EXCLUSIVE: People on Universal Credit are being refused prescriptions and dental care

GPs and dental practices can't tell who is eligible for free treatment under Universal Credit - meaning some claimants are going without, Left Foot Forward can reveal.

People are being denied prescriptions and dental care because practices do not know whether Universal Credit claimants are eligible for free treatment, according to reports seen by Left Foot Forward.  

Under the current welfare regime, those on certain benefits – such as Jobseekers’ Allowance – receive free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment, Healthy Start vouchers and other government-funded support.

But the Conservatives’ Universal Credit scheme wraps several benefits into one. While the principle has broad cross-party support, dental practices and GPs are now unsure who is eligible to receive free treatment.

Those on working tax credits, for example, are not eligible for free treatment – but practices have no information on whether UC claimants are receiving the tax credits element of UC, in which case they’re ineligible, or the JSA element.

The confusion is leaving people already on the margins either having to fork out for dental care and prescriptions themselves – leaving them out of pocket – or going without treatment altogether, according to testimony the single parents charity Gingerbread has received, which has been seen by Left Foot Forward.

The problem stems from the fact that the administration system hasn’t caught up. There is no way on NHS forms to make it clear how to declare that individuals are on UC – whereas for existing benefits, such as income support or JSA, there are specific boxes to confirm eligibility.

One single mum in touch with Gingerbread has incurred fines because of the changes in health assistance under UC. She has received a letter from the NHS informing her that she owes money for dental treatment and a prescription, explaining that they have fined her as a result.

She says she was never fully informed how UC would affect her NHS support – and is currently unable to pick up a prescription given to her GP because she can’t afford to pay. She says she will only be able to get this essential prescription when she receives her next payment.

Daisy Srblin, Policy Officer at Gingerbread, told Left Foot Forward:

“The arbitrary waits built into the system clearly cause significant problems when a parent transitions onto UC. But the challenges people face don’t end there – day-to-day financial difficulties are made worse by unexpected costs such as dental fees and prescriptions.

“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.”

Another single mum Gingerbread has spoken to has received a letter notifying her of prescription charges. The NHS informed her that she needs to provide them with a full breakdown of her UC award so they can assess her eligibility for support.

However, her Job Centre are telling her that the information they have provided her to date is enough – despite it being different to the documents requested by the NHS. With no consistent guidance and no money to pay the charges herself, she doesn’t know how to resolve the issue.

Responding to the reports, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told Left Foot Forward:

“We support the principle of Universal Credit, which is to help the disadvantaged into work. But the roll-out of Universal Credit so far under the Conservatives has been utter chaos.

“People are having to sacrifice their health and well-being because of mere technical problems. This is a shambles and the government must pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, before it is too late.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said:

“Universal Credit is supposed to be a safety net. Instead it is a noose around the necks of those who need support. It has left people in debt after being unfairly fined or forced to pay for prescriptions which should be free. It is denying access to vital medication and treatment.

“The evidence is clear that the system simply isn’t fit for purpose. Fundamental flaws in Universal Credit, which are at best overlooked and at worst bring wilfully ignored by the Government, are creating a barrier between people and the vital healthcare they need. It is unacceptable that the Government is pressing ahead with the roll-out of this damaging system.”

The findings follow controversy in recent weeks over the six-week wait to receive the benefit.

On Wednesday the government agreed to make the phone lines for Universal Credit free, after coming under pressure from the Labour Party.

These latest revelations add fresh pressure on the Conservatives to rethink the scheme, which has been beset with problems.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

14 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: People on Universal Credit are being refused prescriptions and dental care”

  1. Debbie Sayers

    Some people on tax credits are excempt from perscription and dental charges.

  2. Val Basnett

    This is not just an issue for those on Universal Credit although I totally accept that is what is being discussed here which I appreciate is important. I just wanted to highlight that this is also a problem for people like me, disabled and entitled to free prescriptions as a result of treatment for cancer. My exemption card came with exemptions to dental treatment and also fabric supports. The main body of my prescriptions are fabric supports due to swelling with my legs from radiotherapy. I contacted the free prescription agency TWICE for an answer and on both occasions were given conflicting answers saying 1. No you’re not entitled if its a fabric support and 2. Yes you are entitled if your fabric support is on a prescription. OH MY GOOD GOD! … If they cannot get their act together and give cohesive information what chance have we got on acting upon it. Ultimately I got fined, twice. Clear as mud and I don’t consider myself unintelligent either. 🙁 God help you all with children and very busy lives. How do you possibly cope trying to get through to these places for relevant and true information with young children in the background vying for your attention. Good luck all!

  3. Allison

    This has also happened to me under UC when I had emergency dental treatment back in April . There was no box for UC on the exemption form so I said it was the same as JSA as that was the benefit I had been switched from. I then received a letter billing me for the treatment followed by a fine saying I wasnt entitled. The award letter I sent as evidence was for the month previously as they only send them out if there is a change so it didn’t clearly state that i was in receipt at the time of treatment .Took me ages to resolve the problem. Another problem Ive encountered on UC is the fact that under JSA I always got a P60 U at the end of the tax year saying what taxable benefit I had . Under Uc you dont get anything so near impossible to fill out a self assessment even if you do keep all your award letters. I have tried to get a figure from UC and HMRC with no luck to date. I work mainly for agencies in construction so have a UTR number to increase my work options . This system is full of flaws and has left me in financial difficulty from the on set.

  4. clare green

    I was shocked when listening to the radio this week where there was a man on money box live boasting that he’d been responsible for this”wonderfull Idea”, and was very proud of it. Reason being that there was an incarnation of this back in the 1980s. The reason I know is because I lived in London at the time – on a housing co-op of 66 flats in central London. we were part of a pilot. at the same time there was an overhaul of benefits as well both went in conflict of each other. Members/ tenants fell into arrears by hundreds of pounds where there had never been a problem. this pilot only lasted for about 6 months as it was – as now disastrous, and was abandoned as being unworkable, please believe me its not a new idea, it failed on a small scale then so what on earth about now. it took years to put right damage that only occurred over a few months. I think the difficulty in obtaining prescriptions is part of an overall plan to abolish benefits altogether by making it impossible to claim these things – and that the only saftety net will be food banks, we are going back to the work house days is a saying going around now – but at least in Victorian days the work house was a roof over your head – if you fall into debt there is nothing.

  5. Phil

    Good to raise this issue, but some of the facts in this article are wrong.
    “whether UC claimants are receiving the tax credits element of UC, in which case they’re ineligible” is just plain nonsense. There is no such thing. The rules in England and Scotland are couched in terms of earnings limits:
    “you receive Universal Credit and either had no earnings or had net earnings of £435 or less in your last Universal Credit assessment period
    b) you receive Universal Credit, which includes an element for a child, or you (or your partner) had limited capability for work and work-related activity, and you either had no earnings or net earnings of £935 or less in your last Universal Credit assessment period”
    See https://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcosts/Pages/universal-credit.aspx
    Wales is different. Welsh NHS prescriptions are free, and all Univeral Credit claimants are entitled to help with dental charges. There is no income limit for UC claimants in respect of dental charges

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