Learn about the rules of the NHS Healthy Start scheme

When you submit your declaration, you’re agreeing to our scheme rules.

These rules explain: 

What you’ll get 

Once you have successfully applied and we’ve confirmed your eligiblity, you become a beneficiary of the NHS Healthy Start scheme. A beneficiary can be someone who:

  • is more than 10 weeks pregnant
  • has parental responsibility for at least one child under one year old
  • is a child under 4 years old whose parent or guardian is in receipt of a qualifying benefit

We’ll send you an NHS Healthy Start prepaid card, which will be topped up every 4 weeks with payments of:

  • £4.25 for each week of your pregnancy from 10 weeks  
  • £8.50 each week for children from birth to one year old 
  • £4.25 each week for children aged between one and 4 years old 

We share information with the benefits agencies every four weeks to check that you’re still eligible for the scheme. If our checks show that you’re no longer eligible, your payments will stop and you’ll have 16 weeks to spend any remaining funds on your card before your card is closed. We’ll contact you if this happens.  If there is any unspent money on the card after the 16 week period ends, we will reclaim this.

Healthy Start vitamins

You can also get free NHS Healthy Start vitamins. There are 2 different products:

  • vitamin drops for children from birth to 4 years old  
  • NHS Healthy Start vitamin tablets for people who are pregnant or breast feeding a child who is under the age of one

If you live in England or Wales, ask your midwife or health visitor where to get your free vitamins. You’ll need to show your NHS Healthy Start card when you collect them. In England, you can also use our website to find out where you can collect free vitamins in your local area.

If you live in Northern Ireland, we’ll send you a letter explaining how to request your free NHS Healthy Start vitamins. We’ll check your request and send your order to the Business Services Organisation in Northern Ireland. They’ll post the vitamins to you.

Healthy Start vitamins are for the benefit of you and your children. You cannot give them to anyone else or sell them on for a profit.

What you can buy

You can use your card to buy cow’s milk, infant formula based on cow’s milk, fruit, vegetables and pulses. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re using your card to buy the correct products. You card should not be used to buy any other items.

You can split payments between your Healthy Start card and your normal bank card or cash. Some shops will need to do this as separate transactions. At self-checkout machines, you can only split payments between your Healthy Start card and cash, not another bank card.

If you need to get a refund on something you’ve bought, go back to the shop with your items, receipt and Healthy Start card. The money will be refunded to your Healthy Start card.

Fruit and vegetables 

You can buy fruit and vegetables that are: 

  • fresh, frozen or tinned 
  • whole or chopped 
  • packaged or loose 
  • fruit in fruit juice, or fruit or vegetables in water 
  •  

These should not be: 

  • with added ingredients like fat (oil), salt, sugar or flavourings, such as tinned tomatoes and herbs, chips or onion rings 
  • juiced or pre-cooked 
  • fruits in syrup 
  • smoothies 

Pulses 

You can buy fresh, dried or tinned pulses, including:

  • lentils
  • beans
  • peas
  • chickpeas

These should not include any added:

  • fat
  • salt
  • sugar
  • flavourings, such as kidney beans in chilli sauce

Milk 

This should be plain cow’s milk, which is:

  • pasteurised
  • sterilised
  • long-life
  • ultra-heat treated (UHT)

It should not be: 

  • flavoured
  • coloured 
  • evaporated 
  • condensed 
  • plant-based milk 
  • powdered (unless it’s formula milk labelled ‘suitable from birth’) 

Infant formula 

This should be: 

  • labelled as ‘suitable from birth’  
  • made from cow’s milk 

It should not be:

  • ‘follow-on’ formula or milk
  • labelled as ‘from 6 months’ or ‘from 6 to 12 months’ 

The What you’ll get and how to shop section on our website includes more information about what you can buy and an example of how to use your NHS Healthy Start card as part of a bigger shop.

How to use your prepaid NHS Healthy Start card  

Your NHS Healthy Start prepaid card will come with instructions about how to activate it. You’ll need to do this before you use your card for the first time.

You should: 

  • only buy the permitted healthy food and milk items 
  • keep your card and PIN safe 
  • check your balance at a cashpoint or by calling 0300 330 2090 – it’s important you do this before you shop as you can only spend what is on the card 

You can use your NHS Healthy Start prepaid card in most places that sell milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables and display the Mastercard® logo, apart from limited acceptance merchants in EU and EEA that do not accept prepaid cards. You cannot use your card outside of the UK, including in the Republic of Ireland.

How often you should use your card 

Make sure you use your card at least once every 16 weeks. If you do not use your card for more than 16 weeks, we may stop your payments and close your claim.

