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 or social services to make a referral to the local wheelchair service.
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’ll carry out an assessment by an expert, such as an occupational therapist. It usually takes between 2 and 4 weeks to get the assessment.
A standard wheelchair could be available in a couple of weeks, if the service recommends one. But the timing will vary between areas. For some types of wheelchair it might take a few months.
The 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.
The British Red Cross is usually the cheapest place to hire a wheelchair. They ask for a donation – usually around £30 for 6 weeks.
To hire one, contact your local branch of the British Red Cross. You can find details of their local branches on their website. Not all the local branches offer equipment hire, and the branches that do sometimes have a waiting list.
The Disabled Living Foundation has a directory of equipment hire suppliers on their website. Or you can find out about local services by contacting their helpline on 0300 999 0004.
The cost varies, depending on the type of wheelchair you hire. A standard wheelchair is around £10 to 20 for a week. Some have a monthly rate too. You'll need to put down a deposit of usually around £50, which you'll get back when you hand the wheelchair in.
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.
Wheelchair voucher scheme
Some NHS wheelchair service centres offer a voucher scheme. This gives people more choice of wheelchair.
- You get a voucher for the value of the wheelchair you would have had from the wheelchair service.
- You can use the voucher to buy a wheelchair from a range of approved suppliers.
- You can choose to spend just the amount of the voucher, or add some of your own money to buy a more expensive one if you prefer.
The Disabled Living Foundation has an information leaflet about choosing a wheelchair and information about suppliers. You can look on their website for details.
The British Red Cross sells a range of wheelchairs. Prices start at around £150 for a basic wheelchair, while specialist versions can cost more than £500. Details are available on the Red Cross website.
The NHS Choices website has more information about:
- the NHS Wheelchair Service
- the NHS voucher scheme
- your local service contact details