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Last updated: January 2024

This section assumes you have not ‘been there, done that’ and takes you through some of the complexities of what can often be a long drawn-out road to getting the powered mobility that works best for you. It also looks at the possibility of a mobility scooter which may work for some people.

How the NHS Wheelchair Services are organised and what they will fund varies from region to region; many have a waiting list. As a first step, however frustrating this can be, it is important to check whether you are eligible for their help and, if so, either which chair or what financial help they may give you. Your consultant, GP, OT or physio will refer you for a wheelchair assessment.

"We discovered through another SMA family that now the powered wheelchairs provided by the NHS are more robust than 5 years ago, with more functions. There is also a possibility to add functions to the powered wheelchair as you need it. The advantage of the NHS powered wheelchair is that any maintenance costs is down to them -batteries, repairs, wheels etc.”

You may need tilt-in-space (the seat-to-back angle remains the same while the whole seating system is tilted backwards) and / or seat elevation to help with your positioning and posture at home and work and to socialise with friends and family. While tilt-in-space is usually funded by wheelchair services, seat elevation  is not generally considered a clinical need and is not usually available through the NHS. In England, NHS legislation permits the provision of these services but it does not require them to do so. When there is a shortage of money, local eligibility criteria can change who may and may not have different sorts of wheelchairs. In some areas it is possible to organise joint funding of a wheelchair with charitable funding paying for any necessary seat elevation or alternative functions which the NHS will not fund.

Your OT / physio should be able to advise you if you are likely to face an issue with NHS funding for any seat elevation or alternative functions you need. They can also advise how you can try to pursue the possibility of charitable funding for these.

Following your assessment, there are several possible outcomes:

WS offer a wheelchair which meets all your needs

This usually includes a 3 – 5 year maintenance agreement. The chair belongs to the NHS and they are responsible for insurance, maintenance and repairs.

WS offer a wheelchair which will not meet all your needs

This is likely to be due to the regional criteria and what funding has been allocated to wheelchair funding. Though it is difficult, this can be challenged under NHS legislation and Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Law. Your OT / physio should be able to advise you if this has been done in your area and support you if you wish to appeal.

If WS will not pay for seat elevation or other functions (such as powered elevating leg rests) in some areas  – for those aged up to 25 years – it is possible to organise joint funding with education paying for these. This is so that you are properly able to access educational and social opportunities at college or university. Similarly, it may be possible to organise joint funding via Access to Work (see the Access to Work tab on this page) if you are eligible for this assistance. Your OT / physio or neuromuscular care advisor should be able to advise how you can try to pursue this possibility.

WS give you a personal wheelchair budget

Personal Wheelchair Budgets (previously wheelchair vouchers) are possible in England. You can use this towards the cost of buying any wheelchair of your choice.

With a personal wheelchair budget, you would expect to have had:

  • a personalised assessment where you are supported to identify the health and well being outcomes you wish to achieve
  • a care plan which captures the health and well being outcomes identified, which may be part of any wider care plans you require for your care
  • care that is better integrated, meaning that different agencies work together to support your postural and mobility needs and achieve your health and well being outcomes
  • information provided upfront about the amount of money available in your personal wheelchair budget and the options available to you locally to use it
  • information about the repair and maintenance of wheelchairs, if the option to purchase a wheelchair outside of the NHS commissioned service is taken.

WS give you a personal wheelchair budget for an agreed supplier

If this is the outcome, you pay the difference to an agreed supplier. The chair is the property of the NHS and you are responsible for maintenance and repairs. Not all WS will offer this option.

"We agreed to try a mid-wheel Ultra (which came to around 14k) that wheelchair services offered (unsure how they funded it but was part of the voucher scheme).  It was a disaster: clunky, hard to drive, no display to see the functions being used. We argued that it was making life difficult instead of the ‘enabling’ effect it should have had.

We asked Wheelchair services to take it back and put the 14k towards a Permobil and then went on to get some funding from a couple of charities and the CCG (now the Integrated Care Board in England). The CCG needed a really clear understanding of how much having the correct chair is so important and life-enhancing – how it can affect mental health well being if you are putting up with something that is uncomfortable and not up to the standard that you need. I’d say you have to use ‘mental health’ in these arguments. Additionally, it may impede you going out and about like able-bodied people.”

WS will not provide a wheelchair

WS must give a clear reason, in writing, which you can then discuss with your OT / physio or neuromuscular care advisor. If it is due to the regional criteria and what funding the Integrated Care Board (ICB) has allocated to wheelchair funding, though it is difficult, this can be challenged under NHS legislation and Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Law. Your OT / physio should be able to advise if this has been done in your area and support you if you wish to appeal.

Powerchairs are complex expensive pieces of machinery that need maintenance and to be insured. What you choose has knock-on effects in terms of what vehicle you may need and potential adaptations to your home. If Wheelchair Services cannot provide the wheelchair you need you will need to work closely with your OT or physio to trial and select the right chair for you and explore what help if any you can get with funding. The information in this section covers what you might need to think about.

Where can you look at different options?

Your OT or physio will have suggestions. Potential chairs can often be demonstrated at home by a rep who works for one (or sometimes a number of) supplier(s).

Naidex is Europe’s biggest and most far-reaching trade and consumer show dedicated to the care, rehabilitation and lifestyle of people with physical disabilities. See: Equipment Exhibitions, Sport and Other Events.

