How to cut the cost of eyecare

When it comes to trimming costs, eyecare isn't really a place to risk cutting corners yet looking after our sight has become an expensive business.

However eyecare doesn't have to break the bank so here are our tips to keep the cost down without compromising on quality or style.

Free or discounted tests
The Eyecare Trust estimates that 20 million Brits risk avoidable sight loss by failing to have regular sight tests. Yet over 30 million Brits are entitled to free NHS eyecare, including children up to the age of 16, students aged 16 to 19 in full-time education, and anyone over the age of 60.

If you're outside these categories you may still be eligible for an NHS-paid test – for example, if you have glaucoma or diabetes, or if you are on income support, jobseeker's allowance or receive working tax credit or child tax credit. Scottish residents are automatically entitled to free sight tests, as is anyone registered blind or partially sighted, and anyone over 40 who has a close relative with glaucoma.

If you are on a low income, you can apply for help with expenses by filling out a HC1 form, which is available from NHS hospitals and Jobcentre Plus offices or online. Those who qualify will then receive an HC2 for help with full costs, or an HC3 certificate for partial help.

If you work at a computer continuously for more than one hour each day your employer is obliged to pay for a sight test under the Health and Safety Regulations Act 1992. If you don't qualify for a free test, Tesco offers free eye test regardless of NHS criteria, or look out for discounts at high street opticians or vouchers online. Dolland and Aitchison and Vision Express often have half-price offers if you book online.

Deals on glasses
You are not obliged to buy your glasses or contact lenses from the opticians that carried out your test – they must give you a copy of your up-to-date prescription, leaving you free to shop around for the best deals. Frames vary widely in price with basic styles starting at around £50 on the highstreet, whereas expect to pay upwards of £100 for designer brands.

The best deals tend to be found online with prices from as little as £20, but the downside is not being able to try on different styles. Some sites, such as Glasses Direct, offer a 'try at home' service before you buy, for free or for the price of postage and packing. Alternatively, pop into a high street optician to try on frames; take note of your preferred style and search for it online.

Remember that when your prescription changes, you don't have to fork our for a new frame - it is possible to just get your new lenses fitted into your existing frame.

Watch out for extras
Both high street and online opticians will try to up-sell you coatings for your lenses, such as anti-reflection, anti-scratch and photochromic lenses. These extras will often bump up the price, so consider whether you really need them.

Cut-price contacts
Contact lenses tend to be much cheaper purchased in bulk online, compared to buying as and when you need them from a high street optician or through a regular direct debit arrangement. You can buy in three, six or 12 month batches and the more you buy, the cheaper it will be but don't buy more than a year's worth in case your prescription changes.

If you choose to buy your contacts and solution online, look out for customer reviews as some websites have been found supplying sub-standard lenses. Reputable retailers will require you to enter your prescription and the optician's details where you had your eye test. Your details are then usually stored so it's easy to repeat your order when you run out. Try online at Tesco, Asda and Lenstore for competitive deals.

When buying contacts or glasses online, always check the refund policy. Most sites offer a 14-day refund period, but not if you've made an error entering your prescription, frame or contact lens choice.

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