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Are NHS prescriptions free?

Are NHS prescriptions free?

In England, the National Health Service prescription charge is at a standard rate of £9.35 per item. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland free NHS prescriptions are available to everyone. However, some patients in England are entitled to free prescriptions and it is your responsibility to check if you qualify, penalty charges can be issued if you falsely claim. It can be confusing to figure out if you are eligible for free prescriptions. This simple guide explains which groups are entitled to free NHS prescriptions in England.

In England, there are many different categories of people who are eligible for free NHS prescriptions. In each case, a factor like age or income is taken into account to ensure that people are charged fairly.

Items that are always free to NHS patients

  • Prescribed contraceptives
  • Medication given to you to take while you are an inpatient in an NHS hospital
  • Medicines given at an NHS clinic or hospital for the treatment of Tuberculosis
  • Medicines for the treatment of a mental health problem for people with a supervised community treatment order given at an NHS clinic or hospital
  • Medication to treat a sexually transmitted infection


You are eligible for free prescriptions if you are:

  • Under 16
  • Aged 16-18 and in full-time education
  • Aged 60 or over


There are various financial circumstances under which you become eligible for free NHS prescriptions.

If you are in receipt of Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, or income-related Employment and Support Allowance you are entitled to:

  • Free NHS prescriptions
  • Free NHS dental treatment
  • Free NHS sight tests
  • Free NHS wigs and fabric supports
  • Money towards glasses, contact lenses and travel for medical appointments

Tax credits

If you have a NHS tax credit exemption certificate, your entitlement gives you access to the same benefits shown in the income paragraph above if:

  • Your annual family income, used to work out your tax credits, is £15,276 or less and you receive Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit paid together
  • Working Tax Credit, including a disability element

Universal Credit

It’s possible to qualify for free prescriptions if:

  • You are receiving Universal Credit, provided that your earnings from your most recent assessment period were £435 or less (or £935 or less if your Universal Credit covers a child or limited capability for work). Under these circumstances, you will qualify for the benefits listed in the Income section

If you have a valid HC2 certificate as part of the NHS Low Income Scheme, you will be eligible for full help with free prescriptions. A valid HC3 certificate for partial help with health costs through the same scheme does not entitle you to free prescriptions.

Pregnancy and maternity

If you are a pregnant woman or have given birth in the past year, you are entitled to free NHS prescriptions and free NHS dental treatment. You will need to show a valid maternity exemption certificate. The certificate will last for 12 months from either your due date or the birth of your baby.

You can apply for your certificate once you have confirmation of your pregnancy from your midwife, doctor or health visitor.

Medical conditions and disability

People living with certain medical conditions are entitled to free NHS prescriptions as long as they have a valid medical exemption certificate. This certificate can be used for five years, or until you turn 60. This certificate can only be used for NHS prescriptions and must be shown every time you pick up medication at the pharmacy.

The medical conditions covered are:

  • Cancer
  • A physical disability that requires permanent support from another person
  • A permanent fistula requiring continuous surgical dressing or an appliance
  • Hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison’s disease) for which specific substitution therapy is essential
  • Diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone
  • Diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Myxoedema
  • Epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy

To apply you will need a form from your doctor; if you aren’t eligible your doctor will let you know.

If you have any of the conditions above you can apply for a medical exemption certificate. This certificate can be used for 5 years and a valid medical exemption certificate should be shown each time when receiving medication through a pharmacy. To apply you will need a form from your doctor.

War pensions

If you have been awarded a war pension and you are under 60 you can apply for a war pension exemption certificate. A valid war pension exemption certificate will qualify you to claim free NHS prescriptions for the accepted disability that relates to your pension (this includes free NHS wigs and fabric supports).

What is a prescription prepayment certificate?

If you get regular prescriptions, you could save money by buying a prescription prepayment certificate. This is sometimes called a PPC. Prescription prepayment certificates let you get as many NHS prescriptions as you need for one price. You can buy a PPC for 3 months or a PPC for 12 months. For more information go to www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/ppc for current prices. You can also buy PPCs over the counter at some pharmacies.

How do I get a medical exemption certificate (MedEx)?

If you have one of the medical conditions shown above you are eligible for a medical exemption certificate. Your doctor will be able to give you a FP92A application form. On the form, you must state your condition which your doctor will then need to sign as proof. Once completed, you’ll be asked to send the form to the NHS Business Service Authority using the address listed on their website.

Your MedEx will be active for five years before it needs to be renewed. The NHS should send you a reminder before your five years have expired, but it is your responsibility to keep track of how long your certificate has been active. You may be faced with a fine if you use an expired certificate to access free prescriptions. If you’ve had a change of address or circumstances you will need to update your records (your doctor must also be kept informed about any changes you make).

What does a medical exemption certificate cover?

A standard medical exemption certificate will exempt you from NHS prescription costs only. It is important to note that a medical exemption certificate is unlike a maternity, tax credit, or war pension exemption certificate. The certificate will not grant you free dental treatment or help with any other health costs. You’ll need to show your certificate each time you collect a new prescription.

How do I get my NHS exemption card?

By fitting one of the criteria above, you’re eligible for a medical exemption certificate, and you will then need to fill out a FP92A application form. Your doctor will then need to sign as proof of your condition. Fill out the form and send the form to the NHS Business Service Authority using the address listed on their website.

How do I renew my NHS medical exemption certificate?

Speak with your doctor to re-apply. You’ll be sent a reminder one month before your card is due to expire.

Important numbers and websites

  • NHS Help with Health Costs helpline: 0300 330 1343
  • Prescription services helpline: 0300 330 1349
  • Queries about medical exemption certificates: 0300 330 1341
  • Queries about prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs): 0300 330 1341
  • Queries about tax credit certificates: 0300 330 1347
  • Free NHS prescription eligibility checker on the NHS website


Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information in this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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