A MAJOR shake-up of the government’s Healthy Start scheme will make it easier for struggling families to get up to £442 of free food vouchers.
Prepaid cards will replace the paper coupons handed out to pregnant women and low-income households with kids to help them buy healthy food and vitamins.
Families are currently issued paper vouchers worth £4.25 a week – or double if they have a child under 12 months old.
Parents get £442 in the first year of their baby’s life, while pregnant women and families with children between the age of 1 and 4 are given £221 annually.
Physical vouchers are delivered through the post but those are set to be replaced by a prepaid card system.
If you currently get Healthy Start vouchers, you will have to reapply and you will be contacted when it’s time to sign up.
You won’t be able to apply for paper vouchers after January 31, 2022 and you must switch to the digital scheme by March 31 to continue receiving the benefit.
Make sure you use up any physical coupons you have before they expire.
What will be different under the new Healthy Start scheme?
You will still get the same amount of money but the way you get paid will change.
Families will be offered a prepaid card instead of paper vouchers, which will be topped up every four weeks.
The card will be valid at any shop that accepts Mastercard and that sells eligible healthy start food items such as fruit, vegetables and vitamins.
That includes supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, markets and newsagents.
Any money that you don’t spend will remain on the card and can be put toward healthy food in the future.
This is unlike the old voucher scheme, when you had to spend more than £4.25 in one transaction.
You can check your balance at ATMs and your payment will automatically added – meaning you won’t have to wait for vouchers in the post.
How can I apply for the new scheme?
If you’re already signed up for Healthy Start vouchers, you should have already been contacted with details on how to apply for a card.
In total, 143,458 people have already switched since the rollout began in September last year.
You can’t opt to continue receiving paper coupons – if you don’t switch to the online system by March 31 this year you will stop receiving the cash boost.
You’ll still be able to sign up after that date but your payments could be delayed or disrupted.
If you are a new applicant, you can sign up online now and you will get a prepaid card instead of paper vouchers.
Once you’ve applied online, you should receive your card within five to 10 working days.
But the NHS warned that it could take longer than this if there’s a high number of applications, which there could be as the deadline draws closer.
Who is eligible for Healthy Start vouchers?
You’ll qualify for the Healthy Start scheme if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant or you have at least one child that’s under four.
In addition, you must be receiving any of the following:
- Child Tax Credit – only if your family’s annual income is £16,190 or less
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Pension Credit which includes the child addition
- Universal Credit – only if your family’s take-home pay is £408 or less per month from employment
You will also be eligible for Healthy Start if:
- you’re under 18 and pregnant, even if you are not claiming any benefits
- you claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are more than 10 weeks pregnant
- you, your partner or your carer get Working Tax Credit run-on only after you have reported you’re working 16 hours or less per week
If you’re not a British citizen but your child is, you might still be able to get the coupons.
But this depends on your immigration status.
You can get Healthy Start vouchers if all of the following are true:
- You have at lease one British child under four years old
- Your family earns £408 or less per month after tax
- You can’t claim “public funds”, such as benefits
There’s other help available if you’re struggling financially, such as the Household Support Fund which can be put towards food, bills and other essentials.
Make sure you’re getting all the support that you’re eligible for by using a benefits calculator.
If you need more help with childcare costs, check whether you’re able to apply for other schemes aimed at parents.
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