If your claim is closed after 16 weeks, any remaining funds will be removed from your card.

If you’re still eligible, you’ll need to reapply to start getting payments again.

If the card is not used correctly 

NHS Healthy Start payments are to help you towards the cost of buying healthy food and milk as part of your food shop. You should only use your card to buy permitted healthy food and milk items. 

 You should not use your card:

  • to buy anything other than the permitted items listed in these scheme rules 
  • to shop online 
  • outside of the UK

We routinely monitor use of the cards. If we suspect your card is being misused, it could be suspended and your payments could stop.

If you do not follow the scheme rules, we may investigate your transactions and request proof of your purchases. If the rules have not been followed, this could lead to your claim being closed and your payments stopping. You must return your card to us if we ask you to. 

Who NHS Healthy Start payments are for 

NHS Healthy Start payments are for people who are beneficiaries of the scheme. Payments should be used to buy permitted healthy food and milk items for you if you’re pregnant, or for the children listed on your claim.

Who should apply 

An application should be submitted by the person who is more than 10 weeks pregnant, or by the person who has parental responsibility for a child under the age of 4.

You should submit one application for your household. This should be for all your children under 4 that you have parental responsibility for, as well as your pregnancy. If you become pregnant at a later date, you should tell us and we’ll add your pregnancy to your claim. You do not need to submit a new application.

You should only submit one NHS Healthy Start application. If you live with a partner, make sure they have not already applied on your child’s behalf.

Only one parent or caregiver should apply for NHS Healthy Start. There should not be more than one active claim per household. We may contact you if there are multiple claims for your household.

We define a household as:

  • you
  • your partner (if you have one)
  • any children you’re responsible for who live with you

Tell us about all the children under 4 years old that you have parental responsibility for, as well as if you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant. If you’re less than 10 weeks pregnant when you apply, or if you become pregnant in the future, you do not need to submit a new application. Contact us and we’ll add your pregnancy to your claim.

Applications during pregnancy must be in the name of the pregnant person. If you’re making an application on behalf of someone who is pregnant, you must:

  • make sure the application is in their name
  • have their permission to apply on their behalf

Your responsibilities 

Tell us when your baby has been born 

If you’re pregnant, you need to tell us and your benefits agency when your baby has been born. This is to make sure you do not miss out on any payments you’re entitled to. 

You should do this as soon as possible to make sure you continue to receive NHS Healthy Start payments after giving birth. You must tell us within 12 weeks of your expected due date to make sure you continue to receive NHS Healthy Start payments. 

If you get NHS Healthy Start payments because you’re claiming Income-related ESA while pregnant, your claim will end when your baby is born. If you start receiving Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit once your baby is born and wish to keep receiving NHS Healthy Start payments, you’ll need reapply.

Report any changes in circumstances  

It is your responsibility to tell us about any changes of circumstances that may affect whether you qualify for the scheme.

You need to let us know about any changes to your circumstances, including if: 

  • there’s any changes to the benefits you claim  
  • your contact details change – including your address, telephone number or email address
  • you become pregnant – let us know once you’re more than 10 weeks 
  • there’s anything wrong with your NHS Healthy Start claim – for example, you think you are receiving incorrect payments
  • you no longer have parental responsibility for the children on your claim

Report your card if it’s lost, damaged or stolen 

Report your card as lost, damaged or stolen as soon as possible by calling 0300 330 2090.  

If you think there’s been some suspicious activity on your card let us know as soon as possible. Any transactions made before you report the card as lost or stolen will be charged to your account.   We’ll send you a dispute form so you can give us more information. You’ll need to send it back to us within 3 days.  

Keep evidence relating to your claim 

You’re responsible for keeping evidence that relates to your claim. You should: 

  • keep your receipts as proof of how you’re spending your NHS Healthy Start payments as we may ask you to provide evidence of your purchases if we suspect your card is being misused 
  • be able to provide proof of your identity, your benefits and your children’s identities

We may ask to see evidence relating to your claim at any time. If you do not provide us with the evidence we ask for within 16 weeks, your claim may be closed. 

Card issuer (allpay) statement


The allpay prepaid card is issued by allpay Ltd pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated. allpay Ltd is a company regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 900539) for the issuance of electronic money. Head office and registered address: Fortis et Fides, Whitestone Business Park, Hereford, HR1 3SE (Company No 02933191). Mastercard is a registered trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


Alert: If you claim Universal Credit, you will not be able to apply for Healthy Start from 7pm on Saturday 25 May to 7am on Sunday 26 May 2024

This is because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are carrying out maintenance on their service so we cannot check your eligibility. If you receive Child Tax Credit, you can still apply.