How to save money on your prescriptions

NHS prescription charges in England are to be frozen to ease the cost of living crisis. Yet many are still missing out on ways to save money on prescriptions.

various pharmaceutical drugs
(Image credit: getty images)

NHS prescription charges in England have been frozen for the first time in 12 years in a bid to help ease the cost of living. But with prescription costs at £9.35 a pop, the costs of staying healthy can add up. We show you how to get your medicine cheaper or for free.

Prescription charges normally go up in line with inflation, but will instead be frozen for the first time in 12 years. It’s a move the government claims will save patients an estimated £17m.

As a result, the cost of a prescription will continue to be £9.35 until at least April 2023. 

But, depending on your circumstances, you can get a prescription for free or at cheaper prices. 

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Over a million people in England overpaid for prescriptions between April 2020 and April 2021 according to MoneySavingExpert’s. Research found patients missed out on average savings of £40 because they did not use a prescription prepayment certificate, which offers savings to those who pay for more than one prescription a month. 

With the cost of living going rocketing, driven by the likes of energy prices increasing and soaring food prices, now is the time to ensure you are getting your prescription as cheaply as possible, if not for free. Here’s what you need to know.

Who gets free NHS prescriptions?

You can get a free prescription if you fall into one of the following groups 

  • Aged 60 or older
  • Aged under 16
  • Aged 16 to 18 and in full-time education
  • Are pregnant or had a baby in the last 12 months and have a maternity exemption certificate 
  • Have a specific medical condition and have a medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • Have a continuing physical disability that stops you going out without help from another person and have a medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • Have a war pension certificate and the prescription is for an accepted disability
  • Are a hospital inpatient
  • You or your partner receive ‒ or you’re under the age of 20 and the dependent of someone receiving ‒ income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit

To double-check if you need to pay for your prescription, use the NHS eligibility checker (opens in new tab)

Free prescriptions for pregnant women 

If you are pregnant or had a baby in the last 12 months, you can get free prescriptions if you have a valid maternity exemption certificate. 

You also get free dental care on top.

You should apply for this certificate as soon as you know you’re expecting to take advantage of the free period. Your doctor or midwife does it for you and once you are registered, you will get either a digital certificate if you have an email or a paper one via the post.

The certificate is valid for 12 months from your due date (or when you give birth). 

If you are in need of medicine before you get your certificate, let the pharmacist know you are waiting for your certificate - but do not avoid getting your medicine because of it. 

Can I get a free prescription if I have low income? 

If you have a low income, you will need to apply for an HC2 certificate to get financial help with prescription costs . 

To get the certificate, you need to complete the HC1 (opens in new tab) form, which is available from Jobcentre Plus offices or most NHS hospitals. You might also be able to get an HC1 form from your doctor, dentist, optician or by calling 0300 123 0849.

A certificate is usually valid for between six months and five years, depending on your circumstances.

Who can get a Medical Exemption Certificate?

If you have certain long-term medical conditions, you could get free prescriptions with a medical exemption (MedEx) certificate. You will need to ask your GP for a FP92A form (opens in new tab), which the doctor must also sign. The MedEx is valid for five years. 

How to get cheaper prescriptions 

If you regularly pay for your medicine, a prescription prepayment certificate is a great way to cut the costs. The certificates allow you to get as many prescriptions as you need over the allotted period, for a set price.

It costs £108.10 for 12 months and you can pay for it in instalments if you prefer. 

With a single prescription costing £9.35, the cost of 12 prescriptions would cost £112.20, so if you get more than 12 prescriptions a year, then this could really slash the costs.

If you don't quite need a year, you can also get a three-month prescription prepayment certificate at £30.25. 

You can buy a prescription prepayment certificate (opens in new tab) online, at a pharmacy or over the phone on 0300 330 1341. And if you've paid for prescriptions while waiting for your certificate to arrive, you can fill in an NHS FP57 refund form to get your money back. Your local pharmacy should be able to provide you with the form. 

Katie is staff writer at The Money Edit. She was the former staff writer at The Times and The Sunday Times. Her experience includes writing about personal finance, culture, travel and interviews celebrities.  Her investigative work on financial abuse resulted in a number of mortgage prisoners being set free - and a nomination for the Best Personal Finance Story of the Year in the Headlinemoney awards 2021.