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PARENTS have just hours left to get up to £442 worth of free food before a new scheme kicks in.
The cut off date for Healthy Start paper vouchers is March 10 so there’s only a short amount of time left for families to apply.
You only one day to apply for the new cardCredit: Getty
The scheme helps low-income Brits with food costs for their young families.
It’s rolling on for another year, but the way the benefit is paid is changing and parents need to make sure they’ve applied in time.
You used to be able to apply for paper vouchers, but applications for that ended on January 31 this year.
The physical vouchers were delivered through the post and you could use them in-stores.
Now you have to sign up for the new, upgraded, prepaid card system.
Even if you already receive the vouchers, you must switch to the digital scheme by the end of the day to continue receiving the benefit and avoid payment delays.
Those that do get-in in time, will then continue to be in receipt of one or two vouchers a week for each young child at home.
They are worth £4.25 a pop, but how much you get over the year depends on how old your children are and more.
The state-backed coupons are all part of the Healthy Start scheme, designed to help low-income families buy essentials for their little ones.
They can go towards the cost of things like milk, vegetables, fruit, pulses and vitamins, all for small children.
How does the scheme work?
If you have a child that’s younger than 12-months-old, you get two vouchers each week.
The vouchers are worth £4.25 each – they used to be worth £3.10 but in April last year the value was hiked.
That means that £442 worth of help is available in the first year of a child’s life.
Pregnant women get one voucher a week, and parents also get one voucher for each child between one and four – so at least £221 in a year.
All that’s different now, is that families will be offered a prepaid card instead of the paper vouchers – but they’ll still get the same money.
The card will be topped up every four weeks with the equivalent value of what paper recipients were getting.
The card will be valid at any shop that accepts Mastercard and sells eligible healthy start food items such as fruit, vegetables and vitamins.
That includes supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, markets and newsagents.
The good thing about the change, is that any money that you don’t spend will remain on the card, and can be put toward healthy food in the future.
In the old voucher scheme you’d had to spend at least £4.25 in one transaction, so this way parents can make a better saving if they do have pennies left to spare.
You can check your card’s balance at anytime at ATMs – and payments are automatically added, meaning you won’t have to wait for vouchers in the post.
How can I apply for the new scheme?
If you’re already signed up for Healthy Start vouchers, you should have already been contacted with details on how to apply for a card.
You have to be receiving Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit, or Universal Credit to be eligible though.
You can apply on the NHS website – you’ll need details like your name, address, benefit award letter, and more, to hand.
Once you’ve applied online, you should receive your card within five to 10 working days.
But the NHS warned that it could take longer than this if there’s a high number of applications, which there could be as the deadline looms.
If you get the paper vouchers at the moment, this will stop the minute you apply for the new card – but don’t worry, the ones you already have will still be valid until their individual expiry date.
What happens if I don’t cash-in in time?
After today if you haven’t switched from paper vouchers to prepaid cards you could miss out.
If you don’t switch to the online system you will stop receiving the cash boost.
You can’t chose to go back to the old paper system either, so it’s the new card or bust.
But, you’ll still be able to sign up after the deadline date, it just means that payments will likely be delayed or disrupted and you could be left waiting a while to receive the money.
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