What can you do to increase the uptake of the Healthy Start scheme?

What is Healthy Start?

NHS Healthy Start is the UK’s food welfare scheme for pregnant women and young children in low-income families. The scheme is there to help families who are most in need of this support. Families will get help to buy healthy food and drink including fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried and tinned pulses and infant formula milk. Families will also be able to access free Healthy Start vitamins.

You play a key role in sharing information on the NHS Healthy Start with the families you work with. Research shows that women who are introduced to the scheme by a health professional, who takes the time to explain its public health context and health benefits, are more likely to understand the benefits and make better use of the scheme.

Why is NHS Healthy Start essential for the families you work with?

Families from lower social economic backgrounds may face health inequalities resulting in poor health outcomes. It is estimated 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. This includes many households with people in work, families with children, as well as older, disabled and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people.

The rising cost of living is particularly worrying for infants and young children living in the most deprived households in England. Recent figures show that nearly one in five families in the UK are now food insecure, and close to half of food insecure households reported decreases in dietary quality, which are both known risk factors for overweight and obesity.

Healthy Start provides a basic nutritional safety net to encourage families to make healthy food choices. Unfortunately, many families miss out on these important vouchers.

In the UK, our National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) assesses the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population aged 1.5 years and above. The most recent report (2019) reviews the results from the 2008/09-2016/17 surveys highlighting the need to improve nutritional status of young children.

What do the results tell us?

  • There is a reduced intake of most vitamins and minerals
  • Both females and males of all ages showed a significant reduction in vitamin A and folate
  • 19% of children aged 4 to 10 years, 37% aged 11 to 18 years and 29% of adults are not achieving their vitamin D requirements. You can find out more about Vitamin D requirements for Infants and Toddlers here!

Who qualifies for NHS Healthy Start?

Women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4 years old, and parents or their family receive any of the following:

  • Income Support, or
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, or
  • Pension Credit (which includes the child addition)
  • Child Tax Credit (with a family income of £16,190 or less per year)
  • Universal Credit (with a family take home pay of £408 or less per month).

The following are also eligible for NHS Healthy Start:

  • All pregnant women under 18 years, even if they don’t get any of the above benefits
  • Pregnant women (over 10 weeks pregnant) who claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Families who get Working Tax Credit run-on only. (Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the 4 weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours or more per week)

There will be many families in your setting meeting the eligibility criteria who will qualify for the NHS Healthy Start scheme (particularly families entitled to free childcare for their 2 year old)!

Please Note: Claiming doesn’t affect families other financial benefits

Healthy Start to include families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)

In June 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) agreed to temporarily extend the Healthy Start scheme to British children (aged under four), whose parent or guardian meets the financial eligibility
criteria and are excluded from claiming public funds as a consequence of their immigration status, or their lack of immigration status.

To qualify for the temporary extension, applicants must meet all of the following criteria:

  • have a child, or more than one child, who is aged under four;
  • their family’s take-home pay is less than £408 per month
  • they are excluded from claiming public funds as a consequence of their immigration status or their lack of immigration status

If families meet the eligibility criteria and would like to apply, they should email Healthystartclaim@dhsc.gov.uk and DHSC will contact them to discuss the application process.

The Application Process

  • Families can apply to the NHS Healthy Start scheme online at www.healthystart.nhs.uk
  • If someone cannot apply online, they can apply over the telephone by calling the NHS Healthy Start helpline on 0300 330 7010.
  • A telephone translation service is also available when calling the helpline.
  • The NHS Healthy Start helpline is available Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.
  • The online application process enables someone to apply on the applicant’s behalf. The claimant must be present during the application process to confirm their personal information and accept the prepaid
    card terms and conditions.
  • Beneficiaries can contact the automated service on 0300 330 2090 to activate their card, check their balance, get their PIN or report a card as lost or stolen. This line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Please note: While most families can apply online for NHS Healthy Start, applicants who receive a legacy benefit and those who are under 18 and not on a passporting benefit currently need to apply using a paper application form. This is a new application form for the NHS Healthy Start scheme and is different to the form used for the old paper voucher scheme. If you work with families who can’t currently apply online, please signpost them to the NHS Healthy Start helpline so they can be provided with the appropriate form by emailing healthy.start@nhsbsa.nhs.uk or calling 0300 330 7010.

What will families receive?

Families who qualify for Healthy Start will receive money added onto their card every 4 weeks to spend on certain food and milk. Families can also use their card to get free Healthy Start vitamin supplements.

