Do Students Get Free Eye Tests?

Wondering whether students are entitled to free eye tests? Here's how to know if you're eligible for NHS-funded eye tests...

Written byHolly Barrow
Published on
Read time5 min read

In England and Wales, eye tests, glasses and contact lenses are typically not provided free of charge under the NHS unless you meet specific criteria. 

If you’re a university student wondering whether you can get a free eye test, we explain who is eligible as well as offering our top tips on reducing the cost of an eye test if you don't qualify for a free one.


What is an eye test?

It may seem obvious, but if you’ve never had one before you may be wondering what an eye test actually entails. An eye test is essentially a way to have your eye health checked by an optometrist for any abnormalities including issues with vision or potential conditions such as glaucoma. 

It usually involves a series of checks to assess your vision and check your overall eye health, including what is known as the Snellen test, where your optometrist will present a chart with rows of letters of varying sizes before asking you to read the letters aloud.

This allows the optometrist to determine the smallest letters you can read and whether lenses may help to make your vision any clearer - in which case, you will likely be advised to wear prescription glasses or contact lenses.  

Other checks during an eye test include the optometrist shining bright lights towards your eyes to see how your pupils react as well as examining the retina at the back of the eye.


Do I need an eye test?

There are a number of reasons that you may be considering going for an eye test, whether that’s suffering with frequent headaches or struggling with your vision. 

Here are some signs you may need to book an eye test:

  • Frequent headaches

  • Squinting your eyes more than usual 

  • Red, dry or itchy eyes

  • Light sensitivity 

  • Seeing spots, flashes of light or floaters

  • You have a health condition that can affect eye health, such as diabetes 

  • You have a family history of conditions such as diabetes or glaucoma


Who is entitled to a free eye test?

In England and Wales, you will be eligible for a free eye test if you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You’re under the age of 16

  • You’re aged 16, 17 or 18 and in full-time education

  • You’re 60 or over

  • You’re registered as partially sighted or blind

  • You have been diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma

  • You’re 40 or over and your mother, father, sibling or child has been diagnosed with glaucoma

  • You have been advised by an eye doctor that you're at risk of glaucoma

  • You’re a prisoner on leave from prison

  • You’re eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher

  • You're under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving Income Support, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit 

  • You’re named on a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate

You’ll also be entitled to a free eye test if you’re named on a valid HC2 certificate under the NHS Low Income Scheme, or you may be eligible for partial help with the costs of an eye test and/or eyewear if you’re named on a valid HC3 certificate. 

In Scotland, Scottish residents aged between 16 and 60 can have an NHS-funded eye examination every two years if needed.


How do I get an eye test for free under the NHS Low Income Scheme?

If you’re on an income of £16,000 or under, you may be able to receive help with certain chargeable NHS services/treatment including dental care, prescriptions and eye tests.

How much help you receive will depend on your weekly income and outgoings, but you may be entitled to help covering the total cost or partial help with costs if you meet the relevant criteria. 

Students can apply online by completing a HC1 form where your circumstances will be assessed. 

How much is an eye test?

If you don’t qualify for an NHS-funded eye test, you can expect to pay around £20-30 depending on which optician you go to.  

It’s worth noting that many opticians often run promotions where you may be able to book an eye test for free or at a reduced cost. 

Ace & Tate offer free eye tests in many locations, while in other branches you can get the eye test for free with the purchase of glasses. 

Specsavers, Boots Opticians and Tesco Opticians also offer free eye tests occasionally, so it’s worth checking regularly for these promotions. 


Can I get student discount on glasses and contact lenses?

You'll be pleased to hear that a number of opticians and eyewear brands offer exclusive discount for students, meaning you'll be able to make savings when purchasing glasses and contact lenses.

Boots Opticians offers 10% student discount and Vision Express offers 20% student discount on glasses, prescription sunglasses and contact lenses.

As a TOTUM member, you'll also get generous discounts with a number of leading eyewear brands including Ray Ban and Oakley which both offer 25% student discount on prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses.

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