How to get a wheelchair

This information applies to England and Wales.

There are different types of wheelchairs. These include:

  • manual wheelchair
  • electric wheelchair (power wheelchair)
  • mobility scooter

You can also get power attachments to make a manual wheelchair electric.

The type of wheelchair that suits you will depend on your needs.

With a manual wheelchair you propel yourself, or someone pushes you. It's usually light enough to fold up and put in a car. But it can take a lot of energy to move yourself long distances.

With an electric or powered wheelchair you use a control like a joystick to move. It has a battery that you need to charge. As it can be heavier and bigger than a manual wheelchair it can be hard to transport.

Finding the right wheelchair for you

If you can, try different types of wheelchair before you decide. This can help you check if the chair is comfortable and easy to use.

Where to try and buy wheelchairs

Which? advice on choosing a wheelchair

Tips for choosing a manual wheelchair (WheelsNoHeels, YouTube)

Types of powered wheelchairs (Research Institute for Disabled Consumers)

There are rules about driving some mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs on the road.

Mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs: the rules (GOV.UK)

Choosing the right mobility scooter (Dorset Council, YouTube)

If you’re getting a wheelchair through the NHS, a grant or a scheme, your choice of wheelchairs may be limited.

Think about your needs and make a list of:

  • any challenges you have getting around
  • what's changed in your mobility recently
  • tasks that you find difficult
  • features you think your wheelchair should have

It can also help to think about:

  • if you will push yourself or someone else will push you
  • how often you’ll need to use your wheelchair
  • how far you will travel
  • if you need to fit it in a car
  • if you need to use it indoors or outdoors or both
  • your budget (if you have funds)
  • where you will store it
  • whether you may need something custom-made

Paying for a wheelchair

How and where you get a wheelchair depends on your situation and needs. You might be able to get a chair from the NHS by having an NHS wheelchair assessment.

NHS wheelchair assessment

NHS electric wheelchairs

Other ways of funding a wheelchair include:

NHS wheelchair assessment

To get a free NHS wheelchair you will have an assessment to see if you’re eligible.

NHS wheelchair assessments are free, but you need a referral from:

  • a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist
  • your GP
  • or hospital staff

Your local wheelchair service carries out the assessments. They are often at hospitals. Sometimes private companies can also run NHS assessments.

You might be able to have a home visit, depending on your needs. They may not be able to bring wheelchairs for you to try out if they come to your home. That’s why it’s best to travel to the service if possible.

This wheelchair assessment is not a financial assessment. Getting a wheelchair through the NHS depends on your needs, not your income.

You may have to wait some time for an appointment.

You can also pay for a private wheelchair assessment. The person doing the assessment may encourage you to buy a wheelchair that they sell.

What happens at a wheelchair assessment

A healthcare professional like an occupational therapist or physiotherapist will decide if you need a wheelchair and, if so, what type.

They’ll ask you questions about your:

  • needs
  • home environment
  • lifestyle
  • abilities

They might ask you to show them the range of movements you can do comfortably.

They’ll also take your measurements. You will not need to undress.

If someone else like a carer or family member will be handling your wheelchair, ask them to come too. The assessor will ask them about their needs as well.

You should also be able to try out some wheelchairs during your appointment.

Assessments usually take around 1 hour but can last longer.

Before your appointment, it can help to think of some questions to ask. This can make it easier for you to decide which type of wheelchair will suit you. For example:

  • Will I have to contribute financially to my wheelchair?
  • What happens if my wheelchair breaks or gets damaged?
  • Will my wheelchair be lightweight to suit my carer or family?
  • Will my wheelchair fit into my car?
  • Will my home need adapting for a wheelchair?

Each NHS wheelchair service is different. What your local service can offer will vary.

If you disagree with the assessor’s recommendations, you can try challenging their decision.

Challenging recommendations about NHS disability equipment

Warning NHS only covers what you need

The NHS can only meet what you need and not what you want. They might also start with basic equipment and only adjust their recommendation if it does not meet your essential needs.

You can help pay towards a wheelchair if you want more options. An NHS personal wheelchair budget may help you get the wheelchair you want.

NHS electric wheelchairs

Your local wheelchair service might decide that you’re eligible for an electric wheelchair. Electric wheelchairs can also be called:

  • powerchairs
  • powered wheelchairs
  • power wheelchairs

The type of electric wheelchair available to you will depend on your local NHS wheelchair service. The wheelchair service will work with you to adapt the wheelchair to meet your clinical needs.

