We have recently discovered that dental care, sight tests and prescription are no longer automatically free for those people with the most severe impairments – under the new benefit system. My daughter, Erica who has multiple impairments, complex health needs and is now 100% funded by Continuing Health Care funding – is no longer automatically entitled to free dental care. Erica, like so many others has been moved from Income Support to Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
A few months ago we received a letter from the NHS dental services in Darlington stating that she had been to the dentist in December 2013 and her dental care had to be paid by her. We provided them with information about her benefits and then a few weeks ago received a letter stating that she was not eligible for free dental care and if she did not pay £18 she would be taken to court.
I found this information so unbelievable that I then phoned to discover the following. There are 2 types of ESA – one is ‘income-related’ and the other is ‘contribution-related’. Only those people on income-related ESA now automatically receive free dental care, free eye tests, free prescriptions etc. As Erica is one of the most severely disabled people in our community I cannot understand this type of ruling. Following an hour on the phone to various people in the Job Centre Plus service we were then told that we could complete an HC1 form and apply for free care.
The 18 page form arrived, I completed that and we now have a certificate (HC2) which entitles Erica to free care for one year. A new form needs to be completed one month before the expiry date each year to continue this entitlement. Just in case – as a carer I do not have sufficient to remember to do – I now need to remember each year to apply for what was once an automatic entitlement.
I like so many other family carers take Erica to the dentist and without thinking tick the box stating that she receives ESA. Erica was picked up on a spot check – and I wonder how many other carers have made the same assumption that I made. Erica was entitled automatically to free dental care when she received Income Support, so a change in benefit should not remove this entitlement. However it does. I wondered whether there are other carers out there who have had to untangle this change.