Do Students Need To Pay Prescription Charges? Here's All You Need To Know

Whilst living away from home for the first time in student accommodation, you are required to manage your finances and pay for rent, utility bills and grocery costs with your student loan, but there’s only so far this will stretch. 

With the added extra financial worries of having to pay for dental appointments, eye tests and possibly prescriptions, it can be challenging to manage your income, especially with the current cost of living crisis taking its toll on the UK. 

If you’re wondering whether you’re eligible to receive free NHS prescriptions whilst at university, or what you can do if you cannot afford to pay these charges, carry on reading to find out more! 

Who Is Eligible For Free Prescriptions? 

In April 2021, the rules changed on the eligibility for free prescriptions on the NHS.

If you’re 19 years old or above and living in England, you have to pay for your prescriptions, regardless if you’re in full-time education or not. 

Although, some groups are automatically exempt from prescription charges, if the following applies: 

  • are 60 or over
  • are under 16
  • are 16 to 18 and in full-time education
  • are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate 
  • have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • have a continuing physical disability 

You are also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner receive the following: 

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria

If you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you don’t have to pay for your prescriptions.

If you’re studying in England, don’t worry about having to pay prescription charges at university, as you can get an exemption card if you’re Welsh, Scottish or Irish. 

For a full list of who’s exempt from prescription charges, head to the NHS website.

How To Find Out If You’re Eligible

It can be confusing to determine whether or not you fall under one or more of the criteria’s for free prescriptions on the NHS and can receive help for other costs, but thankfully, you can find out online. 

Depending on your circumstances, you could be entitled to help with NHS costs including prescription charges, which you can determine by filling out this quick and easy eligibility checker.

The responsibility falls on to you to find out whether or not you’re entitled to free prescriptions on the NHS.

If you don’t pay for prescriptions when you’re meant to, you could receive a penalty charge of up to £100. 

It’s important to check whether you’re eligible, as you could land yourself in hot water and you don’t want to end up paying a big sum! 

how to find out if you're eligible for free prescriptions

How Much Are Prescription Charges? 

The cost of each prescription usually increases slightly every April, but this was frozen in 2022 due to the rising cost of living.

From April 1st 2023, the cost of prescription items in England has increased by 30p to £9.65 per item. 

Although, there are some medications and medical products which are always free, including contraceptives and medicines prescribed for hospital inpatients. 

how much are prescription charges in the UK

How To Get Free Prescriptions As A Student? 

As we stated earlier, if you’re a student in full-time education and under the age of 19, you are automatically entitled to full help with health costs. 

If you’re registered with a GP and living in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, you will get prescriptions completely free of charge, regardless of your age, income or other factors. 

For those aged 19 and over and living in England, you are expected to pay for your prescriptions, regardless if you’re studying at university or not.  

Although, for students registered with a GP in England, you may be able to qualify for the NHS Low Income Scheme, which is based on your income, not your parents. 

This scheme is available to people whose annual income (which does include student maintenance loans), savings and investments doesn’t exceed £16,000. 

If you’re eligible, you’ll receive full help with healthcare costs (an HC2 certificate) or partial help (HC3 certificate). 

student prescription charges

Applying For NHS Low Income Support 

To apply for support with healthcare costs under the NHS Low Income Support, you need to fill out a HC1 form and supply evidence of any grants, bursaries, and any awards you receive. 

For the vast majority of students, their annual income doesn’t exceed £16,000, so it’s likely you will fall into the low income bracket and be able to receive help with prescription charges. 

Despite the application being lengthy it’s worth filling out a HC1 form as you can save money on NHS prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests, glasses and contact lenses along with other healthcare costs (if you’re granted a HC2 certificate). 

To apply for NHS Low Income Support, you can either apply online or by sending your application in the post.

The application is said to take around 20 minutes, and you should receive a response within 18 working days. 

The best part is, if you’ve already paid for treatment and you discover you’re entitled to the scheme, you may be able to apply for a refund. 

The certificate can last anywhere from 6 months to 5 years, but this depends on your circumstances.

It’s always worth checking the expiry date when applying, as you don’t want to claim for longer than you’re entitled to! 

applying for NHS low income support

How To Save Money On Prescription Costs 

With the cost of living crisis impacting the UK at the moment, many people are cutting back on costs, especially those with low income like university students. 

If you’re wondering how you can save money if you don’t meet the criteria for free NHS prescriptions in England, or the NHS Low Income Support, then don’t worry, there are other ways you can cut back. 

For those who have repeat prescriptions, it could be cost-effective for you to buy a prepayment certificate, which allows you to pay for 3 or 12 months upfront.

A PPC will cover all of your prescriptions for that period, regardless of how many you need. 

A PPC costs either £31.25 for 3 months or £111.60 for 12 months (or 10 Direct Debit instalments of £11.16).

If you’re someone who frequently has to buy prescriptions, it may be worth looking into buying a PPC.

student prescription charges

There we have it, hopefully this guide has given you a better understanding of student prescription charges.

If you’re struggling financially as a student, make sure to reach out to your university for support.

Read next: Everything You Need To Know About The Emergency Alerts System In The UK.

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