You are not likely to get a mobility scooter through the NHS.

Mobility scooters (Motability)

To get an NHS electric wheelchair, you need to be able to use it where you live. It’s also important that you can store it and charge the battery safely.

The wheelchair service may also want to check things like:

  • your vision and if you can tell how close things are (spatial perception)
  • your ability to use the chair controls
  • if you’ve had a seizure in the last year

The NHS does not usually give an electric wheelchair to people who:

  • can walk, even if only a little
  • can use a manual wheelchair by themselves
  • cannot use an electric wheelchair on their own

NHS personal wheelchair budgets

You do not have to accept the NHS wheelchair you are offered at an assessment.

If you prefer a wheelchair that the NHS cannot provide, ask your assessor about an NHS personal wheelchair budget. Everyone who is eligible for an NHS wheelchair should be able to access this. You may need to ask about this more than once.

You can also apply for a personal wheelchair budget for your disabled child.

NHS personal wheelchair budgets use money from:

You can add to your personal wheelchair budget with:

For example, your local NHS wheelchair service offers you a £4,000 manual wheelchair but you want an electric wheelchair so you can travel further and be more independent.

The chair you want costs £10,000 from a private company. Your personal wheelchair budget is £4,000 and you top it up with £6,000 to pay for the chair.

Your wheelchair service will still need to make sure that the chair you choose meets all your clinical needs. Your wheelchair must come from an approved supplier.

How much money you get in your budget depends on your needs and not your income. You do not have a financial assessment for a personal wheelchair budget.

During your assessment, you can ask the assessor to explain:

  • what a personal wheelchair budget is
  • how to apply
  • what you should do next
  • local providers that other wheelchair users may have used

Your occupational therapist or physiotherapist may also be able to show you how to apply.

The options for using your personal wheelchair budget (NHS England)

If you’re disabled and have a primary health need, you could be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare (CHC). If you’re funded by continuing healthcare, your coordinator can give you guidance on personal wheelchair budgets.

NHS continuing healthcare

Personal wheelchair budgets and benefits

A personal wheelchair budget does not count as income and will not affect your means-tested benefits or State Pension.

You can use income from benefits to contribute to your personal wheelchair budget if you like.

Repairing and servicing your wheelchair

If you get a wheelchair through the NHS, you do not pay for:

  • repairs
  • maintenance
  • service

If you use your personal wheelchair budget to buy a chair privately, it belongs to you. This means you will need to maintain and repair it. The NHS will not pay for this.

Before you buy a wheelchair from an independent supplier, check if you can include maintenance and repair in your contract.

Buying disability equipment

How long personal wheelchair budgets last

If you get a wheelchair with a personal wheelchair budget it usually needs to last:

  • around 5 years for adults
  • around 2 to 3 years for children

This can depend on where you live.

If your clinical needs change before the end of the budget, you may feel your wheelchair is no longer suitable.

Ask your local wheelchair service if you’d be eligible for a reassessment before the budget ends.

Needs assessment

If you're getting a wheelchair, you can ask your local authority if you’re eligible for any:

  • practical support
  • home adaptations

Getting a social care needs assessment

Getting home adaptations

Grants to pay for a wheelchair

Finding a grant can help you get a wheelchair for free or pay towards the total cost.

You’ll need to meet the grant provider’s rules about:

  • what they fund
  • the size of grants
  • if you can apply
  • assessing what you need
  • how to buy the equipment

Some charities and trusts offer grants and funding for equipment. Search online for charities who support your condition or impairment to find out if they can help.

Finding and applying for grants

Search for grants (Turn2us)

Disability grants for adults and children (Disability Grants)

If you’re a student, you may be able to get equipment through Disabled Students’ Allowance.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)

Freedom Powerchairs

This charity supports people across the UK with mobility problems by specially designing powerchairs, services and facilities to suit individual needs.

Freedom Powerchairs

Free wheelchairs for children and young people

Whizz Kidz supplies made-to-measure wheelchairs to children and young people in the UK.

See if your child or young person is eligible for a Whizz Kidz chair

A Wizzybug is a powered wheelchair provided free of charge to young children in the UK.