Food and Drink

They will get:

  • £4.25 each week of your pregnancy (from the 10th week of your pregnancy)
  • £8.50 each week for children from birth to 1 year old
  • £4.25 each week for children between 1 and 4 years old

which they can use in local shops to buy (they must display a Mastercard symbol):

  • plain cow’s milk – whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed. It can be pasteurised, sterilised, long life or UHT. (This does not include milk which has had chemicals, vitamins, flavours or colours added or removed)
  • fruit and vegetable– plain fresh, frozen or tinned (fruit and vegetables with no added ingredients), whole or chopped, packaged or loose
  • pulses – fresh, dried, tinned pulses, including but not limited to lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas but not those to which fat, salt, sugar or flavouring have been added
  • infant formula milk that is based on cow’s milk and can be used from birth (stage one)

Here are some example of what families can buy using the vouchers they receive for under 1’s and over 1’s:

Healthy Start Vitamins

Families can also use their card to get free vitamin supplements. Vitamins can be collected every eight weeks from a registered distributor. To collect their free Healthy Start vitamins, beneficiaries in England and Wales will need to present their NHS Healthy Start prepaid card as evidence of their entitlement. No payment is taken from the card.

The NHS Healthy Start vitamins are tablets for women and drops for children. Pregnant women, women with a baby under one year old and children aged up to their fourth birth will receive Healthy Start vitamins.

  • Healthy Start women’s vitamin tablets contain Folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D (70 milligrams of vitamin C, 10 micrograms of vitamin d, 400 micrograms of folic acid).
  • Healthy Start children’s vitamin drops contain vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin D (233 micrograms of vitamin A, 20 milligrams for vitamin C, 10 micrograms of vitamin D3).

You can find out more information on children’s Vitamin D requirements in our blog Vitamin D recommendations for Infants and Toddlers.

  ​Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Healthy Start Blog Healthy Start Blog​Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Healthy Start Blog Healthy Start Vitamins

Where can the NHS Healthy Start Card be used?

Parents and carers receiving NHS Healthy Start card should be offered information on how to use them to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in their family’s diet. The Healthy Start website details local retailers that accept the Healthy Start card (they must display a Mastercard symbol), based on the families address. For more information click on this link to be able to see some frequently asked questions.

  • At local shops and greengrocers
  • Supermarkets
  • Corner shops
  • Food co-ops
  • Market stalls
  • Milk floats or vans
  • Pharmacies

Families can use their card to get Healthy Start Vitamin which are distributed through primary care trusts. Vitamins are suitable for vegetarians and free from wheat, fish, egg, salt. No colours, flavours or preservatives are used and they do not contain gluten.

Can the card part pay for a food shop?

The paper vouchers could be used to part pay for a larger food shop. Unfortunately, the pre-paid cards do not yet offer this same simplicity. Instead, users must separate out their Healthy Start items from their wider shop and pay for them separately with the card.

On First Using the Healthy Start Card

Families will need to activate their card before first using it in a shop. They will need to contact the Healthy Start team and will need to have their card, date of birth, client ID (located at the top of the letter that came with the card). Families will receive the card PIN two days after the card is sent to families.

Tips on Activating the card:

Users can activate their card calling 0300 330 2090, pressing 1 and going through the automated service which should take no more than a few minutes. On this number families can also check their balance or report their card as missing or stolen.

If families want to talk to an advisor or an intepreter call 0300 330 7010.

It’s worth knowing that these numbers are included free of charge in some pay plans, but not all. If it’s not included in yours or you’re not on a pay plan you could be charged between 3 – 55p a minute from a mobile.

Universal Free Healthy Start Vitamins

In some areas, Healthy Start vitamins are free to all families – contact local health visiting teams to find out if they’re free where you live. For example the London Borough of Newham provides free universal vitamins.

London Borough of Newham Universal Free Healthy Start Vitamin scheme?
All families with children under the age of 4, pregnant and breastfeeding mums  in Newham are entitled to the free vitamins.

Who are the distributing partners in Newham?

  • Childrens Centres

You can find details for Newham’s Children’s Centres here! Families who have not yet registered for the Healthy Start scheme that may be eligible for help to buy certain milk and food, please continue to promote this and direct families to the Healthy Start website www.healthystart.nhs.uk to complete the online application.

