mobility equipment

Getting Out & About: Mobility Equipment

Stay-independent > Getting Out & About: Mobility Equipment

If you struggle with walking or balance there are a range of items that may help you to maintain your mobility getting out and about.

Walking Sticks
If you have problems with balance and / or fatigue when walking, you may find a walking stick to be of assistance. There is a wide variety of designs and accessories available to suit different needs, so this guide looks at your options and what to consider when choosing a walking stick. 
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Types of walking stick 

Walking sticks can vary in the following ways: 

  • Material – traditionally walking sticks were made from wood, but now there is a wide range of metal and some carbon fibre walking sticks that are more readily tailored to meet a range of different needs. 
  • Handle shape – some handles are designed to be easily carried over your arm when not in use, while others are shaped for comfort, particularly for someone who has arthritis. 
  • Number of legs – most walking sticks have a single leg but you can also buy a stick with three or four legs, for extra stability. 
  • Extra features – some walking sticks can be folded up; others come with a very small seat. 

Things to consider when choosing a walking stick 

  • If you are considering purchasing your own stick, wooden sticks are generally the least expensive. Metal and walking sticks although costing more can be purchased with ergonomically designed handles, may be available in a range of colours or can be folded. 
  • A walking stick will really only be of benefit to you if it is correctly adjusted to your height. If it is too high then you will not be able to use it fully to transfer your weight and if it is too short your posture will be compromised. See below to understand how to adjust a stick to suit your size. Alternatively get a professional assessment of what height you need – also see below.  
  • If you buy a wooden walking stick  it can be cut and adjusted accurately to your height. Many metal walking sticks are height-adjustable, and they are also available in different heights (small, standard or tall) so choose one that suits your height.  
  • Metal walking sticks tend to be lighter than wooden sticks. This is a useful consideration if you have painful joints perhaps as a result of arthritis. 
  • Consider how it feels to use the handle and if you feel comfortable when gripping it. Wooden walking sticks tend to have a basic handle and people with painful joints frequently say that they are uncomfortable to use. If you think this may be the case for you look for a larger handle on a metal stick or even better an ergonomically shaped handle. Remember shaped handles are designed to use in either your left or right hand – they are not interchangeable. 
  • If you find you easily get fatigued and need to rest regularly consider a walking stick with a seat so that you can stop and sit for a while. Check – can you easily get on and off the seat? Is it big enough? Can you balance on it? They are heavier and slightly more cumbersome to use so you will need to consider your options. 
  • If you are using the stick around the house and have to negotiate the stairs, you may need two sticks, one to leave on the ground floor and one upstairs, to avoid having to carry the stick up and down. 
  • You can buy “ferrules”, which fit to the bottom of your walking stick, for different situations. For example, some ferrules are particularly suited for walking on snow and ice. Others can “pivot” for use on uneven surfaces. 
  • It is important to check your ferrule regularly. If it is worn and smooth you should replace it so that the stick retains a good grip when you are walking with it. New ferrules can generally be purchased from your local chemist shop. You will need to check that you are buying the correct size for your stick. 
  • You can also buy clips or props for your walking stick which keep it secure and upright when not in use. 

How to get one 

Walking sticks are widely available in most mobility shops. It’s a good idea to shop around for one that you like the design of and feels comfortable. Prices generally range between £10 and £30. 

How to adjust your stick 

If you have acquired or purchased your stick: 

  • Ask someone to help you adjust the height. 
  • Stand up tall and hold your arms straight down the side of your body, look straight ahead.  
  • Ask the person who is helping to ensure the top of the stick handle is level with the bony prominence on the outside of your wrist (or alternatively measure to the base of your thumb joint). 
  • You should be able to hold and use the stick with only a slight bend in the elbow – this will mean that you can weight bear through the stick without compromising your posture. 
Walking Frames
If you have problems with balance, weak legs, or find that a walking stick is not offering you sufficient support, then a walking frame may help you to maintain your mobility. Walking frames usually come in two forms – without wheels (often known as “zimmer frames”) and with wheels (sometimes called “wheeled walkers” or “rollators”). They are more stable than a walking stick and can also include accessories that make it easier to carry personal items.  
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Types of walking frame 

