A nationwide campaign designed to help people understand whether they are entitled to free prescriptions has been launched by NHS England (NHSE) and the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).

It is hoped the initiative, ‘Check Before You Tick,’ will reduce the £256 million in annual costs to the NHS as a result of people incorrectly claiming prescriptions for free. Individuals who incorrectly claim a free prescription face a penalty charge of £100.

As part of the campaign, NHSE and NHSBSA launched an online tool laying out the government’s eligibility criteria for free prescriptions and pharmacists will be given a communications toolkit, posters and point-of-sale materials to display in their pharmacy explaining the rules.

Patients under 16 years old or 16, 17 or 18 and in full time education, or over 60 are entitled to free prescriptions and prescription charge exemptions are granted for certain illnesses and pregnant women or those who have a baby under one year.

Pharmacies are being encouraged to take part in the campaign, which runs until December, by providing information leaflets and displaying posters. Pharmacists have also been reminded to ask patients to provide up-to-date proof of eligibility before handing over free prescriptions.

“Pregnant women and new mothers although eligible to claim free prescriptions, may not always realise they need a valid Maternity Exemption Certificate. Without a valid certificate, they too could receive a penalty charge,” NHSE said.

Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer at NHSE, said: “Free prescriptions ensure that at-risk groups of people get the medication they need, but it’s crucial that this support also offers best value for taxpayers.

“Pharmacy teams are at the front-line in helping people understand the criteria for free prescriptions and because mistaken claims place an extra cost burden on the NHS, it’s important that patients, carers and pharmacists know how and when they can make a claim.”

Last year Robbie Turner, the director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, criticised the NHSBSA’s penalty charges, insisting their approach failed to take into account that not everyone was out to cheat the system. Turner called for a “far more constructive approach.”

A freedom of information request by the BBC revealed the NHSBSA generated £13.3 million from 979,210 fines it issued in 2016-17.