Where and how to get financial help for vet bills

As costs are rising across the county we take a look at the support available for the cats and dogs in our lives.

Finding support from charities, vets and insurers at times of financial difficulty.

With costs across the country rising whether it be food and fuel through to energy making sure that we have enough money to provide for ourselves as well as our pets is important. The RSPCA have seen pet abandonment rates rise by 20% driven by rising cost of living and the impact of re-opening after the Covid-19 national lockdown.  

It can be useful to understand what support is available to you to ensure that you can continue to care for your cats, dogs and other animals. This can come in various forms from animal charities, vets, pet insurers and other organisations. 

Animal Charities

There are a number of animal charities that are able to support you to care for your pets. The assistance required does depend upon your personal experience and the location you reside in. Let’s take a look at which organisations might be able to help. 

PDSA

The PDSA is one of the UK’s leading animal charities. They run 48 pet hospitals which undertake 2.7 million veterinary treatments every year.

They offer free and subsidised treatment for pet owners who meet certain criteria which are being in receipt of housing benefit or council tax support. You’ll need to be registered with the PDSA and live within a catchment area of one of their 48 hospitals or pet care scheme practices.

Check whether you are eligible for PDSA treatment.

RSPCA

The RSPCA is primarily focused on rescuing and rehoming animals, however, they do also offer support for veterinary treatment for pet owners struggling with the costs. 

They operate a number of hospitals and clinics nationwide, and they can offer support for basic treatments such as neutering, vaccinations and microchipping of pets. They can also provide support for more serious vet treatment so long as you are deemed eligible for it. To find out if you are eligible for help then you would need to check with your local centre.

Find and contact your nearest RSPCA centre.

If the RSPCA cannot help you through veterinary treatment, they may still be able to provide financial support and provide advice on the options available to you. 

Blue Cross

If you live within one of the catchment areas for one of Blue Cross’ hospitals and treatment centres then you may well be able to receive free or discounted vet treatment. You can check whether you are within the catchment area of a Blue Cross animal hospital at: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/veterinary.

If you do have a nearby animal hospital then you will then in order to get free treatment (a small voluntary donation may be requested) you’ll need to be in receipt of any of the following benefits:

  • Universal credit 
  • Income support
  • Jobseeker’s allowance (income-based)
  • Employment and support allowance (income-related)
  • Pension credit

Discounted vet treatment is typically around 30% cheaper than going to a regular vet and you could be eligible for this if you are in receipt of the following means-tested benefits:

  • Universal credit (if not maximum award)
  • Working tax credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Housing benefit with no other benefit
  • Council tax reduction with no other benefit

Dogs Trust

The Hope Project run by Dog’s Trust isn’t available to everyone but instead focuses on providing free vet treatment to dogs of homeless owners or those that find themselves in housing crisis. Working together with vet practices and homelessness charities the Hope Project spans to 114 towns and cities across the UK. 

Explore the project and how to apply

Cats Protection

Whilst Cats Protection do not offer support for more serious veterinary treatment, they do provide help for more routine procedures like spaying, neutering and vaccinations for your cat if you are struggling to pay for these types of treatment. Assessment is done via means testing. 

Contact Cats Protection to find out more

USPCA

The USPCA is focussed on pets in Northern Ireland, they have a similar mission to the RSPCA in that they specialise in preventing animal cruelty. However, they do offer help towards some veterinary services, including free micro-chipping. To find out if you can get help then you should contact your local USPCA centre.

Vet Advice Lines

When looking at the best ways to save money on pet insurance we’ve discussed vet advice lines. Most insurers include these as part of your policy by default and they provide pet owners with on-demand access to professional veterinary advice. 

However, these advice lines are also available to those pet owners who aren’t insured. Pet GP is one such example where you can arrange one of consultations for a small fee. Vet Help Direct is another option where you can check symptoms online for free and arrange vet visits if needed through the platform.

Whilst there may be a cost associated with these providers, if it saves you a visit to a vet (particularly if it is out of hours) then it’ll be money well spent. 

Vet Payment Plans

Whilst vet practices are businesses and not charities they’ll want to ensure that the pets are given the best treatment to give them the best quality of life regardless of your circumstances. The last thing anyone wants to have a healthy pet put down due to financial circumstances. 

This is why if you are struggling to find the funds for treatment you should speak to your vet to see whether there are any of the following: 

  • Alternative treatment methods (are there cheaper but as effective treatments available)
  • Discounts or reduction in price for the treatment given
  • Payment terms or plans in order to spread the cost of treatment over time.

Not all vets will have the ability to spread the cost, but bigger chains like VetsNow may be able to accomodate this. If your vet doesn’t do this then you could look at payment plans – Carefree Credit offers a 0% APR product for pet owners.

Make sure that you understand the risks in taking out credit and fully understand the repayments you’ll be responsible for.

Insurers with pre-authorisation and direct vet payment

If you have pet insurance then you’ll likely (but not always) be in a position where any treatment your pet needs will be covered by the insurer. However, there are two aspects of pet insurance that you might find useful if you are experiencing financial difficulties.

Firstly, pre-authorisation is important to understand as it can give you a little more confidence of a claim being paid out before you accept treatment from a vet and before you put the claim in. Not every insurer offers pre-authorisation of claims but for those that do it can provide that extra peace of mind especially if the treatment required is very expensive. 

The second aspect is direct vet payment. Most pet insurance providers can pay vets directly to make the payment for the treatment. This means that as long as your claim is accepted then you won’t need to pay for the treatment upfront yourself and then be waiting for a reimbursement. The insurer and the vet deal with the claim between themselves and you’ll be informed of the result of the claim outcome and settlement.   

Find out more about how pre-authorisation and direct vet payment works

What if you can’t afford your insurance premium?

Insurance can be valuable as we have seen in regards to direct vet payment and pre-authorisation above, however what support is available if you can no longer afford pet cover. Pet insurers in the UK are governed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and within their guidelines there are 2 things that are relevant: 

  • Treating Customers Fairly (TCF): This is a policy that all financially regulated businesses in the UK need to adhere to and this involves listening carefully to the demands and needs of the customer to find a suitable product. There are many other principles too. 
  • Vulnerable Customers: These are individuals who are deemed to be more at risk of ‘detriment’ because of their personal circumstances. This could be due to short-term, long-term or permanent reasons that are any of emotional, mental, physical, financial or social circumstances. 

Firms have internal processes that help them to identify and communicate effectively with the individual affected.

As a customer, the best thing you can do is speak to your insurer and tell them about the financial difficulties you have. This then allows the insurer to find and suggest ways they can help, such as considering lower versions of cover, adding/removing cover elements, increasing/decreasing excess or coinsurance payments. These options will be individual to specific circumstances and you will be given the information to make an educated and informed decision.