FAMILIES have been left unable to pay for their food shopping due to a major Healthy Start cards glitch that has caused chaos.
The scheme is supposed to help hard-up households with children to pay for healthy food – but a recent shake up has been plagued by problems.
Parents were previously sent paper vouchers to swap for food in stores but those have been replaced with a prepaid card.
Shoppers have said their Healthy Start cards have been declined at the till – leaving them embarrassed and unable to pay for food.
Other claimants said they had been told they were no longer eligible for the scheme – which is worth up to £442 – when they tried to apply for a card.
This is despite meeting the criteria and previously receiving the paper vouchers without any issues.
The issues began as soon as the swap to prepaid cards was launched more than a month ago.
Healthy Start bosses said the glitch preventing people from applying online has been fixed.
However, families have continued to highlight issues with the scheme on the NHS Healthy Start Facebook page.
One person wrote: “My daughter’s card has been blocked for four weeks now and can’t get through to you.
“This is unacceptable, she needs this card to help with items that are needed.”
Another said: “Bring back the paper vouchers.
“I too have been unsuccessful in applying for the card even though I am eligible for the paper vouchers.
“Why can’t the system just automatically swap everyone over? I have tried phoning and I get hung up on.
“I have emailed and had a reply saying to phone the number – its an upsetting cycle. This seems to have turned into a right mess and the NHS need to sort it out!”
“My card is active but is constantly declined everywhere I’ve tried to use it so embarrassing,” another mum added.
A spokesperson for the NHS Business Services Authority, which runs the scheme, said: “We are aware there was an issue affecting a small number of people who were trying to apply online.
“A fix was quickly put in place, and we encourage anyone who has had an unsuccessful online application to try again.
“There are various reasons why a card may not be working, for example if someone is trying to spend more than they have on the card.”
They added: “We have experienced high volumes of calls to the NHS Healthy Start scheme helpline and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.
“If someone is still having issues they can email NHS Healthy Start or contact us on social media.”
You can email email@example.com for free to get support.
You could call 0300 330 7010 to get help with your payments, but it will charge you up to 55p per minute.
What is the NHS Healthy Start Scheme?
The scheme gives money to parents and pregnant women to help with the cost of buying healthy food.
If you’re eligible, you’ll get £4.25 each week of your pregnancy from the 10th week.
After your child is born, you’ll get £8.50 a week until they turn one.
From then, families get a £4.25 a week payment until the child reaches four years’ old.
That means you could get up to £442 in total.
You can use the money to buy milk, fruit and vegetables, pulses, infant formula and vitamins.
In March, the paper vouchers were scrapped in favour of a card that is topped up automatically every four weeks.
It is supposed to be accepted at any shop that accepts Mastercard – but parents are reporting that their cards are being declined.
Who is eligible?
Women who are more than 10 weeks pregnant or families with a child under four could be eligible for the scheme.
If you get Universal Credit and your monthly pay from employment is £408 or less, you’re eligible for the scheme.
Families who claim Child Tax Credit can apply if they earn less than £16,190 a year.
If you’re under 18 and pregnant you will get the payment, whether you claim any other benefits or not.
How can I apply?
You can apply for the Healthy Start Scheme online and your prepayment card should be sent to you in the post.
To apply, you will need to give your address and date of birth.
Make sure you have your National Insurance number, baby’s due date (if you’re pregnant) and benefit award letter to hand, too.
What to do if your card isn’t working
There is a Healthy Start helpline set up to help with queries about your pre-paid card.
It is open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday on 0300 330 7010.
But be warned as reports on social media suggest parents are having trouble getting through to someone who can help them.
You should also be aware that you may be charged for the call – NHS numbers starting with 0300 cost up to 55p per minute.
It might be worth emailing firstname.lastname@example.org if you are having trouble getting through.
You could also try interacting with the Healthy Start social media accounts if you have an issue, as these accounts have been replying to many parents online
What other help can I get with food costs?
If you’re struggling to pay for food, there is support available.
Do a quick benefits check to make sure you’re getting all the money you’re entitled to.
You can use an online benefits calculator to find out if you’re missing any cash.
There are food banks across the UK to help households who don’t have enough money to buy meals.
Check the Trussell Trust website for one in your area or search for independent food banks in your region.
There are 16 community grocery stores across the UK, where you can get cheaper food.
It will cost £5 for an annual membership, which allows you to shop there twice a week.
If there isn’t one near you, there might be an alternative like Company Shop which gives out free memberships to people on some benefits.
You might be able to pick up free food from one of around 250 community fridges across the country.
Check if there’s one near you by searching on the network’s website.
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