Fury as tens of thousands of families still can't access Healthy Start Vouchers – what you need to do NOW | The Sun

FURY has erupted among families who are still unable to access Healthy Start Vouchers.

The Healthy Start scheme means struggling families can get up to £442 in free food vouchers to help them get by.

A big change to the scheme was introduced in January this year with prepaid cards replacing the old paper coupons previously used.

Around 550,000 mums who are pregnant or have kids aged three or under are in theory eligible for the scheme, which is worth between £4.25 and £8.50 a week.

The system though was thrown into chaos in the transition with parents who had been using the old scheme found they had been rejected for the new one.

Some believe they are owed months of back payments, leaving them furious.

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Many frustrated parents have vented their fury on the NHS Healthy Start Facebook page.

One mum, waiting for her card to arrive in the post, wrote: “20 weeks on and still nothing….10 day pfffffttttt really? Joke of a service!”

Another added: “DISGUSTING HOW PEOPLE ARE BEING TREATED !!!! Emails ,phone calls, private messages THIS NEEDS SORTING OUT NHS Healthy Start causing so much anxiety in so many family’s it’s wrong !!!!”

A third said: “I have called and called and emailed and had NO RESPONSE.

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“My card has not arrived. That’s 2 months now we've not had vouchers that make all the difference to our food shop. I am now in arrears with bill providers.

“I would appreciate a prompt response and solution and those vouchers that are missing to to reissued.

“This it NOT funny, it is causing stress and anxiety as well as putting us into hardship. I am skipping my own meals to ensure my daughter eats well.

“I have already made formal complaints to which I have had no response.

“I am deeply saddened by your lack of responsibility and care over the issue.”

The system appears to have suffered from a number of issues with parents who were able to get on the system finding they couldn’t activate their new card – or had it declined at the till.

Some callers to the customer helpline were kept waiting for as long as three hours.

Even those who did receive their card found they could not use it to buy food online and in some shops they could not be used as part-payment, meaning they had to sort out their Healthy Start items out at the till.

Charities and public health officials wrote to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid in March highlighting the problems and warned they were reluctant to promote the scheme locally “for fear of eligible residents being put off by the faulty system”.

The NHS Business Services Authority has admitted “there have been some issues” with the transition to the digital service.

Since March, helpline capacity has increased and some IT issues have been fixed.

It has also promised back payments for eligible mothers turned down for the card who can prove they tried to make a claim.

Sofia Parente, a campaigner with the charity Sustain, has called for an overhaul of the digital switchover.

She said in March: "Eligible families are being rejected, cards are failing at tills and calls to the helpline go unanswered.

"The Government needs to extend the paper vouchers until the digital scheme is working, otherwise families exposed to increasing food prices will miss out."

While food foundation Children'sRight2Food's Zoe McIntyre said: "It’s really heart-breaking to hear how many families have been hindered by the digital switchover, rather than helped by it.

"At this challenging time of rising food prices, rising cost of living, Government really needs to remedy these issues immediately.”

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.

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It might be worth emailing [email protected] 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.

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