Help with NHS costs

Take a look at what help you could receive towards the cost of eye examinations, glasses and lenses, and prescriptions if you are blind or partially sighted, and how these vary in the different countries of the UK

Eye examinations

In Scotland

If you are a UK resident, you can get a free NHS eye examination from any optometrist in Scotland who provides NHS services. Most High Street opticians have optometrists who provide NHS services.

If you live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

You qualify for a free NHS eye examination if you are:

  • under 16, or aged under 19 and in full-time education
  • 60 or over
  • registered blind (severely sight impaired) or partially sighted (sight impaired)
  • diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • 40 or over and you are the close relative of someone with glaucoma, or you have been advised by an ophthalmologist that you are at risk of it
  • eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher.

You are also entitled to a free NHS eye examination if:

  • you receive a means-tested benefit (specifically Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, or Universal Credit)
  • you are entitled to, or named on, either a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2).

Help with the cost of glasses and lenses

Across the UK, you can get NHS vouchers that will help with much of the cost of glasses or contact lenses if you:

  • are aged under 16, or aged under 19 and in full-time education
  • or are eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher (your optician can tell you about this)
  • receive a means-tested benefit (specifically Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, or Universal Credit)
  • are entitled to, or named on, either a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2). People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.

You will be asked to show proof of your entitlement to optical vouchers to the optician or a member of their staff.

There are different vouchers according to the strength of your prescription: the stronger your prescription the higher the voucher’s value will be.

You can use your NHS optical voucher at any supplier that accepts them. If your glasses or contact lenses cost more than your voucher is worth, you will have to pay the difference.

Help with the cost of prescriptions

As part of the treatment for your eye condition, you may have to pick up prescriptions on a regular basis.

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland

You don’t have to pay for prescriptions – whatever your age or circumstances.

If you live in England

Your prescriptions should be free if you:

  • are 60 or over
  • are under 16
  • are 16-18 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 that prevents you from going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
  • are an NHS inpatient.

You are also entitled to free prescriptions if:

  • you receive a means-tested benefit (specifically Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, or Universal Credit)
  • you or your partner (including civil partners) are entitled to, or named on, either a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2).

Getting help under the Low Income Scheme

Even if you do not automatically qualify for help with NHS costs, you may be able to get either full or partial help with your NHS costs under something called the Low Income Scheme.

The amount of help you could receive is worked out by comparing your "requirements" with your income. You may qualify for either full or partial help with your NHS costs.

To claim under the Low Income Scheme, complete form HC1, which you can get from your local social security office, some GPs, dentists and opticians and send it to the Health Benefits Division.

If you are entitled to full help you will receive a HC2 certificate. If you can get partial help you will get a HC3 certificate. You can then present your certificate when paying for an item or service.

The HC2 and HC3 certificates are normally valid for 12 months. There is no limit on the number of claims you can make.

If you need more information or need help with the Low Income Scheme, call the Low Income Scheme Helpline on 0300 330 1343.

How to claim the exemption certificates

To claim a Medical Exemption Certificate for a specified health condition ask your GP to complete form FP92A (EC92A in Scotland), which they will sign and send to the Exemption Issue Office. You will need to produce your certificate each time you pick up your prescription.

To claim a Maternity Exemption Certificate complete application form FW8. Your GP, midwife or health visitor is asked to sign the form and send it to the Exemption Issue Office. You will need to produce your certificate each time you pick up your prescription.