The NHS is demanding payment for dental treatment from thousands of innocent patients each year - even though they are entitled to free care.
Freedom of information requests have shown that between 2014/15 and 2016/17 the NHS BSA issued 724,635 Penalty Charge Notices for dental treatment, of which 210,972 were paid, but 174,679 had an exemption confirmed.
Dentist leaders have expressed grave concern that this untargeted approach to fines is hitting innocent patients, who are often vulnerable patients or on low incomes.
The British Dental Association (BDA) blamed a “totally indiscriminate” approach to issuing the fines and said it was ‘ludicrous’ that the rate of successful appeals was so high.
Charlotte Waite from the BDA said: “Yes, we need robust measures to ensure NHS funds are properly spent.
“Sadly tough talk on rooting out fraud has gone hand in hand with a totally indiscriminate approach to fines.
“It’s ludicrous that nearly as many appeals are won as penalties are actually paid.
“These fines are now hitting hundreds of thousands of patients - many who are vulnerable or on low incomes - who have simply done nothing wrong.
“Government really needs to be encouraging attendance at NHS dentists, not designing policies to put the frighteners into patients who are fully entitled to claim.
“We need to end the fine roulette, with straightforward forms, and proper signposting. Those eligible for free dentistry shouldn’t face £100 penalties by default just for ticking the wrong box.”
A spokesperson for the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), which runs the checks, said: “The NHS loses millions each year through fraudulent and incorrect claims for dental treatment.
“On behalf of NHS England, the NHSBSA checks claims at random in order to verify entitlement to free treatment and issue a penalty charge notice where no valid exemption can be identified.
“We encourage all patients to check their entitlement before claiming free dental treatment.”
There are several different circumstances that can mean you don’t have to pay for a dentist from the health service, such as if you are on certain benefits or are in full-time education and aged 16 to 18.
The NHSBSA checks patients’ entitlements against its own records and Department for Work and Pensions data.
The remaining claims that haven’t been paid yet or successfully challenged are outstanding and ‘subject to further recovery action’, it said.