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Go private, independent then NHS

When choosing a wheelchair there are three main ways to obtain it: through the NHS on loan, by short-term hire from a voluntary or charitable scheme, or by private purchase through an independent mobility provider.

The majority of wheelchair users, after having had their mobility requirements assessed, use a wheelchair provided by the NHS. This means that the user has the wheelchair on loan, and any repairs or maintenance are the NHS’s responsibility.

Usually – though the particular criteria to determine eligibility will vary depending upon location – after referral by a hospital or medical professional such as an occupational therapist, doctor, consultant, people are assessed to ascertain the type of mobility equipment or wheelchair they may be eligible for according to their needs.

However, this is not necessarily a rapid process as waiting lists can mean that there is a wait between the time of the referral and when the assessment can take place.

When use of a wheelchair provides a shorter term solution – for example, post injury or operation – hiring a wheelchair could be the answer.

Though the NHS can provide wheelchairs for short-term use, depending upon eligibility, it is unlikely to do so for occasional use so this is where hire schemes can be ideal.

The Motability Scheme allows those eligible (if they are in receipt of the Personal Independent Payment or PIP, the Disability Living Allowance or the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement) to hire a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair using part or all of their allowance for up the 3 years. In addition, so long as they have a minimum of 12 months remaining, people in receipt of the enhanced-rate mobility component of the PIP can also use the scheme.

Available in towns and city centres, Shopmobility UK – a charity which helps people with mobility issues to access services and shops – provides rollators, mobility scooters, electrical and manual wheelchairs for hire. Costs vary at each Shopmobility Centre, though some centres offer the choice to leave a discretionary donation, and sometimes hire is free. Most centres try to be flexible with the length of time product hire is required.

The largest national provider of short-term manual wheelchair hire is also available through the Red Cross. Wheelchairs can be hired for an agreed fixed period of up to 20 weeks, for around 58,000 users, all across the UK. The wheelchairs are returned for a mandatory service every 12 weeks and accessories are provided free. They can also be delivered and collected for a small charge.

Many establishments such as the National trust or Center Parcs also have lightweight manual wheelchairs available to hire for days out. As availability can be limited, especially at busy times, contacting the venue to make a reservation is a sensible option.

Ultimately, there is always the option to buy a wheelchair. In some cases, after assessment, the NHS will provide a voucher which can be used to the contribute to the cost of the purchase, giving the opportunity for more choice. If the NHS retains responsibility for the wheelchair’s maintenance, then it must be returned when no longer needed. Paying for maintenance privately means that the user can keep it.

Private purchase of a wheelchair may make it exempt from VAT, and sometimes support is available from local authorities or charities.

Mobility providers or shops are ideal places to help users buy the right wheelchair as they can offer experienced advice. In addition, it may be worth visiting a Disabled Living Centre which offer free, impartial information about products and equipment, helping people to make the best choice for them.