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NHS costs and exemptions

There are charges for some NHS services, such as prescriptions, sight tests and dental treatment. However, some people can receive these free of charge. This is often described as being ‘exempt’ from certain NHS charges. Which NHS services you are eligible to receive for free depends on your situation. Immigration status doesn’t affect eligibility for these exemptions.

You may be exempt from some primary care charges in some situations, including the following:

  • You are aged 60 or over.
  • You are under 16, or 16 to 18 and in full-time education.
  • You are pregnant, or have had a baby in the previous 12 months.
  • You have a listed medical condition. These conditions include diabetes and epilepsy.
  • You have a physical disability and rely on help from another person to go out.
  • You receive certain welfare benefits, including Income Support or income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
  • You receive tax credits and are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate.

If you are on a low income, you may be entitled to help with health costs. To be assessed, you need to complete an HC1 form, which you can get from a Jobcentre Plus office, an NHS hospital or your GP practice. If you are eligible, you will then be sent an HC2 or an HC3 certificate, which will exempt you from primary care costs, including charges for prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests and glasses. An HC2 certificate entitles you to full financial help, including free prescriptions; an HC3 certificate entitles you to partial help.

Some medical treatment is free of charge to everyone. This includes:

  • Treatment administered by a GP during a consultation. This usually doesn’t include treatment prescribed by a GP, which you then have to collect from a pharmacy.  
  • Treatment administered at a hospital accident and emergency department, a minor injuries unit or an NHS walk-in centre.
  • Contraception services.
  • Treatment for a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

  • Treatment for a range of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, pandemic influenza, cholera, smallpox and typhoid.
  • Treatment for a mental disorder, if you are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 or subject to a Community Treatment Order.
  • HIV treatment (from October 2012).

Help with prescriptions costs (England only)

If you expect to receive more than 14 prescriptions per year, then buying a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) may save you money. (Each named drug you are prescribed will need a separate prescription, so you may end up paying several prescription fees at one time.) A PPC costs £29.10 for three months or £104 a year (as of July 2012) and there is no limit on the number of prescription items you can receive. You can order one by visiting www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/1127.aspx or by completing Form FP95, available from your pharmacy. This may be particularly useful for people with conditions that will require a number of prescriptions.

There is no prescription charge for anti-HIV drugs because they are dispensed either by hospital pharmacies or through HIV clinic ‘home’ delivery schemes.

HIV, GPs & other primary care

Published October 2012

Last reviewed October 2012

Next review October 2014

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.