Eyes up! Free NHS prescription age may align with State Pension age

The free NHS prescription age could soon be aligned with the State Pension age. What can you expect if it is? Will you still be eligible?

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Between 1 July and 3 September this year, the government ran a consultation seeking views on whether the upper age for NHS prescription charge exemptions should align with the State Pension age. We’re still waiting for feedback from the government, but what can you expect if the free NHS prescription age is aligned with the State Pension age? And what if it means you’re no longer eligible? What can you do then?

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What is the free NHS prescription age?

Most adults in England have to pay NHS prescription charges. These include charges on drugs, medication and treatments prescribed by an NHS medical practitioner. However, if you’re eligible, you can get free NHS prescriptions. One of the eligibility criteria is being 60 or over.

Why align it with the State Pension age?

Initially, the free NHS prescription age was 65 or over, but this was extended to women aged 60 in 1974 and later to men aged 60 in 1995. The extension was based on the State Pension age for women at the time.

Since then, the State Pension age has risen to 66, creating a disconnect between the free NHS prescription age and the State Pension age.

The default retirement age, though abolished, was 65. Individuals can still continue working past the age of 60 and 65, meaning they can meet the cost of their prescriptions. For this reason, the government intends to align the NHS prescription age and the State Pension age.

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What can you expect if the free NHS prescription age aligns with the State Pension age?

Aligning the upper age exemption for NHS prescription charges with the State Pension age would leave many people in their 60s ineligible.

In the worst cases, this could result in some over-60s not being able to afford prescriptions, meaning they may resort to risky coping methods. For example, some may fail to follow prescription instructions in an effort to make them last longer, while others may fail to use preventative medication as advised. 

Additionally, if the free NHS prescription age is aligned with the State Pension age, it’s your responsibility to determine whether you’re still eligible. Many over-60s could incur penalty charges if they make incorrect claims.

The NHS has clearly outlined that they carry out checks on patients’ claims. This is because NHS loses significant funds when people who aren’t eligible claim free prescriptions or dental treatment, reducing the money available for core patient care.

Patients thought to be ineligible will be sent an enquiry letter asking them to confirm their entitlement. A Penalty Charge Notice will then be sent to them if they fail to respond within 28 days.

Incorrect claims can lead to a penalty of five times the original amount owed, up to a maximum of £100. And if you haven’t made any payment after 28 days, a surcharge may be added.

Take away

Keep an eye out for the government’s decision to align free NHS prescription age and the State Pension age. If they’re aligned, reassess your claim to confirm you’re still eligible to avoid incurring charges.

And if you’re not eligible but still face difficulty affording NHS prescriptions, find out whether you’re eligible for other government benefits. They can ease the financial stress, helping you afford your prescriptions.

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