Getting a wheelchair

There are several ways you can get a wheelchair for someone who needs one. You can borrow one free from the NHS, hire one or buy your own wheelchair.

Getting a wheelchair from the NHS Wheelchair Service

The NHS Wheelchair Service provides wheelchairs free of charge to:

  • people who need one full time
  • some people who need one occasionally

To get an NHS wheelchair, you need a doctor, physiotherapist, social services or other healthcare professional to make a referral to the local wheelchair service. Each service will have specific instructions about who can fill in the referral form. 

Each area has their own procedures to help them decide the type of wheelchair (if any) that they’ll supply.

Once the service receives the referral, they carry out an assessment by an expert, such as an occupational therapist. It usually takes between 2 and 6 weeks to get the assessment.

A standard wheelchair could be available within a few weeks. But timing will vary between areas. It also depends on what is in stock, if it needs to come from the manufacturer or be specially made. For some types of wheelchair it might take a few months.

The NHS Wheelchair Service will maintain and repair the chair. They will give you contact details for maintenance services and in case of any problems.

Hiring a wheelchair

You can hire a wheelchair if you need one for a short time or aren’t entitled to an NHS wheelchair.

Voluntary organisations and private businesses have hire schemes. It’s worth shopping around, as the cost can vary.

British Red Cross

The British Red Cross allows you to hire wheelchairs. Their wheelchairs cost £15 a week to hire. They hire them for between 2 and 20 weeks. They might also be able to deliver and collect the chair in your area. This is usually an extra charge of £10 each way. 

If you are not able to afford the cost of hire per week or want to speak to them you can call 0300 456 1914 for help and support. 

Not all the local branches offer equipment hire, and the branches that do sometimes have a waiting list. To hire one contact your local branch. You can find the details of your branch on their website. 

Disabled Living Foundation

The Disabled Living Foundation has a directory of equipment suppliers for wheelchair accessories on their website (Living made easy). You can contact their helpline for advice on 0300 999 0004, Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm.

They also have a list of demonstration centres in the UK where you can try out equipment before you buy it. These centres can also let you know where you can buy it from.


Shopmobility is a scheme which allows you to borrow a wheelchair usually for free in some shopping centres. They are available throughout the UK.

There is a directory you can buy or you can log into a member area on their website to find out the shopping centres, towns and cities involved.

You need to register with them first and they will show you how to use their equipment. You then just book before you need the wheelchair.  

Buying your own wheelchair

It’s important to know that you don’t have to pay VAT on a wheelchair if the person you’re buying it for is chronically ill or disabled.

Before you buy a wheelchair, it’s worth getting a referral to the NHS wheelchair service first. That way, a specialist can assess your needs. They may be able to provide you with a wheelchair free of charge. Or advise you on which one to buy.

Personal Wheelchair Budget

Personal wheelchair budgets are starting to replace the wheelchair voucher scheme.

The NHS have a frequently asked questions page about why the scheme is changing, who can get it, how the budget is calculated and other important information.

Disabled Living Foundation

The Disabled Living Foundation has an information leaflet about choosing a wheelchair and information about suppliers. You can look on their website for details.

British Red Cross

The British Red Cross sells a range of wheelchairs. Prices start at around £190 for a basic wheelchair. Details are available on the Red Cross website.

Related links