These ‘checklists’ tabs may be useful for comparing different options:

Chair features and specifications

You will want to know:

  • What seating options and features are possible with this chair (e.g. will it go up and down, ’tilt-in-space’  – the seat-to-back angle remains the same while the whole seating system is tilted backwards), does it have powered leg rests)?
  • Will there be a spare cushion to allow for washing and drying when needed?
  • How comfortable a ride does it give – what are the tyre options?
  • What safety tests have been carried out – on the chair itself and on the chair when travelling in a vehicle? If you are going to sit in your wheelchair while travelling in a vehicle, the chair model will need to meet safety ‘crash tested’ standards.
  • How long a life should it have – what capacity does it have to change with you – for example if your weight or posture needs change? (e.g. some have bases that can take different sized seats)?
  • How fast will it go? In the UK, wheelchairs are put in a class depending on their speed. Check out the current safety rules for using your wheelchair on the pavement and road.

Will it work for me?

  • Will it be possible to use in your home and outside – what adaptations would you need to make?
  • What about at work?
  • How is it going to be transported? If you are going to sit in your chair while travelling, you will need a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) along with compatible clamping and seatbelt systems.
  • If you already have a WAV, will it fit? Is it compatible with your vehicle’s tracking and clamping system?

For related information see the WAV section in Driving & Car Travel.

The price and delivery

  • What is included in the basic price and how much are the ‘extras’ you would want?
  • You should ask for a written quote, detailing every item.
  • How long will it take between order and delivery time?
  • What do you need to pay when? (for example, is there a deposit due when it’s ordered?)
  • Will the chair be delivered, or will you have to collect it?
  • When you get the chair, will it be ready assembled? Will an engineer / physio / OT be there to make sure it is all correctly and safely set up and fitted?

Warranty, servicing and maintenance

  • Is there a warranty / guarantee? If so, what does it cover and for how long? Wheelchair warranties usually cover manufacturing faults but not general maintenance or ‘wear and tear’, such as with tyres.
  • What happens if something needs fixing under warranty? Will engineers come to your home or will you have to travel to them? Where?
  • If it needs major repairs, would a temporary replacement be provided?
  • Often a warranty is only valid if the chair has been regularly serviced and properly maintained. What is the cost of a maintenance contract? Does it include an annual service?
  • What is included – tyres, battery, electrics, controls etc.? The tyres and motor might need replacing at some point, and the batteries last approximately 3 years. What would these cost to replace?
  • When servicing / maintenance is due, what happens, where?
  • Are there any call-out charges?
  • How long does it take for problems to be assessed, for parts to arrive, and for parts to be fitted?
  • Is insurance included? If so, how much does it cost and what would it cover? Sometimes maintenance and insurance policies are combined. Also see the tab below on Insurance

Leasing a powered wheelchair through Motability

If you receive the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (ERMC PIP) or another qualifying benefit which you do not use to lease a Motability vehicle, you may want to consider using this to lease a powerchair instead. There are eligibility criteria for the scheme and a limited range of models to choose from. Your OT should be able to advise whether any of the chairs through this scheme are suitable for you.

Raising the funds you need

If you have decided to buy your wheelchair and need to raise money to do this, it is only fair to say at the outset that this can be challenging and is likely to take many months. Most charities will not fund if you have already bought an item. It is important not to place your order or pay any deposit until you have all your funds ready or pledged. Some people also choose to do their own fundraising.

What you need to apply for funding 
You will need:

  • a letter from your OT / physio confirming what type of chair will safely meet your needs, why this one is a good choice and what difference it will make for you
  • evidence that NHS wheelchair services have carried out an assessment
  • a statement from NHS wheelchair services explaining:
    • if they have refused any funding the reasons why;
    • if they will provide some funding, how much this will be
  • up-to-date quote from the wheelchair provider with details of costs, including any ‘extras’, insurance costs and maintenance contracts. (If you receive the mobility component of DLA or PIP and it is not being used for a Motability vehicle, you could consider putting this towards wheelchair maintenance costs).

Where to apply for funding

Access to Work 
Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to apply to Access to Work for funding towards your wheelchair.

There are some charities and organisations which you might be able to apply to for help with funding; most offer a contribution of hundreds rather than thousands of pounds. Application forms are often detailed, some are means tested, and decisions can take a long time. Many charities do not award a grant for the total cost of the chair but will consider funding a smaller amount (part-funding). Often, if they do award a grant, they confirm the amount, but only release the funds when the total has been pledged. Some charities also ask about any contribution a person can make for themselves. If you are able to raise any funds yourself, this can help with applications.

Each charity has its own criteria and time-lines so it can be difficult to know where to start. If you contact us at SMA UK, we can talk through your individual circumstances and support you to narrow down the options for where and how to apply. Once you have your physio / OT letter to support your choice of chair, SMA UK might also be able to provide a supporting letter for your applications.

Your own fundraising 
Some people raise some funds through their efforts and those of extended family, friends and other supporters. This might be via cake sales, sponsored events or online appeals. It is important for anyone fundraising to be very clear what they are fundraising for and their target amount. Also, it is good to let sponsors know what will happen if the money raised exceeds the target – for example, whether it will be put towards insurance and maintenance or kept for replacement tyres and batteries.

For some people, mobility scooters and buggies may be a good way to enable you to remain independent. It is advisable though to consult an OT or physio to decide if one is suitable and safe for you. If it is, you need to consider which scooter best suits your requirements and also which retailer to buy from.

Living Made Easy – information on mobility scooters that may be helpful when discussing this option with your OT.

Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC)  information on mobility scooters.

Generally speaking, you do not need insurance for a powered wheelchair or a mobility scooter although it is strongly recommended given the cost of mobility equipment and the possibilities – not just for loss or damage, but also for any damage that could be caused to other people, or other people’s property. When you are setting up your insurance, check what is covered.

If you already have a home contents insurance policy, you may find that you can add on some mobility equipment. However, it is not usually easy to add on a powered wheelchair.

If you plan to travel outside the UK with your mobility equipment, please speak to your insurance company to see if you need additional insurance.

There are many insurers available, but if you would like any support with finding insurance, contact our Support and Outreach Team to help.