Bridget Phillipson Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South
Yesterday I led the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) inquiry into penalty charge notices (PCNs) for prescriptions and dental treatment.
Penalty charge notices are issued when people claim a free prescription or dental treatment without a valid reason – this may be done fraudulently or in error. The NHS estimates that it lost around £212million in 2017-18 from people incorrectly claiming exemption from prescription and dental charges.
A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report found that the rules around entitlement to free prescriptions and dental treatments are complicated, and in many cases this has led to genuine mistakes and confusion for a significant number of people. We questioned government and NHS officials on the effectiveness of current arrangements, and on the impact of complex eligibility rules on vulnerable people. Due to out of date prescription forms, those who claim Universal Credit may not be aware they are eligible for support – which risks even more confusion and people not seeking treatment.
The system must be improved and simplified in a way that prevents some from taking advantage, and ensures that vulnerable people aren’t punished and made to suffer financial hardship for making genuine mistakes.