Your rights to healthcare and social security

The UK has a welfare state; people who earn pay tax to the state, and some of this tax is used to pay for healthcare and social support for people who need it.

Healthcare

The UK has a National Health Service (NHS) which is essentially free to use (there are a few charges, for prescriptions, eye tests and dental care, but even these are free to under-18s).

These pages tell you how to use the NHS in England; you can also find information about Northern Ireland,Scotland and Wales.

The NHS includes a wide range of hospitals, clinics and health centres,  to meet different needs in different areas. All will be free for you to use.

To make the most effective use of the NHS, you should register with a local doctor called a GP – use the links above to find a GP near you. Your GP will be able to refer you to specialist services if required. In an emergency, call 999 for an ambulance. See more about using the different services here.

If you are pregnant, it is vital that you make full use of all the NHS services available to you, to ensure that you and your unborn baby are as safe and well as you can possibly be. See more information about these services here.

Social Security benefits

Under the UK’s social security system, people are entitled to benefits (payments of money) if they have specified needs. To get a benefit, you need to make an application to show that you meet the necessary conditions. There are different application processes for different benefits.

There are not many social security benefits available if you are under 18. You may be able to get income support or jobseeker’s allowance if you are 16 or 17 but the rules are complicated: see the information from Citizens Advice here. They suggest you speak to an experienced adviser in your local Citizens Advice office which you can find using this page.

If you have a disability, you may be entitled to:

Disability Living Allowance if you are under 16

Personal independence payment if you are 16 or over

If you are pregnant, you might be able to get maternity allowance but only if you have been working for at least 26 weeks before your baby is due – and meet other conditions.

Once you’ve had the baby, you will generally be entitled to child benefit. If you are on a low income you might be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant as well as income-related benefits. If you are a single parent, try the benefits finder devised by Gingerbread, a long-established charity for single parents.

Make sure that everyone in your family claims the benefits to which they’re entitled: this page is a good place to start, or you can contact your local Citizens Advice office

You might be interested in our other pages on your legal rights:

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