The government has failed to issue a form that would allow disabled people claiming universal credit (UC) to show their pharmacist they are entitled to free prescriptions, more than two years after it promised to do so.
It is now nearly seven years since the much-criticised UC was introduced by the coalition government – with even Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff now attacking the new benefit system – and there is still no box that claimants can tick on the back of their NHS prescription form to show they are entitled to free prescriptions.
Instead, they are told to tick the box for income-related jobseeker’s allowance, even if they have been found not fit for work.
The failure to update the form – despite concerns repeatedly raised in the media – means some disabled claimants are still paying for vital medicines when they should not have to, because they do not think they are entitled to free prescriptions.
There are also continuing reports of UC claimants being wrongly fined for falsely claiming entitlement to free prescriptions because they have ticked the wrong box.
One disabled UC claimant who raised concerns about the issue with Disability News Service this week said it felt as though all government departments were “out to trip us up” so they could profit from the vulnerable situations faced by disabled people.
The National Audit Office (NAO) reported last year that the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), an arms-length body of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was issuing a “significant” number of fines in cases involving exemptions from prescription charges that were later challenged successfully.
The NAO report said there was “no option to indicate receipt of Universal Credit on NHS prescription forms”.
It also raised concerns about the “particularly confusing” rules on eligibility for free prescriptions and dental treatment for those receiving UC.
In November 2017, the Pharmaceutical Journal reported that a new NHS prescription form was being designed that would include a tick box for people on UC to confirm they were exempt from prescription charges.
But that form has still not been issued, more than two years later, and nearly seven years after UC was introduced.
The Department of Health said two years ago that it was aware of the issue and was “working with contractors and stakeholders to ensure a new prescription form is introduced”.
Brendan Brown, NHSBSA’s director of citizen services, said today (Thursday): “A revised version of the FP10 prescription form, featuring a dedicated exemption tick-box for use by UC claimants who meet the criteria for free NHS prescriptions, will be in circulation early this year.
“Any change to the form involves major system and software updates across the NHS to allow the re-designed form to be used and processed and we need to ensure it is compatible with the scanners used by NHSBSA.
“The gradual roll out of UC also had to be considered.
“Until the revised version of the FP10 is in circulation, current guidance remains unchanged and states that (if a UC claimant’s earnings are below the prescribed earnings thresholds) the claimant should tick the box on the back of the prescription form stating that they are on income-based jobseeker’s allowance instead.
“This was agreed with DHSC and NHSBSA. Communications and guidance were issued nationally to pharmacists when this was decided.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We recognise the concerns this issue has caused.
“NHSBSA has been working hard to implement these changes and a new form will be released shortly.”
DWP declined to comment because it said prescription forms were the responsibility of DHSC.
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