Buying a powered wheelchair is such a vital decision it’s important to do some research beforehand. There are no independent product tests so this article can give you useful pointers to help you:
• Work out how to fund your next chair
• Find where to go for information and advice
• Find what kind of powered wheelchair would best suit you
Paying for a powered wheelchair
NHS Wheelchair Services will provide a wheelchair on loan or through the voucher scheme. The NHS will provide what they assess you to need and may not provide a powered wheelchair. The key word is ‘assess’ because, unlike buying a mobility scooter, getting a powered wheelchair requires an assessment, usually by an occupational therapist.
If you’re in work, or looking for work, the national Access to Work scheme may support you with a grant towards equipment you need, including a powered wheelchair, visit: www.gov.uk/access-to-work
The Motability scheme also allows you to use certain disability benefits to lease a powered wheelchair. Search: www.motability.co.uk
If you don’t have the money for a powered wheelchair, then the only route is to try to get a charity to provide a grant. Charities support different types of people and have different rules. Local charities may be known by your occupational therapist, local library or see if there is a local Lions Club or Round Table. For national charities, see Turn2Us: www.turn2us.org.uk and Disability Grants: www.disability-grants.org
NHS Wheelchair Services
Many people will get a powered wheelchair – often called an ‘EPIOC’- Electrically Powered Indoor/Outdoor Chair – on loan from the NHS. In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland it’ll be from the NHS Wheelchair Service and in Wales they’re called the Artificial Limb and Appliance Service. These services have their own rules which mean they may not supply a powered wheelchair to everyone who wants one or may supply one but without all the features you want.
Wheelchairs provided by the NHS remain the property of the NHS which means they are responsible for maintenance and repairs. To find your local service and for more information, visit the National Wheelchair Managers’ Forum website at:
Who qualifies for an NHS powered wheelchair?
Each service has its own criteria for supply. Generally they won’t supply a powered wheelchair if you:
• Can walk – even if only a little
• Can use a manual wheelchair independently
• Would, for any reason, not use a powered wheelchair in your home
• Will not supply a powered wheelchair to be used outdoors only
• May also cap the cost of individual chairs, or supply chairs only from a limited list, which may prevent you from getting the chair you want
• Will only supply features that meet their assessment of your clinical need, which means they won’t pay for extra features
like seat raising, sit to stand etc.
Wheelchair voucher scheme
If the NHS is unable to provide the equipment you want, you may be offered an EPIOC voucher for the value of the equipment that meets their assessment of your needs. You can then top this voucher up with other money to get the powered wheelchair you want.
TIP: If you buy a wheelchair using a voucher, it belongs to you, so you will have to make your own arrangements and pay for any maintenance. Before you accept a voucher, research the costs of future spares and maintenance. (The voucher scheme is unavailable in Scotland since services there prefer to offer a limited variety of wheelchairs that they can manage and maintain more efficiently – offering spare parts and servicing etc.)
If you have non-specialist needs or are an experienced wheelchair user who knows what you need, you can specify the right powered wheelchair for yourself. If you’re new to all this, you’ll need professional advice particularly about postural support and pressure relief from an Occupational Therapist (OT) or other seating specialist. Your local NHS Service may advise you and may provide postural seating even with a privately purchased wheelchair.
You can find an independent OT at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Specialist Section, Independent Practice website: www.rcotss-ip.org.uk
A reputable equipment supplier can advise you on the range of products they supply and assess whether they are suitable for your needs. Any assessment needs to consider:
• Your support needs (specialist seating, harnesses and supports)
• Your capabilities (setup, operation and maintenance)
• Your lifestyle (how you will use it, cars and public transport, leisure activities)
• Your environment (storage and charging, inside and outside your home)
• Extra features like raising seats.
For more information, read Rica’s guide called “Getting a powered wheelchair” at: www.rica.org.uk
Other things to consider
• Loading your powered wheelchair or mobility scooter into a car.
• Using your powered wheelchair safely on public transport
(Again useful information can be found on the Rica website.)
Mobility Centres can advise on loading powered wheelchairs into and out of a car.
See Driving Mobility: www.drivingmobility.org.uk
At exhibitions you can look at lots of products on the same day, try out powered wheelchairs, talk to suppliers about what you need and find information about charities and other organisations offering help.
Kidz to Adultz exhibitions:
Motability One Big Days:
This information is from Rica, the consumer research charity. Find out more online at:
Use your experience – join Rica’s consumer research panel. Rica has a consumer panel and are always keen for new people to join: www.rica.org.uk/content/join-ricawatch
Rica has an active consumer panel of older people, people with long term health conditions and disabled people of all ages who provide input into a wide range of consumer research. As a valued panel member, we may ask you to take part in research including mystery shopping, usability testing of products, surveys and questionnaires and focus groups.
Join online at: www.rica.org.uk or phone Rica on: 020 7427 2460 and we’ll be happy to sign you up over the phone