How to beat the NHS prescription cost hike

Prescription charges are going up by 20p in England from 1 April 2021, to £9.35 per item, but if you need regular prescriptions there is a way to reduce costs.

The rise only affects England because prescriptions are free of charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you need more than 13 items a year, you may be better off buying a prescription ‘season ticket’.

Here’s what you need to know.

What the rise means

The price of an item (not each prescription) will rise by 20p from £9.15 to £9.35 per item. However, several groups of people don’t pay for prescriptions:

  • If you’re aged 60 or over.
  • If you’re aged under 16 (or under 18 if you are in full-time education)
  • If you’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months (you’ll need a valid medical exemption certificate)
  • If you have a particular illness or medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate
  • If you’re on income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • If you’re on income support
  • If you’re on income-based employment and support allowance
  • If you’re receiving Pension Credit guarantee credit
  • If you’re on Universal Credit.

You can also get free prescriptions if you or your partner are named on, or are entitled to, an NHS tax credit exemption certificate or a valid HC2 certificate (full help with health costs).

Prescription ‘season tickets’

If you need a number of prescriptions in a year (14 or more, after the price rise on 1 April 2021) you may be better off buying a prescription prepayment certificate which will cover all your prescriptions for a year. There’s also a three month version (you’d need four or more prescription items in the three month period to save money with it). It costs £29.65 for three months if you buy one before 1 April, or £105.90 if you buy one lasting a year. If you buy a prepayment certificate after this date, it will cost you £30.25 for three months, or £108 if you buy one for a year.

If you buy the annual prescription prepayment certificate, you can pay for it by Direct Debit over ten months. The certificate also entitles you to free dental prescriptions, although not free dental treatment. You can buy a prepayment certificate at or at any pharmacy which sells prepayment certificates. It’s also possible to buy one over the phone by calling 0300 330 1341.

The table below shows how much you can save with a prepayment certificate depending on the number of prescriptions you need.

Number of prescribed medicines you need each monthSaving with a 12 month PPCSaving with a 3 month PPC
2More than £110 a yearMore than £20 in 3 months
3More than £215 a yearMore than £50 in 3 months
4More than £325 a yearMore than £75 in 3 months


NHS low income scheme

If you’re on a low income, you may also be able to get help with medical costs through the NHS Low Income scheme.

You will qualify for full or partial help towards prescription charges if:

  • You have savings or capital less than £16,000, or
  • You have savings or capital less than £23,250 and you live in a care home.

If you’re entitled to help, it also applies to your partner and any children who are dependent on you.

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