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Choosing and buying equipment

Obtaining independent living products can improve your safety and wellbeing, and also ensure you stay independent for longer.
5 min read
In this article
Choosing home care products Buying home care products Buying assistive technology products
VAT exemption Disability equipment loan and hire Getting hold of the equipment

Choosing home care products

When it comes to buying equipment to help you stay independent at home, you might want to get professional advice from an occupational therapist or physiotherapist, especially if you’re considering spending a large sum of money. These experts can help prevent making an expensive mistake.


The therapist will also let you know if the equipment is likely to be available on long-term loan from the health or social care services – although, you may have a longer wait. Acquiring equipment in this way means that you’re generally not responsible for any potential maintenance or servicing costs.


As a guide, you should speak to these professionals for the following pieces of equipment.


  • Occupational therapists (OTs): usually employed by the social services (although private OTs also exist) and will provide support with practical alterations that will make your home safer and easier to use.
  • Physiotherapists: generally employed by the health services and will often be responsible for the provision of mobility equipment. If you’re using the services of a private physiotherapist, ask them how you can buy privately.
  • Community nurses: working alongside your GP, community nurses can generally provide a range of equipment needed to care for people at home, including beds, commodes and incontinence supplies
  • NHS wheelchair service: wheelchairs are normally issued direct from the wheelchair service, managed by the local health service. You will be able to find their contact details via the local authority or your health centre.

Buying home care products

Whatever you’re thinking about incorporating into your life – maybe a mobility aid, a new reclining chair, items to help prepare food more safely, a stairlift or bath hoist – in addition to the information on Which? Later Life Care, there are other places you can go to find out more information before buying.

  • Mobility shops will often visit you at home with larger items of equipment to try in and around your home, so take up this service if it’s available.
  • In some areas of the UK, Disabled Living Centres (DLCs) have displays of equipment and there may be a centre close to where you live that you can visit. These centres are interested in supporting you to make the best choices, and will allow you to try out products on display as well as provide information on how to purchase them.
  • Our list of independent living retailers provides a list of websites that specialise in home care products for older people.

Whenever possible, take the opportunity to try out the equipment before you buy to make sure it addresses the problem and that you have found the right solution.

When purchasing an expensive item, it’s also important to think about the long term. If you have a medical condition that is likely to change, it’s advisable to plan ahead and invest in a product that’s going to meet your needs in the future as well as now. An occupational therapist or physiotherapist can also assist you with these decisions.

We strongly recommend that you only buy larger pieces of equipment, such as a stairlift or scooter, from a supplier registered with the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA).

Buying assistive technology products

Councils have provided emergency or ‘community’ alarm systems for many years (often known as ‘lifeline alarms’), but with an ageing population and cash-strapped local authorities, other options have become necessary. There are now many more products available to buy – and more solutions that can send alerts directly to relatives and call centres. 

Assistive technology includes a whole range of different products, some of which are relevant to a wide variety of different people, so it's no surprise that many devices are now bought privately. Many of the suppliers are members of the BHTA, and follow its code of practice. Always be cautious about buying assistive technology products from pushy sales people.

Note that many telecare systems require you to sign up to a monthly contract, where the telecare devices are linked to a help centre. You can expect to pay around £6 a week for a basic pendant alarm – but, if you get this through your local council, be aware that each one operates its own charging system. Also, some assistive technology systems, such as gas sensors that can switch off your gas system, may require the services of an engineer.

You can find a list of retailers who provide assistive technology products, telecare and mobility aids in our list of independent living retailers.

VAT exemption

If you’re registered disabled or have a chronic health condition, you can claim VAT exemption on certain products and mobility aids. Generally, you won’t qualify because of your age alone – you will have to have a permanent medical or health need.


Whether an item is exempt from VAT is generally determined by whether it’s manufactured solely to assist a person with a disability. For example, a wheelchair, walking frame or walking stick would be exempt. Equipment that hasn’t been specially designed for use by a disabled person will generally not qualify.


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Disability equipment loan and hire

If you need equipment on a temporary basis, you might want to borrow it. Your local Red Cross can often lend wheelchairs and other equipment for short periods. It's likely to make a small charge for this service or may ask for a donation, and the range of equipment is generally limited.


Alternatively, there are many mobility shops and equipment companies who are prepared to rent equipment to you for an indefinite period. This can be a useful option if you’re not sure about purchase, as it will give you an opportunity to determine whether it’s going to be useful for you in the longer term. This is also a good option to consider for holiday use.


Getting hold of the equipment


It’s possible that even if you’re deemed eligible for certain pieces of equipment, you will have to get hold of it yourself. If you’re self-referring, then you’ll definitely have to follow this route.

Generally the available equipment is held in one central store, but different health and social care professionals are likely to have access to different types of equipment.

There will also be different local arrangements for acquiring equipment, so in the first instance it may be best to make a call to your local social services to ascertain the best route to obtain the assistance that you need.

Further reading

Independent living retailers

Specialist retailers who supply independent living products, including mobility aids, assistive technology and telecare.

Last updated: 06 Nov 2020