Tory ministers are looking at making 60-65-year-olds pay for their free prescriptions in England – and there’s speculation it could come at the same time as an annual hike to the £9.35 charge in April
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It’s feared millions of people in England could face a double blow as prescription charges are hiked – and millions of over-60s made to pay for the first time.
Tory ministers have been consulting since last summer on plans to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions in England from 60 to 66.
Campaigners say it could drag 2.4million people into prescription charges, with the average person in their early 60s paying an extra £50 to £100 a year unless they qualify for another exemption.
Ministers have never said when the change – if confirmed – would take place.
But Sarah Coles, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, told the Express she believes any change would likely happen on April 1.
This is because any change means amending the NHS (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Regulations – the same law that gets changed every time prescription charges go up.
Prescription charges have risen every April 1 in recent years, from £8.05 in 2014 to £9.35 in 2021.
That suggests it is likely to rise by 15-20p again this year – unless a higher rise is applied due to soaring inflation.
A change on April 1 would hit people in their 60s at the same time as a string of other changes that will hurt Brits in the pocket.
The energy price cap is set to rise on April 1 in a move the Resolution Foundation think tank believes could add £600 a year to household bills.
And the Tories’ 1.25-point rise in National Insurance kicks in from the same week, meaning the vast majority of workers pay more tax.
There is no hard evidence that the change to the free prescriptions age will happen from April 1.
It is understood the policy is still being actively discussed by ministers with no final decision.
But the consultation closed four months ago – meaning time is ticking for a response – and one option in the document was to change the law “immediately”.
Another choice, the government’s “preferred option”, would change the qualifying age to 66 but phase in the changes.
That would mean people who were already over 60 at the time of the change would keep getting free prescriptions until they turned 66.
But people who had not yet reached their 60th birthday would have to start paying from the age of 60, unless they had another exemption.
Each year’s rise in prescription charges is usually announced in late February or early March.
Ms Coles told the Express: “At the moment there’s no charge for over 60s but that could soon change.
“If it does, it would drag millions of people into having to pay for essential medicines.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said no decisions had been made, and if it does happen change would “restore the link” between free prescriptions and the state pension age.
A spokesperson said: “We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.