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How to get a wheelchair

How and where you get a wheelchair depends on your situation and needs. You may be able to get a wheelchair from the NHS or through grants, charities or fundraising.

Finding the right wheelchair for you

The right wheelchair for you will depend on your needs, funding and what you need to use it for, such as indoor or outdoor use.

Think about your needs and make a list of:

  • any challenges you have getting around
  • tasks that you find difficult
  • features your wheelchair must have

It can also help to think about:

  • if you will push yourself or get pushed by someone else
  • how often you’ll need to use your chair
  • how far you will travel
  • if you need to use it indoors or outdoors or both
  • what your budget is
  • how much it will cost to maintain and repair
  • whether you need something custom-made

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.

Choosing a manual wheelchair (Disabled Living Foundation)

Choosing an electric wheelchair (Disabled Living Foundation)

Choosing a wheelchair (Which?)

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

NHS Wheelchairs

To get a wheelchair through the NHS, ask for a referral to your local wheelchair service. You could do this through:

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

They might measure your height, weight and leg length as part of the referral.

Getting a wheelchair through the NHS wheelchair service is free but the chair belongs to the NHS. The NHS will also be responsible for maintaining and repairing the chair.

NHS wheelchair services

Your local wheelchair service will assess you to decide if you need a wheelchair and, if so, what type.

During the assessment, they will review your:

  • needs
  • home environment
  • lifestyle
  • abilities

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

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 available to you.

NHS electric wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs can also be called ‘powerchairs’ or ‘powered wheelchairs’. The type of electric wheelchair available to you will depend on your local NHS wheelchair service.

For example, some local wheelchair services will only offer an outdoor powerchair. Others may only offer you a chair that works both indoors and outdoors.

To get an NHS electric wheelchair, you need to be able to use it in your home and local environment as well as store it safely. The wheelchair service may also need to check things like:

  • your vision and if you know how close things are, this is called spatial perception
  • your ability to use the chair controls
  • if you’re able to pass a powerchair driving proficiency test
  • if you’ve had a seizure in the last year

The NHS does not usually give a powered wheelchair to people who:

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

NHS personal wheelchair budgets

If the standard NHS wheelchairs do not meet your needs, you may be able to get an NHS personal wheelchair budget.

Personal wheelchair budgets should give you more choices to make sure your chair meets all your health and care needs. It does this by using budgets from:

You can also contribute to your personal wheelchair budget so you have more wheelchair options available to you.

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

When getting personal wheelchair budget, you should have:

  • an assessment to identify health and wellbeing outcomes you want to achieve
  • a care plan
  • care services working together to support your postural and mobility needs
  • information about how much money is available in your personal wheelchair budget
  • information about the local options available to use your budget

If you decide to buy a wheelchair outside of the NHS service, you should also get information about repair and maintenance options.

Personal wheelchair budgets (NHS England)

Wheelchair voucher scheme

Personal wheelchair budgets are replacing the NHS wheelchair voucher scheme. But some local services may not offer wheelchair budgets yet.

The wheelchair service will give you a voucher instead. This has the same value as the chair they offer. You can use the voucher towards the cost of the chair you want.

You can then buy a chair privately using the voucher and other funding, such as:

  • your own money
  • a grant
  • through crowdfunding

If you use a voucher, the wheelchair belongs to you. You will need to maintain and repair it. The NHS will not pay for this.

For example:

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

The chair you want costs £10,000. You apply for a voucher worth the cost of the manual wheelchair, which is £4,000. You pay the remaining £6,000.

You pay the supplier to service your chair.

Grants to pay for a wheelchair

Getting 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 disability charities and trusts offer grants and funding for equipment. Search different charities supporting your condition or impairment to find out how they can help.

Do not apply for a grant from a charity or trust unless you've checked if it will affect your means-tested (income-based) benefits. Talk about your options with your occupational therapist, care manager or local disability information and advice organisation.

Finding and applying for grants

Grants checker tool

Access to Work

If you’re in work or looking for a job but you need equipment to help you do the job, Access to Work may give you a grant to help pay for it. This could be:

  • a manual wheelchair
  • an electric wheelchair
  • wheelchair equipment

Access to Work

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 as they receive the grant.

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

Keeping disability equipment when you leave your job

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding may help you pay for a wheelchair. Keep any money you raise in a separate bank account.

A strong story helps make fundraising successful. Make sure you are comfortable with sharing your personal life with the public before starting fundraising.

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

Motability Scheme

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.

Motability Scheme

Where to find and buy wheelchairs

Search online for local mobility shops. They can give you advice and might offer maintenance or ‘after care’ services. Going to a store can also mean you can look at the different types to help you decide which one might suit your needs best.

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

Trying disability equipment before you buy

Getting and paying for disability equipment

Try before you buy at demonstration centres

Trying out a chair around the house or on local roads can help you decide on the best wheelchair for you. Disabled Living Centres or demonstration centres have a wide range of equipment on display. They can also give you advice on different styles of wheelchairs.

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

Rules for powered wheelchairs (GOV.UK)

Ask your local authority for information on your local equipment demonstration centre or Disabled Living Centre.

Find your nearest demonstration centre (livingmadeeasy.org.uk)

Trade shows

There are many trade shows where suppliers showcase their latest technology, products and support services.

You could try:

Last reviewed by Scope on: 19/03/2020

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