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Updated: 11 Nov 2021

How to get a wheelchair: NHS, rental or buy your own?

We explain the main options if you need a wheelchair. Covering the NHS wheelchair service, other rental options and how to buy a wheelchair privately.
Which?Editorial team

Getting a wheelchair

If you decide that you, or someone you care for, would benefit from a wheelchair, there are three main sources to consider:

  • The NHS: most regular wheelchair users rely on equipment supplied by the NHS. You will first need to complete an assessment of your mobility needs.
  • Wheelchair hire schemes: there are a number of charitable or voluntary schemes that can provide short-term wheelchair hire.
  • Buying a wheelchair: you can purchase a wheelchair through a mobility shop. You may be given a voucher to cover some of the cost.

NHS wheelchair services

Most people who use a wheelchair all the time have an NHS wheelchair. An NHS wheelchair is loaned, rather than given to you, and the NHS is responsible for its maintenance and repairs.

The NHS wheelchair service offers assessments to determine what type of wheelchair or mobility equipment you may be entitled to. In most cases, you’ll be referred to the service by a hospital, doctor, consultant or occupational therapist. However, the specific criteria to determine who is eligible will vary depending on where you live.

Many NHS wheelchair services have a waiting list, so you may have to wait several weeks after referral before you get an assessment.

In Northern Ireland, wheelchairs that are needed on a day-to-day basis are managed through the occupational therapist services of the local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust.

Wheelchair hire

If you need a wheelchair for a shorter time following an operation or injury, you might want to think about wheelchair hire.

You may be able to apply for a wheelchair for short-term use from your local NHS wheelchair service, but they don’t generally hire out wheelchairs for occasional days out.

The Motability Scheme

The not-for-profit Motability Scheme allows people to hire a powered wheelchair, mobility scooter or car for up to three years. To qualify you must receive a government-funded disability allowance – either the Disability Living Allowance, if you already receive that particular benefit; or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if you are applying now.

You will receive your wheelchair or mobility scooter in exchange for all or part of your allowance. 

Anyone getting the enhanced-rate mobility component of the PIP can take part in the scheme, providing they have at least 12 months of the award remaining. It’s also open to people receiving the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement.

Read more information about how to buy a motability car through the scheme how to buy or lease a car through the Motability scheme.

How Shopmobility could help

Shopmobility is a charity set up to assist people with mobility difficulties – whether through disability, illness or injury – to continue to get around town and city centres.

Anyone who has problems with mobility can access shops and other services through the Shopmobility scheme. Equipment available for hire can include manual and electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters and rollators.

Red Cross wheelchair hire

The Red Cross provides short-term loans of mobility aids such as wheelchairs at almost 1,000 UK outlets, and is known as being the main wheelchair-hire scheme.

As the service is run by volunteers, the Red Cross asks for a donation, and may also require a refundable deposit. Get in touch as early as you can, as your local branch may have a waiting list.

Other wheelchair hire options

Many companies, from Center Parcs and zoos to gardens and National Trust properties, have wheelchairs available to hire, too. They’re usually light, manual wheelchairs that are adequate for a day out where there’s a lot of walking. You’ll need to phone ahead to reserve a wheelchair, as there’s often limited availability.

Buying a wheelchair

Rather than loaning you a wheelchair directly, some NHS wheelchair services will give you a non-taxable voucher that you can put towards buying your own wheelchair. The voucher is for the amount you would have been given after your assessment and is designed to give you more choice.

If the maintenance of the wheelchair is the responsibility of the NHS, you’ll have to return it when you no longer need it. But you could opt to pay for wheelchair maintenance privately and keep the chair permanently. 

If you opt to buy a wheelchair without using the NHS, and you’re chronically sick or disabled, you don’t have to pay VAT. You may also be able to get help towards paying for it from charities or your local authority.

See our article on choosing a wheelchair to help you get the right type.

Should you buy online?

You can buy wheelchairs online but, while you might get a good price, you’ll need to be sure it’s the right wheelchair for you and that you can set up and use it safely. A local mobility shop can offer advice and an after care service.

Before you buy, try out the specific type of wheelchair in the place you’re going to use it – for example, at home or on the pavement – to make sure it’s right for you.

Try before you buy at a Disabled Living Centre

Before deciding on a specific style of wheelchair, it’s a good idea to try them out around the house or on the local roads. There are Disabled Living Centres around the country, which have a wide range of equipment on display and can give advice on the different styles of wheelchairs for sale.

Your local authority should be able to advise on the nearest equipment demonstration centre or Disabled Living Centre to you. Alternatively, search online for Disabled Living Centres in your area.