You can get free NHS prescriptions if, at the time the prescription is dispensed, you:
- 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 (MatEx)
- have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid MedEx
- hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
- are an NHS inpatient
You're also entitled to free prescriptions 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
- income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
- Universal Credit and meet the criteria
If you're entitled to or named on:
- a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate – if you do not have a certificate, you can show your award notice; you qualify if you get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less
- 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.
People with certain medical conditions can get free NHS prescriptions if:
- they have one of the conditions listed below, and
- they hold a valid medical exemption certificate
Medical exemption certificates are issued on application to people who have:
- a permanent fistula (for example, a caecostomy, colostomy, laryngostomy or ileostomy) requiring continuous surgical dressing or an appliance
- a form of hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison's disease) for which specific substitution therapy is essential
- diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism
- diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone
- myasthenia gravis
- myxoedema (hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement)
- epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy
- a continuing physical disability that means the person cannot go out without the help of another person (temporary disabilities do not count, even if they last for several months)
They're also issued for people undergoing treatment for cancer:
- including the effects of cancer, or
- the effects of current or previous cancer treatment
Check you're eligible
There's a simple way to find out if you're entitled to free NHS prescriptions and any help with other NHS costs.
How to apply for a medical exemption certificate
Ask your doctor for an FP92A form to apply for a medical exemption certificate.
Your GP will sign the form to confirm that your statement is correct. At your GP's discretion, a member of the practice who has access to your medical records can also sign the form.
Your certificate will be valid from 1 month before the date the NHS Business Authority receives the application form.
The MedEx lasts for 5 years and then needs to be renewed. You may receive a reminder that your certificate needs to be renewed.
If you do not receive a reminder, it's your responsibility to make sure it's renewed.
You can find more information about the application process and refunds on the NHS Business Authority website.
Free prescriptions for cancer patients
Prescription charges for cancer patients were abolished on April 1 2009.
Exemption certificates will be issued to those applicants who, in their doctor's judgement, are receiving treatment for:
- the effects of cancer, or
- the effects of current or previous cancer treatment
Guidance about the extension of the list of medical conditions has been issued to doctors.
It includes guidance on who the medical exemption is intended to cover.
Exemption for renal dialysis patients
Any renal dialysis patient who has a permanent fistula (permanent means lasting indefinitely) that requires an appliance or surgical dressing is entitled to medical exemption if they have completed application form FP92A and a doctor has signed the form to confirm the condition.
Whether or not you have a permanent fistula that requires an appliance or surgical dressing is a matter for your doctor's clinical judgement.
The criteria are met where there's a clinical need for a permanent fistula to be covered by a surgical dressing (for example, between haemodialysis treatments) or by an appliance (such as a catheter for peritoneal dialysis).
Exemption for pregnant women
If you're pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months, you get free:
- NHS prescriptions (but only if you have a valid maternity exemption certificate
- NHS dental treatment (when you were accepted for a course of treatment)
To apply for your maternity exemption certificate, contact your doctor, midwife or health visitor.
Your certificate will last until 12 months after the expected date of birth of your baby.
If your baby's born early, you can continue to use your certificate until it expires.
If your baby is born late, you can apply for an extension.
If you apply after your baby is born, your certificate will run for 12 months from your baby's birth.
I'm on a low income. How can I get help with NHS charges?
If you're on a low income, you may be eligible to receive financial help through the NHS Low Income Scheme.
To apply for an HC2 certificate, you should complete form HC1, which is available from Jobcentre Plus offices or most NHS hospitals.
Your doctor, dentist or optician may be able to give you one, too.
You can also get an HC1 form by calling 0300 123 0849.
Whether you qualify for help is based on a comparison between your weekly income and assessed requirements at the time the claim is made.
You qualify for a full help HC2 certificate (which includes free NHS prescriptions) if your income is less than or equal to your requirements, or your income is greater than your requirements by no more than half the current English prescription charge.
You qualify for a limited help HC3 certificate if your income is greater than your requirements by more than half the current English prescription charge.
The HC3 certificate shows how much you have to pay towards your health costs.
Certificates are usually valid for periods of between 6 months and 5 years, depending on your circumstances.
How can I claim a refund?
Ask your pharmacist, hospital or doctor for the refund form (FP57) when you pay for your prescription. You cannot get one later.
You have to apply for a refund within 3 months of paying the prescription charge.
If you receive Universal Credit and meet all the criteria to be entitled to help with health costs but did not get a refund form (FP57), contact the NHS Business Services Authority. They'll consider applications for refunds on a case-by-case basis.
If you paid for a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) and have become exempt from paying for prescriptions, you may be able to get some or all of the money back for your PPC.
The NHS Business Services Authority website explains how to claim a refund for the PPC fee.
You can also call the Department of Health and Social Care publications order line on 0300 123 0849 to order a leaflet.
- Dental services helpline: 0300 330 1348
- NHS Low Income Scheme helpline: 0300 330 1343
- Prescription services helpline: 0300 330 1349
- Queries about medical exemption certificates: 0300 330 1341
- Queries about prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs): 0300 330 1341
- Queries about tax credit certificates: 0300 330 1347
- Call 0300 123 0849 to order a paper copy of the HC12, HC5 and HC1 (SC) forms
- Call 0300 330 1343 for all other queries
Page last reviewed: 1 April 2017
Next review due: 1 April 2020