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What healthcare benefits am I entitled to?

By David Malcolm

Friday 4 March 2011 Info and advice

Most government-funded healthcare treatment is free for UK residents, but fixed charges apply for some services. As a student, you need to know what charges you might have to pay.

NHS/HS chargeable services

The NHS (National Health Service for England, Wales and Scotland) and HS (Health Service for Northern Ireland) charge for services including:

  • prescriptions
  • sight tests
  • glasses or contact lenses
  • dental treatment
  • wigs or fabric supports
  • travel to hospital.

Some groups of people are exempted from charges, but students as a whole don’t have automatic exemption.

Who is exempt?

Whether you’re exempt from paying for health services depends on the UK country you’re living in and the service. Exemptions often apply to some services but not others.

You should register with a doctor where you’re studying in order to take advantage of the local exemptions. One of the big differences between the countries is that you don’t pay for prescriptions except in England.

Exemptions also depend on your circumstances. These are mostly determined by:

  • age: throughout the UK young people aged under 18 in full-time education are exempt from almost all charges, and if you’re 19 and in full-time education you’re still exempt from many; also, in Wales everyone under 25 qualifies for free dental examinations (but may be charged for other treatment)
  • whether you’re in receipt of benefits (eg low-income benefits like income support) and/or tax credits
  • medical condition(s)
  • whether you’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months: you may be exempt from prescription charges and charges for dental treatment.

For the NHS (England, Wales and Scotland), you can read a summary of the groups eligible for exemption. You should also check the exemption details for each health service (these sites also tell you the charges if you’re not exempt):

Applying for exemption if you have a low income

If you aren’t exempt from health charges, you can apply for whole or partial exemption if your income is low enough.

Whether or not you qualify depends on a comparison between your weekly income and assessed requirements. If you qualify you can claim for a certificate before you need any treatment, so that you can budget accordingly. However, if you’ve already paid for something, you can apply for a refund at the same time you apply for a certificate.

For England, Wales and Scotland see the Low Income Scheme for more details, including details of how to apply. For Northern Ireland, see help with covering health costs.

International students

If you’re an international student studying in the UK you’re exempt from charges for all of your NHS hospital treatment (except any statutory charges such as those outlined above) if you’re a full-time student attending either a course of at least six months' duration, or a course substantially funded by the UK government.

The same exemptions from health service charges described above also apply to you.

Find out more:

NUS provides this information in good faith and has taken care to make sure it’s accurate. However, student finance issues can be complicated, and rules change frequently. You should contact the advice centre in your students' union, college or university for support if you’re uncertain or need more help.