According to official figures from the National Audit Office (NAO) a third of healthcare fines worth around £188 million were withdrawn due to valid exemptions.
The report from the NAO looked into fines, covering both NHS dental and prescription charges.
The findings revealed that 400,000 dental patients a year receive £100 fines. However, 30 per cent (1.7 million) of these fines have been withdrawn since 2014.
The report says: “Free prescriptions and dental treatment are a significant cost to the NHS, so it is important that it can reclaim funds from people who are not exempt from charges and deter fraud.
“However, eligibility rules under the current system are complicated and difficult for people to understand. NHSBSA still issues a significant number of Penalty Charge Notices that are later successfully challenged.
“Since 2014, NHSBSA has significantly increased the number of checks it carries out and the number of PCNs it issues but has only recently started taking commensurate steps to improve public awareness of the rules.”
The British Dental Association is amongst those who have welcomed the calls for the NHS dental charges to be made clearer.
They claim recent campaigns to discourage incorrect claims are leading to a drop in dental attendance amongst vulnerable patients.
Statistics from the NHS show that dental treatments for patients exempt from charges have fallen by 23 per cent in the last four years.
Charlotte Waite, chair of the BDA’s England Community Dental Services Committee, said: “There can be no excusing the fact innocent people, fully entitled to claim free care, have been slapped with over £180 million in fines.
“Patients deserve real clarity when making a claim.”
David Jacobs, Partner at Milsted Langdon said: “The figures show that more clarification is needed so that there is no misinterpretation of the system.
“If you are unsure of the effect this could have on you, then it is important that you seek specialist advice.”