Apply for a free Wizzybug

Warning Check your benefits

Do not apply for a grant from a charity or trust unless you’ve checked if it will affect your means-tested benefits. These are benefits based on your savings and income.

Talk about your options with your occupational therapist, care manager or local disability information and advice organisation.

Find a benefits adviser (Turn2us)

Access to Work

Access to Work could give you a grant to help pay for equipment so you can do your job. This would apply if you’re in paid work, but it does not apply if you’re volunteering. The equipment could be:

  • a manual wheelchair
  • an electric wheelchair
  • wheelchair equipment

Access to Work grant scheme

You may need to wait several months for a decision on the grant.

You apply for the grant but it’s usually your employer that buys the equipment through Access to Work. This means your employer will own the equipment because they receive the grant.

If you think the equipment could help you when you leave your job, ask to keep it.

Keeping disability equipment when you leave your job


Crowdfunding may help you pay for a wheelchair, or part of it. Keep any money you raise in a separate bank account.

A strong story helps make fundraising successful. Make sure you are comfortable sharing your personal life with the public before starting fundraising. It may take a lot of energy to crowdfund.

Fundraising for things you need

Warning Crowdfunding can affect your benefits

Money that you raise could be treated as income by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This could affect means-tested (income-based) benefits.

Savings and means-tested benefits

Contact the Scope helpline for advice

Motability Scheme: hire or buy

The Motability Scheme can help you hire or buy an electric wheelchair.

If you’re on benefits, you may be able to lease a chair using the mobility component of your benefit.

Powered wheelchairs (Motability)

Where to try and buy wheelchairs

Search online for local mobility shops. They can give you advice on the features and specifications. They may also offer maintenance or ‘after care’ services.

Some local shops might not stock all models. You may need to try a range of chairs before deciding.

Trying out disability equipment

If there’s a wheelchair you’re interested in, it’s a good idea to search online for reviews from other wheelchair users.

Ask our online community about equipment

Try a wheelchair at a demonstration centre

Disabled Living Centres or demonstration centres have a wide range of equipment on display. These are also called Independent Living Centres.

You can get advice on types of wheelchairs as well.

If you want to buy an electric wheelchair, you may need to show that you can use the chair safely. This is even if you’re paying for it yourself and not through the NHS, other schemes or grants.

Ask your local authority for information on your local centre.

Find your local authority (GOV.UK)

Trade shows

There are many trade shows where suppliers bring their latest technology, products and support services. Find out what’s available near you, such as:

NAIDEX (National Accessibility, Inclusion and Disability exhibition)

Kidz to Adultz exhibitions (Disabled Living)

Buying a used wheelchair

Buying a used wheelchair could be a good way to:

  • save money
  • learn what you need
  • if you’re planning to buy a new wheelchair later

Buying used disability equipment

Depending on your needs, a used wheelchair might not fit you correctly. Speak with a healthcare professional if you are unsure.

Wheelchair insurance

You do not need to have wheelchair insurance. But it can give you peace of mind in case your chair:

  • is damaged by accident
  • is stolen

Insurance can also protect you if your wheelchair causes an accident or damages someone else or their property. This is called third party liability. The NHS cannot cover your costs if this happens. It is something NHS wheelchair services usually recommend that you have insurance for.

You may be able to include your wheelchair as part of your home insurance. There are also insurance companies that specialise in insuring wheelchairs.

Blue Badge Mobility Insurance

If you’re going on holiday abroad, it’s wise to have travel insurance. You might be able to include your wheelchair as part of this. It could mean you have to pay more for travel insurance.

For trips and holidays in the UK, you may still choose to have travel insurance.

Travel insurance

Hiring a wheelchair

You may need to hire a wheelchair for a short time. For example:

  • you want to travel abroad but do not want to take your own chair
  • you're waiting for an NHS wheelchair assessment and want to feel more independent
  • you're waiting for your new wheelchair to be ready

Hiring a wheelchair should not make a difference if you are waiting for your NHS wheelchair assessment. It shows you need it!

Red Cross has a range of manual wheelchairs to hire for adults, and children 5 years old and up.

Hire a wheelchair from Red Cross

They can deliver a wheelchair to you, then collect it again afterwards. There is an extra charge for this.

To hire a wheelchair abroad you could:

  • search online for wheelchair hire in the place you’ll be staying
  • ask your holiday company or holiday rep for advice

Last reviewed by Scope on: 01/12/2023

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