You can download posters to display in your setting here Healthy Start Flyer A5  and Healthy Start Poster A3

Supporting Families to Buy Food and Drink using their card

There are lots of ways you can support families to use their Healthy Start card and prepare healthy meals. Let’s consider some of the resources available to you and your setting that will help to inspire families to get cooking:

Eat In With Early Start Recipe Videos

Share our ‘Eat in with Early Start’ recipe videos with families and highlight how simple they are to prepare and how cost effective they are.

Eat in with Early Start Recipe Videos

Start for Life and Better Health Healthier Family Recipes

Start for Life and Better Health have a number of fun, simple and cost effective recipes for the whole family. The provide ideas and inspiration for tasty, healthy recipe with easy to follow instructions, and a shopping list of all the ingredients needed.

Better Health Healthier Families Website

Start for Life Website

Cook Together Better Health

Eat Smart Shop Smart

We have a number of blogs to support families including:


How to support families – our 5 Step Guide

Staff working in the early years and health teams play a vital role in helping to increase the uptake of Healthy Start in your area, for example:

1. Do you routinely check if families qualify for NHS Healthy Start?

Ensure to check with families when they register with your setting. Include the question on your registration form! Families who meet the eligibility criteria for the free 15 hours meet the same criteria as Healthy Start. Ensure all families receiving free education and childcare for their 2 years are signed up to the Healthy Start scheme!

2. Support families to complete the online application form

You can help to ensure Healthy Start is available and promoted in your setting and staff/volunteers can support families to apply.

Details on applying for Healthy Start should be readily available in your setting and should be included in relevant support information that parents may receive.

You can support families to apply online:

Signpost families to the online application form here

To apply online families will need:

  • name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • baby’s due date (if pregnant)

Please note for families currently receiving paper vouchers for Healthy Start:

  • these will stop once families complete the online application. Families can still use their Healthy Start vouchers until their expiry date (the expiry date is printed on vouchers).
  • families are currently being contacted to transfer to the new digital card

3. Display Boards

A display board in your setting, or an information folder, is a great way to share the information above with families and ensuring those that qualify are aware of this important scheme.

  • Add posters and information on to an eye-catching display
  • The NHS team have created a package of resources you can use to help promote the scheme. These include social media graphics, a social media toolkit and a guide on how to use these materials. Materials are available in a range of languages including Welsh, Urdu, Indian Punjabi and Bengali. You can find these resources via the following communications toolkit and include email signatures, banners, stickers, social media graphics, leaflets and easy read leaflets.

4. Promoting Healthy Start locally – Media

  • Include an article or news bite in your next newsletter
  • Put a link to Healthy Start on your website http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
  • Share information on your employers social media accounts – Example of information to include in your newsletter/website

Don’t miss out on your FREE NHS Healthy Start Scheme

Did you know that with Healthy Start you get help to buy  milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and infant formula? If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money on it that you can use in some UK shops. Your benefit will be added onto this card every 4 weeks. You also get free vitamins!

You’ll get:

    • £4.25 each week of your pregnancy from the 10th week
    • £8.50 each week for children from birth to 1
    • £4.25 each week for children between 1 and 4
  • If you are pregnant or have children under the age of 4 you could qualify if you are on benefits or under 18 and pregnant
  • Applying for Healthy Start is really easy. Contact a staff member today to discuss your eligibility or for more information and to see if you qualify, check out the Healthy Start website!

Promoting Healthy Start locally – speak to parents visiting your setting

  • Have a conversation with families about the vitamins, this could be at a meeting or during a group session or at registration
  • Find out your local Healthy Start vitamin stockists and make families aware.  For a list of vitamin stockists here!
  • Signpost them to the online healthy start application form.

5. Training for Early Years teams

Don’t forget to book on our Vitamin D – Healthy Start Training to lots more advice and support!

Important Contacts

Website: www.healthystart.nhs.uk
Call the NHS Healthy Start helpline: 0300 330 7010* (Open Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm).
Customer service email address: healthy.start@nhsbsa.nhs.uk

Automated line: 0300 330 2090* (Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for card queries).
To contact the NHS Healthy Start team: nhsbsa.healthystart@nhs.net
For enquiries about promoting the scheme: nhsbsa.communicationsteam@nhs.net

* Calls to 0300 numbers are charged at the same rate as dialling an 01 or 02 number. If your landline or mobile service has inclusive minutes to 01 / 02 numbers, then calls to 0300 are counted as part of this inclusive call volume

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