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There is a lot of confusion around who pays for what at an optician’s. The NHS does play a role, but this can be unclear. If you find yourself uncertain about what exactly the NHS is involved in when it comes to your regular visits to an optician’s, read on!

The NHS and your eyes

The NHS stresses the importance of going for regular eye check-ups to maintain your vision and health. Prevention is always better than cure, and routine eye tests can pick up on any eye problems you yourself may not have noticed, giving you a chance to seek treatment quickly. In the event of conditions like retinopathy (where your retina, the structure at the back of the eye which receives images and passes them on to your brain, degenerates), early detection means a better chance at preserving your eyesight. Regular eye tests are particularly important for anyone with a family history of eye disease, or with one of the risk factors for eye disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, or smoking.

The NHS offers free eye tests for anyone who fits into a set of criteria which includes:

  • Anyone above the age of 60.
  • Children under 16.
  • Young adults between the ages of 16 and 19 who remain in full time education.
  • Anyone with suffering from diabetes (which can result in retinopathy as discussed above) or glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve which takes information from the eye to the brain where it is translated into an image).
  • Anyone who has been registered as partially sighted.
  • Anyone registered as blind.
  • People who require complex lenses, for instance in cases of severe shortsightedness where very strong prescription lenses are required.
  • If you are on Income Support or Job Seekers’ Allowance.
  • Anyone on an HC2 (full help with relevant health costs), HC3 (partial help), or NHS tax exemption certificate.

The NHS also provides a facility for mobile sight tests, in which an optician comes to you for an eye check-up. This service is available for anyone who will have difficulty in, or is unable to, attend an optician’s appointment. This includes, for example, people who are housebound because of illness or disability or in a care home.

If you don’t fit into these categories then you will have to pay for your eye test privately. Costs for private tests can vary from £5 to £20, and many promotions are often run by high street opticians to attract new customers. In Scotland NHS eye tests are available for free to everyone, and include a complete eye health assessment rather than just for eyeglasses.

Does the NHS contribute to the cost of my glasses/lenses?

The cost of lenses increases quite considerably as your vision deteriorates, and in some instances, like severe myopia, these lenses need to be specially manufactured. The NHS provides an optical voucher which can be used against the cost of new lenses to help the following:

  • Children under 16.
  • If you are between 16 and 19 and receiving full time education.
  • If you require complex lenses as discussed above.
  • Anyone receiving Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance.
  • Anyone named on an HC2, HC3, and/or NHS Tax Exemption certificate.

The value of an optical voucher varies depending on the strength of your prescription, and can vary from around £14.00 up to £187.00. Bear in mind however that claims on vouchers to which you are not eligible will result in payment of both the original charge and a penalty of up to £100, therefore check with your optician that you meet any necessary eligibility criteria before claiming.


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