When dentists warned that tens of thousands of people were being unfairly fined £100 after a visit to the surgery – it prompted a big response from the audience.
They described their distress at getting mistakenly caught up in a system of penalties intended to catch fraudsters getting free treatment.
They talked of their confusion over forms and complained that fines had been applied without adequate checks.
The NHS Business Services Authority is looking for ways to improve information and simplify forms.
“I am most distraught because I received a penalty charge notice two days ago. I have worked most of my life and paid my NHS contributions. After suffering from breast cancer, the aftercare treatment had a horrendous effect on me, especially on my teeth. So I contacted the emergency dentist and on arrival I was asked for my NHS exempt card, which I provided.
“I received one filling – and weeks later the penalty charge notice came through the door. I am being fined £100.
“As I am on a low income and could not afford to pay the fine, I have been given the option to pay over a period of months. I am upset to the extreme to have received this fine.”
“The same thing happened to my son a couple of months ago. My son is a vulnerable adult with Asperger’s syndrome. He was sent a letter saying he had claimed exemption, but in fact we had paid for his dental care in full.
“I had to copy my receipts for the payment and go to the dentist’s surgery to get a confirmation receipt as well as writing a cover letter.
“What a waste of time and resources for all concerned. Fortunately the penalty was withdrawn, but there was no hint of an apology in the letter for the stress and worry their mistake had caused.”
“I no longer go to the dentist after receiving three penalty notices of £100 – the last two after already providing the evidence required. Normal citizens being treated as fraudsters has become normalised.”
“This happened to my sister. She has a learning disability and completed the same form she had always completed, saying that she received a disability benefit and was entitled to free treatment.
“She subsequently received the £100 fine and, not understanding why this had been received, she asked me to investigate.
“I wrote to the chief executive of the NHS agency expressing how immoral and badly managed the system was – running the risk that it would discourage people from looking after their health.
“I pointed out that it penalised the most vulnerable people in society and ultimately me – as I had to pay the fine and waste time working out what had gone on. I received a reply explaining that they were unable to correspond with me, even though they accepted my cheque.”
“My daughter is severely disabled and wheelchair bound. She has full time carers, but I handle all her paperwork. She is in receipt of the higher rate disability living allowance and enhanced employment support allowance (EESA).
“On her last trip to the dentist, they asked me again what was her entitlement to free treatment and I ticked the box for EESA. What I had failed to understand was that there are two types of EESA and only one type gives entitlement to free dentist care.
“Several weeks later, we received a penalty notice informing us of a fine of £100 plus the original dental costs of over £50.
“How could I have checked something that I didn’t know about? There is no way she could have paid the penalty out of her benefits, so I had to.”
“I am all for abusers being made to pay for NHS services when not eligible.
“But an honest mistake filling out a simple form at a dental surgery should have some flexibility or subsequent appeal or checks, so as not to penalise people in such a harsh manner.”
“My adult dependent son has just been fined £100 because nobody knew what box to tick at the dentist.
“The receptionist was extremely unhelpful, and I paid for the treatment (a check-up). I then rang the NHS refund helpline, and they told me I should have ticked a particular box, despite the receptionist arguing against it.
“After telling my dentist practice manager what the NHS helpline had said, I was refunded my money.
“My son then received a letter fining him £100, despite having no income and being aged 19 and still in full-time further education.
“How are patients supposed to navigate a system that is faulty? I have appealed and refused to pay the fine.”
“I feel disgusted and embarrassed. I have been assumed as a fraud by the dentist and the NHS – due to them not, maybe, checking their paperwork, not asking me. It doesn’t just affect vulnerable people.”
“My wife has a severe brain trauma injury, which impacts on her mental capacity to understand simple issues.
“She commenced dental treatment at our NHS dental surgery and afterwards received a bill for £ 244 together with a £100 fine. I immediately responded, in sheer panic. I refused to pay the fine as she had done nothing wrong.
“The question was asked by the dentist if she was receiving benefits. What about employment support allowance (ESA)? Yes, she is in receipt of ESA. In that case your dental treatment will be free. It transpires that there are two types of ESA, and my wife’s does not entitle her to free dental treatment.
“I received a call from a debt-recovery company, giving me an additional 30 days to provide medical evidence of my wife’s brain injury.
“Regardless, we will not be paying this fine and if necessary will defend this in court.
“My wife together with all her other issues is aware of an impending fine but doesn’t quite understand why. This in my opinion is sheer bullying tactics and these people must be challenged.
“It’s having a severe impact on my wife and I. This matter is really taking its toll.”
“I am now reluctant to arrange any more appointments having lost my job two months ago and not being in the position to risk getting fined again. The system is obviously flawed.”
The NHS Business Services Authority says: “We continually review our data-matching process and make improvements where possible.
“We’re also working with various partner organisations to educate patients and healthcare professionals on the rules around eligibility for free dental treatment, to reduce the number of incorrect claims caused by confusion or lack of awareness.”