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Optometrist Charges – Benefits

Who gets free NHS sight tests?

The following people automatically qualify for free sight tests (tests to check for vision problems). You need to tell the optometrist beforehand that you are entitled to a free test and ask for form GOS1.

  • If you are under 16.
  • If you are 16, 17 or 18 and in full-time education.
  • If you are aged 60 or over.
  • If you have glaucoma.
  • If you are advised by a hospital eye specialist (an ophthalmologist) that you are at risk of glaucoma.
  • If you are aged 40 or over and have a close relative (parent, brother, sister, son, or daughter) with glaucoma.
  • If you have diabetes.
  • If you are registered as severely sight-impaired/blind or sight-impaired/partially sighted.
  • If you have been prescribed complex lenses (the optometrist will need to see your last optical prescription).
  • If you are under a hospital eye service and your eye test is carried out through the hospital eye department as part of the management of your eye condition.
  • You (or your partner) gets one of the following:
    • Income Support.
    • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
    • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.
  • You are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate.
  • You are a war pensioner – if treatment is connected with the pensionable disability.
  • You are named on an HC2 (or HC3) certificate because of low income (see below).

Who gets help towards the costs of glasses and contact lenses?

You can get vouchers towards the costs of glasses or contact lenses:

  • If you are under 16.
  • If you are 16, 17 or 18 and in full-time education.
  • If you have been prescribed complex lenses (the optometrist will need to see your last optical prescription).
  • If you (or your partner) gets one of the following:
    • Income Support.
    • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
    • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.
  • You are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate.
  • You are named on an HC2 (or HC3) certificate because of low income (see below).

Following an eye test, an optometrist will issue a prescription if you need glasses or contact lenses. He or she will also give you a voucher if you qualify for help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses. The voucher is intended to cover the full cost of glasses or contact lenses, but you may need to top it up with your own money if you want certain styles.

You can buy the glasses or contact lenses from the optometrist who did the eye test. You can also take the prescription to a different optometrist or optician if you prefer. It may be worth ‘shopping around’ to look for the best price and style to suit you.

How can people on a low income apply for help?

Some people on a low income may qualify for free sight tests or help towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses. Your entitlement to help is based on your circumstances such as your level of income, savings, etc. You will have to fill in an HC1 form ‘Claim for Help with Health Costs’ giving various details of your circumstances and then send it off in the pre-paid envelope provided.

If you qualify for help you will be sent an HC2 or HC3 Certificate. The certificate will tell you who it covers and how long it lasts. An HC2 qualifies you for full costs. An HC3 only qualifies you for partial help with health costs and your optometrist will be able to let you know if you are entitled to any help with the cost of a sight test. If you are you will need to complete form GOS5.

Can I claim a refund for a optometrist charges have already paid?

If you are issued with an HC2 or HC3 certificate, you may be able to claim a refund if you have recently paid for optometrist charges. You will need to keep your receipt and you will need to claim using an HC5 form. Claims must be received within three months of your paying the charge.

How can I get the claim forms?

To get the forms HC1 or HC5 mentioned above:

  • Contact your local office of the Department of Work and Pensions (the local Jobcentre Plus or ‘social security’ office) for a claim form. Find your local office in the phone book under ‘Jobcentre Plus’, OR
  • Get them from an NHS hospital, OR
  • Your optometrist (optician) may stock them, OR
  • Phone the NHS Formsline on 0845 610 1112, textphone number 08700 102 870, OR
  • Phone the Department of Health Publications Orderline on 0300 123 1002 (minicom 0300 123 1003) and ask for a form to be sent to you.

Free eye tests for workers with computers and VDUs

If you use a computer screen or other type of VDU for much of your time at work, then you are entitled to free eye tests. This is laid down in the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992. The tests have to be done by an optometrist and are paid for by your employer. Employers may issue vouchers for you to take to an optometrist to pay for the checks at the specified time intervals. If the prescription is required for VDU use, your employer must provide vouchers towards the cost irrespective of the time space between purchases.

How can I find out more?

This leaflet only gives a brief summary of how to obtain help with optometrist charges and is for guidance only. It does not cover all situations nor is it a full statement of the law. The official information booklet ‘Help with health costs‘ (HC11 in England and Northern Ireland, and HSC1 in Scotland) provides more details for people on a low income. Your local Jobcentre Plus office, NHS hospital, pharmacist, doctor, dentist or optician may have a leaflet on help with health costs and relevant claim forms. The booklet is available as a download from:
Web: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/HealthCosts/1558.aspx (England and Scotland) and
Web: www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/hc11_help_with_health_costs.pdf (Northern Ireland).

Directgov

Web: www.direct.gov.uk
Directgov brings together the widest range of public service information and services online.
Produced by the Central Office of Information, Directgov provides information from government departments on topics ranging from travel safety and parental leave, to special educational needs, local NHS services, and benefits. The site also brings together an increasing number of online government services – including being able to download and/or complete certain benefit claim forms online. See the Health costs section of the website.

NHS Business Services Authority – Help with Health Costs

Web: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/HelpWithHealthCosts.aspx
Help with Health Costs provides exemption certificates to those entitled and sells Prescription Pre-payment Certificates. They have phone lines that deal with various queries:

  • NHS Low Income Scheme
    Tel: 0845 850 1166
  • Prescription Pre-payment, Medical and Maternity Exemption Certificates
    For general queries before you apply: Tel: 0845 850 0030
    For specific queries after you’ve applied: Tel: 0845 601 8076
  • NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificates
    Tel: 0845 609 9299

Benefit Enquiry Line – BEL

England, Wales and Scotland – Tel: 0800 88 22 00 Textphone: 0800 24 33 55
Northern Ireland – Tel: 0800 220 674 Textphone: 0800 243 787
For people with disabilities, their carers and representatives. It is part of the Department for Work and Pensions. BEL offers confidential advice and information on benefits and how to claim them. In addition they can also send out an extensive range of leaflets and claim packs, and help you to complete a claim form over the phone.

Citizens Advice Bureau

Provides independent advice on many issues including benefits. Listed in the phone book under ‘Citizens Advice Bureaux’. Also, see their excellent website:
Web: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

What is the difference between optometrists and opticians?

Optometrists do eye tests to check your vision and to look for signs of eye disease. They also prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses. Opticians (dispensing) fit and sell glasses, but do not do eye tests.

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