here's how a prescription season ticket works - and how much you can save
Prescription and PPC prices tend to rise each April. However, for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 financial years prices have been frozen at £9.35 a prescription, £108.10 for an annual season ticket (though you can pay for it by direct debit in 10 instalments of £10.81 each), and £30.25 for a three-month certificate (you can't pay for this one in instalments).
This means a 12-month prescription can save you at least £4.10 a year if you buy at least 12 prescriptions. Alternatively, a three-month season ticket can save you at least £7.15 if you buy four or more prescriptions. However, the more prescriptions you need, the more you can save with a season ticket. Those paying for 16 prescriptions can save £41.50 with a 12-month season ticket, for example.
If you need multiple prescriptions and you don't already have a PPC it's worth getting one now, as we don't yet know if prescription and season ticket prices will rise for the 2023/24 financial year - though check first if you can get prescriptions for free as we outline below.
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 a prescription.
If it's right for you, here's how to buy a prescription season ticket
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 2021/22 financial year, our Freedom of Information request revealed there were 2,596,110 PPCs purchased in total, including both annual and three-month versions.