OT  investigates: Eye care in Northern Ireland

Annual cost of printing HC1 form tops £28,000 in Northern Ireland

Printing costs have risen sharply after Universal Credit recipients lost automatic entitlement to free eye care and dental care in 2017

A printer is shown in profile with pages of blank paper in the printing tray

The Department for Communities has confirmed that £28,092 was spent printing the HC1 form in 2023.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Optometry Today, the Department for Communities shared that between 2014 and 2016, the average annual cost for printing the HC1 form in Northern Ireland was £5777.

Between 2018 and 2023, the average annual cost rose to £12,018, with £28,092 spent printing the form in 2023.

Recipients of Universal Credit (UC) have had to complete an HC1 form in Northern Ireland to receive help with the cost of eye care and dental care since 2017. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people have lost automatic entitlement to free eye care and dental care as a host of legacy benefits have migrated to UC.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities shared that annual costs for printing the HC1 form varied due to a number of factors – including the number of forms ordered and the unit costs to print.

“Unit costs have increased generally from 2014 to 2023 by around 60%. As Universal Credit (UC) customers must complete the form to access help with healthcare costs, more forms have been ordered in recent years following the launch of UC in 2017,” the spokesperson said.

The Department of Health has acknowledged concerns about access to help with healthcare costs.

“We are committed to working with stakeholders to see if the process for the interim solution – the form HC1 – can be improved. Work on that is ongoing,” a spokesperson told OT.

In a letter to the permanent secretary of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, the College of Optometrists emphasised that the HC1 form is a “significant barrier to accessing NHS eye care.”

“HC1 is a 22-page form and its length will be off-putting to many members of the community who need to complete it, particularly those who have low levels of literacy,” College of Optometrists president, Professor Leon Davies and Northern Ireland council representative, Professor Kathryn Saunders, wrote.

The letter highlighted that completing a digital version of the form requires both internet access and digital literacy – with 15% of the population in Northern Ireland without internet access and one in five people aged over 16 lacking digital skills.

“The requirement to complete an HC1 form is a barrier that is not required in other parts of the UK and we urge you to work with the Department for Communities to improve this interim solution as soon as possible,” Davies and Saunders emphasised.