Universal Credit? Never heard of it

The roll out of Universal Credit started in 2013, but the Department of Health doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Form FP10
Form FP10

People entitled to Universal Credit who had net earning of less than £435 in a month should get free prescriptions and dental treatment on the same basis as  people in receipt of other means tested benefits. For those with a child and/or limited capability for work or limited capability for work related activity the figure is £935.

Now the roll out of Universal Credit  is well under way, but the prescription form does not mention it. Claimants are officially advised by NHS England to tick the box for income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.   They then have to sign the declaration that the information they put on the form is correct and complete. The NHS Business Services Authority can and does issue fines for people who don’t tell the truth on the form, with threats to take them to court if the fine is not paid.

Stories are beginning to appear of patients who have stopped taking their medication  because of the stress of the process.  Others may have borrowed money for their prescriptions but the process for claiming refunds is far from easy. It is not designed for those who are unable to concentrate and feel overwhelmed.

Gingerbread points out that “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.”

There doesn’t appear to be any agreement between the Department of Work and Pensions about the documents which demonstrate entitlement to free prescriptions. The FP10 prescription form states that patients who are not sure what to do, should pay for prescriptions and at the same time, obtain a FP57 to claim a refund. They cannot obtain one after the event.

That statement assumes they are capable at the time of dealing with the convoluted process and have available funds to pay for prescriptions, mindful of the fact that many claiming Universal Credit, cannot afford to feed themselves and their families and so rely on food banks.

There are very obvious and very simple solutions, which any clear-thinking adult with no qualifications or administrative experience could recommend:-

(1) tick any box on the prescription form, strike out the adjacent words and write “Universal Credit”, as long as something that simple and truthful would not result in a legally invalid fine or legally invalid court action;

(2) ensure the DWP puts Universal Credit payments on one sheet of paper as now but add (a) figures, if any, for earnings or “take home pay” in the same period and (b) state on the one page, whether the combined figures prove entitlement to free prescriptions for the period in question;

(3) require the NHS to confirm with the DWP past entitlements to free prescriptions and make refunds, without requiring claimants to apply for those;

(4) ensure the NHS Business Services Authority knows how to write and explain things in ways which are easy to understand, rather than continually rejecting evidence of entitlement, because that evidence lacks “full” details, without saying what is missing and where that can be found;

(5) demonstrate a determination to respect the law, by ensuring NHS civil servants cannot use tangled administration, to persistently subvert full compliance with the law, e.g. the legal duty to protect and promote both physical and mental health and the legal duty which came into force on the 1st August 2016, to provide information which is accurate, balanced, trustworthy and easy to understand, regardless of intellectual and sensory needs.

Frank Field MP., who chairs the Work & Pensions Select Committee, has laid five written Parliamentary Questions, dated 10th & 29th November and 18th December.  Steve Brine, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health replied on 15th November to say:

“National Health Service prescription forms (FP10) and claims for NHS funded sight tests (GOS 1) and for vouchers for glasses or contact lenses (GOS 3) will be amended to include a Universal Credit box in due course. Some NHS Help with Health Costs claim forms, for example HC5 refund claim forms, have already been amended to include a specific tick box to enable Universal Credit recipients to claim entitlement. All versions of dentistry claim forms were updated on 1 April 2016, to include a tick box for Universal Credit.

A patient can currently make a claim for entitlement if in receipt of Universal Credit by ticking the “gets income based Jobseekers Allowance” on relevant forms. Guidance for both the public and healthcare practitioners (such as pharmacists, dentists and, opticians) has been included on NHS Choices with links from the Universal Credit webpages on Gov.uk.”