Get help to buy food and milk (Healthy Start)

The new Healthy Start Scheme

How is Healthy Start changing?

We’re launching a digital scheme that offers a prepaid card to those applying for Healthy Start instead of paper vouchers. This card will be automatically topped up every 4 weeks with your payment.

When can I apply for the new scheme and when will I get my prepaid card?

If you’re a Healthy Start beneficiary on the paper voucher scheme, you’ll be contacted when you can apply for the digital scheme. We’ll send you a letter or a leaflet which you will receive within your voucher pack.  

If you’re not already a Healthy Start beneficiary, but you’re receiving a qualifying benefit and are pregnant or have parental responsibility for at least one child under the age of 4, you can apply online now (opens in a new tab).

Can I apply for the new scheme if I live in Scotland?

No, you can only apply for Healthy Start if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, if you live in Scotland you can apply for Best Start Foods (opens in a new tab) instead.

When will I be told to apply if I’m already on the scheme?

We’re rolling out the invitation process to current Healthy Start beneficiaries on the paper voucher scheme. You’ll be contacted to let you know when and how to apply online to the new Healthy Start scheme. 

What if I do not want to apply for the prepaid card?

The paper voucher scheme will be coming to an end. If you do not reapply to the new Healthy Start scheme online, your benefit for you and your children will stop. You can continue to use your paper vouchers until the expiry date printed on them. 

Why do I have to reapply online?

The Healthy Start scheme is a new service so we’ll need to ensure we have the most up to date and accurate information to process your application.

What are the benefits of moving to the prepaid card option?

The benefits of moving to the new scheme include: 

  • a quicker decision on your application
  • you can use your card anywhere that accepts Mastercard® and sells the eligible healthy start food items
  • any money you do not spend will remain on your card and can be put towards healthy food and milk in the future – this is unlike the current voucher scheme where you must spend £4.25 or over in one transaction
  • the card is discreet
  • you can check your balance which helps with money management 
  • your payment will be automatically added to your card – you do not need to wait for your vouchers to arrive in the post

Who will be eligible to apply for the new Healthy Start scheme?

The eligibility criteria have not changed. You can view the full list of eligibility on the Healthy Start website (opens in a new tab).

Where can I use the prepaid card?

You can use your card in most places that sell milk, infant formula, fruit, and vegetables. This includes:

  • supermarkets
  • convenience stores
  • grocery stores
  • drug stores and pharmacies
  • markets
  • dairy products stores
  • news dealers and newsstands
  • freezer and locker meat provisioners (such as butcher shops)
  • petrol stations 

They must display a Mastercard® logo. The logo is normally shown on the shop door or at the till. Ask an employee inside the shop if they take Mastercard® if you’re unsure. If you try to spend the money anywhere else the card will be declined.

How do I collect vitamins with the prepaid card?

You’ll need to show the healthcare professional your card to collect your free Healthy Start vitamins. There will not be any money taken from your card. You can find your nearest vitamin distributor on the NHS website (opens in a new tab).

If you live in Northern Ireland, you’ll receive a letter with further instructions on how to claim your free Healthy Start vitamins.

Can I go back to the paper voucher scheme once I’ve applied online?

Once you have applied to the digital Healthy Start scheme, you cannot go back to the paper voucher scheme. The paper voucher scheme will be ending in 2022.

When will my paper vouchers stop being issued?

Your paper vouchers will stop once you have applied for the new Healthy Start scheme. Any paper vouchers that you have not used can be used up until the expiry date shown on your voucher.

How long will it take to receive my prepaid card once I have applied online?

If your online application is successful, you should receive your prepaid card within 5 – 10 working days. If we’re getting a high volume of applications, it may take longer than this.

Why am I having issues applying online for my prepaid card?

If you are having problems applying for your prepaid card, you should check:

  • you are eligible to join the NHS Healthy Start scheme – check your eligibility
  • you are entering the exact details shown on your benefit award letter
  • your details are up to date with HMRC or DWP – you may wish to contact them to check or update your details
  • there is not already an active claim for your household

If you are under 18 and pregnant but don’t receive any benefits, you may not be able to apply online currently. If you think you should be eligible, you can contact us on 0300 330 7010.

Why am I having problems using my prepaid card?

If you are having problems with your card, you should check:

  • you have activated your card by calling 0300 330 2090
  • you have received your PIN number
  • you have entered your card into the card reader and entered your PIN before attempting to use contactless payments
  • you have enough balance on your card – you can check your balance at an ATM or by calling 0300 330 2090
  • the retailer accepts Mastercard payments
  • the items you are purchasing are eligible Healthy Start items
  • you are not trying to withdraw cash or use your card online