Patients on a new government welfare scheme are having to pay for their prescriptions, as NHS forms do not allow patients to specify that they are on Universal Credit.
According to the single parent charity Gingerbread, an administrative issue is leaving patients who receive certain benefits to pay for their own prescriptions.
The government’s new Universal Credit scheme replaces six benefits, including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and working tax credits.
Patients who receive a Jobseeker’s Allowance are eligible for free prescriptions under the NHS, while those that receive working tax credits do not.
However, NHS forms do not make it clear to patients how to declare that they are on Universal Credit, while there are specific boxes to confirm that they are eligible for the previously separate income support or Jobseekers Allowance.
The charity has heard anecdotally that patients face fines because they were unaware of how Universal Credit impacted their health assistance.
One person told the charity that she received a letter from the NHS informing her that she owes money for dental treatment and a prescription and has incurred a fine as a result.
She told the charity that she was not informed how the new benefit scheme would impact prescription fees and is now unable to collect her prescription because she can’t afford the fine.
Dr Andrew Green, clinical and prescribing policy lead for the BMA’s GP committee, said the problem mainly effects dispensing practices, ‘but even there the onus is on patients to declare if they are entitled to free prescriptions, rather than on the practice to check their entitlement’.
He added: ‘Clearly the last thing that people on low incomes need is a fine through misunderstanding their eligibility, and when benefits are awarded they do deserve clear information to ensure they do not mistakenly make claims to which they are not entitled.’
There is advice on the NHS website telling patients to ‘tick the box for income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance’ where there is no tick box for Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health told Pulse they are planning to update the forms in due course but have yet to set a date for when that will be.
Daisy Srblin, policy officer at Gingerbread, said families receiving Universal Credit face financial difficulties that are made worse ‘by unexpected costs such as dental fees and prescriptions’.
She said: ‘The official advice is pay first and claim later – but for many this is a cost they simply can’t afford. The aim has been a simplified benefits system; the reality is that the NHS and DWP systems (like so many other government departments) don’t work together, creating confusion, complexity and often additional costs for single parents.
‘We want to see the administrative challenges resolved, and for Universal Credit claimants to be supported as they are entitled to be so that they are not pushed further into debt.’