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The NHS in England: help with health costs

Free NHS sight tests and optical vouchers

Find out if you're entitled to a free NHS sight test or an optical voucher to help reduce the cost of glasses or contact lenses.

If you're not eligible for NHS-funded sight tests or optical vouchers, you'll have to cover the costs yourself.

The NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS) may provide partial help with the cost of a sight test, glasses, or contact lenses for those who don't qualify for full help but still have a low income.

This means you may have to pay a contribution towards the cost of the sight test or the value of your optical voucher, or both. 

Who's entitled to a free NHS sight test or optical voucher? 

If one or more of the criteria listed below applies to you, you'll be entitled to a free NHS sight test.

You're entitled to a free NHS sight test or optical voucher if you're:

  • aged 60 or over
  • registered blind or partially sighted
  • diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • aged 40 or over and have a close relative (parent, sibling or child) with a history of glaucoma
  • at risk of glaucoma (and your ophthalmologist has confirmed this)
  • aged under 16, or under 19 and in full-time education
  • eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher (see below)
  • a prisoner on leave from prison
  • receiving low-income benefits (see below)

Low-income benefits

You're also entitled to a free NHS sight test or optical voucher if you or your partner – including civil partner – receive, or you're under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving:

  • Income Support or Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (not contribution based)
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Income-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria

You're also eligible if you're entitled to or named on:

  • a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate – if you don't have a certificate, you can show your award notice; find out if you qualify for an NHS tax credit exemption certificate 
  • 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.

 Tip

A sight test is also free if the test is carried out through a hospital eye department or at the request of a hospital as part of the management of your eye condition.

NHS complex lens vouchers

To be eligible, your lenses need to be either -10/+10 dioptres or more, or prism-controlled bifocal lenses. 

Complex lens vouchers are a contribution towards the cost of these lenses – currently £14.60 for single vision lenses and £37.40 for bifocal lenses.

The vouchers are only available to those who meet the clinical criteria and aren't eligible for one of the main optical vouchers.

Mobile sight tests

If you're eligible for a free NHS sight test, you may also be entitled to a mobile sight test. This is when an optometrist comes to visit you:

  • at home – if you're unable to leave home unaccompanied because of physical or mental illness or disability
  • at a residential or care home – if you're a resident and unable to leave the home unaccompanied because of physical or mental illness or disability
  • at a day centre – if you can't get a sight test at an optician's practice because of physical or mental illness or disability, or difficulties communicating your health needs unaided

How can I claim a refund?

Sight test fees

If you paid for a sight test but think you may qualify for an NHS-funded sight test, or you're about to have a test and you aren't sure if you qualify, ask the optometrist for a receipt that shows you paid for the test and the date of payment.

Complete an HC5 claim form for optical charges (PDF, 398kb).

Glasses or contact lenses

If you have already used a voucher towards the cost of your glasses or lenses, you can't get a refund for any difference between the voucher value and the actual cost of your glasses or lenses, unless it was a complex lens voucher.

If you paid for glasses or contact lenses and think you may have qualified for a voucher, you can claim a refund. You'll need a receipt for the glasses or contact lenses you've bought, including the amount you paid and the date of payment. 

Complete an HC5 claim form for optical charges (PDF, 398kb). Make sure you enclose your optical prescription and the receipt with your HC5 when you send it off. The maximum refund you can get will be the voucher value that matches your prescription.

Lost or damaged glasses or contact lenses

If your glasses or contact lenses have been lost or damaged and you pay for replacement or repairs, you'll only be considered for a refund if you're entitled to a voucher.

If you have a question about claiming health costs

If you have questions about help with health costs, join the Help with Health Costs team on Facebook, where the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) will respond to your queries Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

Or you can call the Help with Health Costs helpline on 0300 330 1343.

You must check that you're entitled to help with health costs before signing any declaration stating that you are. You may have to pay a fine if you make a false claim. You would have to pay the cost of the sight test and the value of the voucher charge, plus a penalty charge of up to £100.

For more information, see Paying NHS charges.

Useful numbers

Help with Health Costs helpline – 0300 330 1343

Queries about medical exemption certificates – 0300 330 1341

Queries about tax credit certificates – 0300 330 1347

To order a paper copy of an NHS claims form – 0300 123 0849

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2017

Next review due: 03/07/2020

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