The cost of health problems can be a worry, but there’s lots of help available. Some of it depends on your income and savings, and some of it is available to everyone.
The NHS Low Income Scheme
If you, or your partner if you have one, are on a low income and have capital of less than £16,000, or £23,250 if you live permanently in a care home (£24,000 in Wales), you may qualify for the NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS). Both you and your partner could get either full or partial help with health costs. It covers:
- prescription costs
- dental costs
- eye tests, glasses and contact lenses
- help with the cost of travel to and from hospital or other NHS medical appointments
- NHS wigs and fabric supports.
You can check if you’re eligible for the NHS LIS here.
To apply, fill in form HC1. This is available from NHS hospitals, chemists and local benefit offices, or direct from the NHS website. You could also get it from your local Jobcentre Plus office or NHS hospital. If you qualify, you’ll be sent a certificate telling you what you can get and for how long.
You don’t need to apply for the NHS LIS if you or your partner already receive Guarantee Pension Credit, because this entitles you to full help with health costs. Take your benefit letter to appointments as proof of eligibility.
Claiming a refund
You might be able to get a refund on some health costs you paid before applying for the NHS LIS or before you started receiving Guarantee Pension Credit.
For example, you can get a refund on any prescription charges you have to pay while you wait for your certificate. You can also do this for prescription charges you’ve paid in the three months before you applied for the NHS LIS. Just ask the chemist for an NHS refund receipt – called the FP57 form. You should ask for it when you pay for your prescription, because you can’t get the form later.
You can claim a refund on other charges paid within the past three months by filling in the relevant HC5 form. Call 0300 330 1343 if you live in England or Scotland, or 0345 603 1108 if you live in Wales. You can also visit the NHS Low Income Scheme webpage to get the relevant HC5 form.
Prescriptions are free if you’re 60 or over. If you’re under 60 and have certain medical conditions, you can apply for an NHS Medical exemption certificate.
You can have a free NHS eye test at least every two years if you’re 60 or over.
If you or your partner receive Guarantee Pension Credit, you can get vouchers towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses.
Some high-street opticians offer reductions on the price of glasses for over-60s, so it's worth checking before you choose where to buy your glasses.
You can get help with some or all of your dental care costs. If you or your partner receive Guarantee Pension Credit, you can both get free NHS dental care.
NHS hearing tests are free and can be booked through your GP. If you can’t get to a face-to-face hearing test without help, you may be eligible for a free check at home. Ask your GP for details.
RNID provides a free short hearing check online. It's not a substitute for a full hearing test, but can be useful as a quick first check.
If you have an NHS hearing aid, you can get free batteries and repairs from any NHS hearing aid service. Ask your audiologist about services in your area.
If you’re 50 or over, or if you're under 50 and have certain medical conditions, you can get a free annual flu jab.
If you’re 65 or over, you can get a free pneumococcal jab to protect against illnesses such as pneumonia.
A seasonal COVID-19 booster vaccination is also available to anyone aged 50 or over. You should be contacted by the NHS when you are due your booster. You will usually be offered it around 6 months after your last COVID-19 vaccine. When it’s the right time for you to have it, you can book your booster online.
You’ll also be eligible for a free shingles vaccine if you’re 70 or 78. In addition, anyone who qualified for the vaccine in the first three years of the programme, but missed out, can still get it until their 80th birthday. This includes people in their 70s born after 1 September 1942, and people aged 79.
Getting to hospital
If you’re receiving Guarantee Pension Credit or have an NHS LIS certificate, you may be entitled to help with travel costs if you’ve been referred for an appointment by your GP or dentist. If you have a medical need for someone to accompany you, you should also be able to claim travel costs for them.
You can claim back travel costs by completing form HC5 – if you live in England or Scotland you can get it from the NHS website. If you live in Wales you have to order the form over the phone. Call 0345 603 1108 and select the option for ‘health publications’. If you need to be paid before you travel, check with your GP or the hospital in advance. You should claim back any costs within three months.
Also of interest
Also in this section
Check if you qualify for the NHS LIS on the NHS website.
Read our guide Pension Credit or call our Helpline to see if you qualify for Guarantee Pension Credit.
To find out more about help with health costs, visit the NHS website.
Call our free Helpline on 0800 319 6789
By calling Independent Age's free and impartial Helpline, you can get information and advice from one of our friendly advisers, or order our free guides.