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Know your rights guide


Find out what your rights are for receiving medical care and what do if you receive a medical bill you can't pay.

Everyone has the right to register with a GP and receive free ‘primary care’ regardless of immigration status. Primary care also includes dentists, pharmacies and optometrists (where you can get your eyesight tested) and opticians.

You may need to fill in a HC1 form to get free dental care, free prescription and free eye test. If you need help with this, contact Doctors of the World (details below). The following services should always be free:

  • Treatment given in Accident and Emergency units in hospitals
  • Diagnosis and treatment of specific infectious diseases and sexually transmitted infections (e.g. Tuberculosis, HIV)
  • Family planning (contraception and advice, but not termination of pregnancy)
  • Services provided as part of the NHS 111 telephone advice line Health visitors and school nurses.
  • Testing for COVID-19 is free. If the test result is positive then treatment for COVID-19 is free.

What is new?

There are a number of different changes you need to know about when accessing health services. We have divided them into three sections.

1. Hospital and Community Health Services

Undocumented migrants might be charged for hospital or community health services (see exceptions above). This is also true for people on short-term visas and refused asylum seekers.

Since 23rd October 2017, the government wants to charge people in advance for healthcare, forcing hospitals and community health services to check every patient’s documents, including passports and proof of address. Non-urgent care will be refused if a patient cannot pay

If you are pregnant, and if you are an undocumented migrant, you will not have to pay in advance but you will still receive a bill. This applies to all antenatal, birth and post-natal care. If a doctor thinks you need urgent or immediate treatment, you will not have to pay in advance, but will be billed for it later. If you need urgent treatment that will lead to significant pain/disability or your condition will substantially worsen, you should receive treatment. In other cases, urgent treatment may be delayed, and therefore not provided.

2. Health Surcharge for Immigration Applications

People from outside the European Union who apply to enter or remain in the UK have to pay a ‘health surcharge’ as part of their application. The surcharge is £300 per year for students and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications at the moment, but the costs will be increased to £624 per applicant from October 2020 by the government. Dependents, like children, will usually have to pay the same amount. For example, one adult with two children making an application to remain in the UK will have to pay £1200 per year at the moment, and from October 2020 this will increase to £1872. NHS and social care staff are now exempt from this surcharge.

You may not have to pay if you can show that you are destitute. If you are homeless or you do not have enough money to buy food, you are considered destitute.

3. Information Sharing between Home Office and the National Health Service (NHS)

The NHS is sharing some patient information with the Home Office:

  • If you need hospital treatment, the NHS hospital trust may contact the Home Office and share information about you to check your immigration status
  • If you have a hospital bill of more than £500 that has been unpaid for two months or more, the NHS can tell the Home Office

What should I do if I get a bill I can’t pay?

It is very important not to ignore hospital bills. You should contact the hospital even if you cannot pay. The hospital should be able to offer you a repayment plan –
just ask them. If they don’t want to, you should contact your local debt advice service (e.g. Citizen’s Advice) who should be able to help. You may be able to repay the bills a little bit each month. Your application for leave to remain or enter can be refused if you are in debt to the NHS.

For more information and support

If you need to fill in an HC1 form (for free prescription, dental care and eye tests), if a GP practice refuses to register you without address, if you are worried about a hospital bill or debt, if a hospital is refusing to treat you without payment, contact Doctors of the World for help and advice.

Doctors Of The World

0808 1647 686 (Mon – Fri 10am – 12 Midday)
[email protected]

Maternity Action

0808 800 0041 (Thurs 10am – 12 Midday)

For information on mental health, please go to our relevant section