In England NHS prescriptions are charged at a standard rate of £8.80 per item (elastic hosiery items are charged at £17.60).

However, some patients are entitled to free prescriptions.

For example if you are an in-patient at an NHS hospital your prescriptions will be free of charge during your stay. Those who receive an NHS prescription for contraception do not have to pay a fee.

Here we will explain the different circumstances in which NHS prescriptions are given for free. Whether someone receives free NHS prescriptions can depend on:

Age

Your age can determine if you should receive free NHS prescriptions. The age groups entitled to free prescriptions include:

  • children under the age of 16
  • those aged between 16-18 and in full time education
  • and those over the age of 60.

Electronic prescriptions tend to print your date of birth and therefore proof of age is not usually required. However, if you’re aged between 16-18 you may need to provide proof that you are still in full time education.

Medical conditions

Patients with certain medical conditions can apply for a medical exemption certificate. A valid medical exemption certificate allows you to receive free NHS prescriptions for five years or until your 60th birthday (whichever comes first).

You can apply for a medical exemption certificate if you have one of the following conditions:

  • a permanent fistula (for example, an ileostomy) which requires continuous surgical dressing or a special appliance
  • epilepsy which requires continuous anticonvulsive therapy
  • certain forms of hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison’s Disease) which requires specific substitution therapy
  • hypoparathyroidism
  • diabetes insipidus and other forms of hypopituitarism
  • diabetes mellitus (not including forms where diet is the single treatment)
  • myasthenia gravis
  • myxoedema
  • a lifelong physical disability which means you depend on the help of another person
  • cancer

Pregnant women

Pregnant women and women who have given birth in the last 12 months can request a maternity exemption certificate.

A maternity exemption certificate is valid for 12 months after your baby’s due date or their date of birth, depending on when you applied.

New and expectant mothers are also entitled to free NHS dental care.

Benefits

You will automatically receive free NHS prescriptions if you receive one of the following state benefits:

  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credits

You may be entitled to free NHS prescription if you are receiving Universal Credit or Contribution-based benefits, but you will need to check that you meet certain conditions.

Tax Credits

If your annual family income does not exceed a certain threshold (currently £15,276) and you receive one of the following:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit paid together
  • or Working Tax Credit including disability element

you will be automatically eligible for an NHS tax credit exemption certificate, which means you do not have to pay for NHS prescriptions.

HM Revenue and Customs should inform the NHS and you should receive your certificate in the post.

This type of certificate is valid for seven months. New certificates are issued prior to the expiration date if your circumstances still meet the requirements.

Low income

Students and pensioners may be entitled to claim for free NHS prescriptions if they have a valid HC2 certificate. You can apply for this certificate as part of the NHS low income scheme, if you have less than £16,000 in savings, investments or property.

War Pension Scheme and Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

You are entitled to free NHS prescriptions if you are in receipt of a valid war pension exemption certificate. However, your certificate may only cover medications related to your disability.

How can I check if I’m entitled?

The UK Government website has a tool which can help you find out if you are entitled to free prescriptions. But if you still aren't sure, your pharmacist should be able to give you more information.

If you don't qualify for free prescriptions, you may be able to save money on regular prescription costs with an NHS prepayment certificate.