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Image of a woman in work in a warehouse who is in a wheelchair. Funding available for those who are disabled and on a low income
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calendar icon05 Mar 2024

Affordable ways to get a wheelchair

Last Friday was International Wheelchair Day – a day that recognises and celebrates the positive impact a wheelchair can have on people’s lives.

Wheelchairs provide a mobility lifeline for those who need to use them. As well as helping people get around, stay active and carry out everyday tasks with ease, they also offer many social and mental health benefits.

But buying a wheelchair can be expensive, with models ranging from £200 to more than £4,000.

The cost can make it unaffordable for many but there are some schemes that can help with funding.

So, in recognition of International Wheelchair Day, we’ve pulled together a helpful guide on where to go to get advice and help to make the process easier and more affordable.

Types of wheelchairs

It can be difficult to know where to start as there is so much choice - from manual and electric, to more specialist chairs for sport or different terrain.

But more broadly wheelchairs can be divided into two main categories – manual and powered/electric.

Manual wheelchairs come as either self-propelled by the user or attended-propelled, which need to be pushed from behind. Both are usually lightweight but require a lot of energy to move over long distances.

Powered – also known as electric or motorised – wheelchairs are expensive but can be a good investment if you don’t have the strength or stamina to use a manual wheelchair.

How to get a free wheelchair

There are lots of ways to get a wheelchair. What is available to you will depend on your individual circumstances and could result in you having to pay some or all the cost to get the model you want.

To get a free NHS wheelchair you will need to be assessed either by your GP, physiotherapist, or hospital. Assessments tend to take place face-to-face either at your local hospital or clinic or, in some cases, your home.  

You might be able to refer yourself directly to a wheelchair service without seeing your GP. To find out if this is an option in your area, contact your integrated care board or search online for NHS wheelchair services.

The type of wheelchair you get offered will depend on your needs and not your income. And the NHS has different criteria for each different wheelchair, i.e., to be eligible to get a powered wheelchair, you must need to use it full-time for mobility.

Free NHS wheelchairs are provided on a loan basis, meaning that even if you have it for the long-term, the chair is still owned by the NHS. This also means the cost for maintenance and repair is covered by the NHS.

NHS personal wheelchair budget

You don’t have to accept the NHS wheelchair you are offered.

You can apply for a personal wheelchair budget to help you get the model you prefer. E.g. you might be offered a manual wheelchair but you’d rather a motorised chair. You can put your NHS personal budget toward the cost of the motorise chair and pay the outstanding balance yourself.

However, it’s worth recognising that if you use your personal wheelchair budget to buy a chair privately, you will be liable for its maintenance and repair.

Motability

The Motability scheme allows you to lease a powered wheelchair using a qualifying mobility allowance. To be eligible for the scheme, you need to receive a mobility allowance - such as one of the following - and have at least 12 months left to go on the award.

  • Enhanced rate mobility component or personal independence payment (PIP)
  • Higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance
  • War pensioners mobility supplement
  • Armed forces independent payment

The scheme doesn’t just offer powered wheelchairs, it’s also possible to lease a new wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) and scooters. Find out more here.

Rent a wheelchair

If you only need a wheelchair for a short period of time, you might be able to borrow one. Red Cross has branches across the country providing sort term rental contracts, costing £22 a week. Delivery is an additional £25.

Grants to help with wheelchair costs

There are lots of charities offering grants to help cover the cost of buying a wheelchair. What you will be offered will depend on your medical needs and financial circumstances.

Most charities will expect you to have applied for all the benefits you’re entitled to and to have looked into what support is available from your local authority, before they’ll allow you to apply for help from them.

The Turn2Us website is a good starting place – it has a grants tool that allows you to search for funding based on your personal circumstances.

The Disability Grants website also has a list of grants listed by category. This makes it easier to search for grants for equipment, housing or holidays.

End Furniture Poverty and Lighting Reach also have a search tool to help find suitable grants.

Are you claiming everything you should be?

The government has range of disability-related financial support, including benefits, tax credits, payments, grants and concessions.

Some benefits you might be able to get are:

  • Universal credit
  • Personal independence payment (PIP
  • Disability living allowance (DLA)
  • Attendance allowance
  • New style employment and support allowance

You can use our free benefits checker to make sure you’re getting all the support you’re entitled to.

You might also be eligible for other government help such as exemption from paying vehicle tax, a Blue Badge for parking, free bus and train travel and help to buy or lease a car from the Mobility Scheme (mentioned above).

Your local council can also provide support such as direct debit payments to allow you to buy in and arrange your own help as opposed to getting it directly from social services. They also have disabled facilities grants, which provide money towards the cost of adapting your home.

Grants are also available from Access to Work to help you stay in work if you have a disability.

The support you get from Access to Work will depend on your needs but can help with practical support at work, help with managing your mental health or money to pay for communication support at job interviews.

Disabled and found yourself in debt?

Disabled people are twice as likely to face debt because of the increased costs associated, such as expensive - yet vital - equipment like wheelchairs. As well as costs for modifying their homes, those who’re disabled also face far higher energy bills to power the equipment or keep rooms warm.

If you find yourself struggling with debt, get in touch because we can help. We can make sure you’re getting all the financial support you should be, help you access grants, get you on the Priority Register to ensure your suppliers are helping you, and find the debt solution that meets your personal needs and circumstances.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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