Indoors 

Zimmer frames 

  • These are metal frames with rubber “ferrules” on the bottom of each leg. This makes the frame stable but you’ll need to pick it up if you want to move it. 
  • Some are height-adjustable and they are available in small, medium and large heights as well as compact width sizes for use in more confined indoor spaces. 
  • Usually the handgrips are made of plastic or foam for comfort. 
  • Some have rests for your forearms so you can put your weight on those instead of your hands. This is particularly helpful for those people who experience painful joints. 
  • A wider base makes the frame more stable but may make it more difficult to get through doorways. 
  • Some can be folded up to put away and this feature also makes it easier to transport in the boot of a car. 
  • You can add a net bag to the front of the frame to enable you carry items with you 
  • It is important to check your ferrules regularly: if they are worn and smooth you need to replace so that the frame retains a grip when you are walking with it. New ferrules can generally be purchased from your local chemist shop. You will need to check that you are buying the correct size for your frame. 
  • If you travel up and down stairs you may need two frames, one to leave on the ground floor and one upstairs, to avoid having to carry the frame up and down. 

Frames with two wheels 

  • These are similar to zimmer frames but the front two legs have wheels instead of ferrules.  
  • The wheels make it easier to walk in a continuous fashion – you just need to lift the back legs up slightly and the frame will roll forward when you push it. When you lower the back legs they will act as a brake to stop the frame moving away from you. 
  • The wheels don’t generally turn left or right so for some people it may be more difficult to move round corners. 
  • A “caddy” can be added to the front of the frame so that plates and cups can be carried along with other items. 

Outdoors 

For those people who need more support when walking outdoors there is a wide range of rollators with three or four wheels. The wheels are generally much larger than those on a standard walking frame, made primarily for use indoors. All of these walking aids have brakes to prevent the frame from moving away from you when you stop. Some of the models have brakes that can be locked on, others you have to hold the brake handle closed, rather like a bicycle brake. Generally people find the rollators easy to manoeuvre and some people use the three wheeled rollator indoors as it is compact in size.  

Frames with three wheels 

  • These are often referred to as “three wheeled-rollators”. Normally used outdoors but some people use indoors because of the manoeuvrability. 
  • They have a wheel that can swivel at the front and two wheels behind. 
  • They are less stable than frames with four wheels, but easier to manoeuvre as they are more compact. 
  • Some can be fitted with baskets or bags to make it easier to carry shopping. 
  • As they generally can be folded away they are useful if you want to take one in the car with you. 

Frames with four wheels 

  • These are often referred to as “rollators” and tend to be used outdoors as they are generally larger in size. 
  • They have wheels on all four legs and can be sturdier than a three-wheel rollator. 
  • Some include seats if you need to have a rest from time to time. 
  • Some include a tray or a shopping basket to carry your items. 
  • Many will fold but are not so compact as the three wheeled rollators 

Things to consider when choosing a walking frame 

  • Do you need it mainly indoors or outdoors? You may need two, a compact frame for indoors and a more sturdy frame for outdoors.
  • Generally, the larger the wheels, the easier it’ll be to manoeuvre over rough ground. 
  • Can you lift it and put it in the boot of the car? Is it a good size for transportation? 
  • If you want to walk with a three or four wheeled walker, then ensure you can apply and release the brakes.  
  • Do you need to rest often? A walker with a seat could help. 
  • If you want to carry items more easily, can you fit a basket or tray to your walker? 
  • What is the maximum user weight? 

How to get a walking frame 

Many mobility shops stock a variety of walking frames, so it is a good idea to go in and try out different models. The cheapest walking frames can start around £25, with rollators often costing between £50 and £100. Some models cost over £300. 

How to adjust your frame 

If you have acquired or purchased your frame: 

  • Ask someone to help you adjust the height. 
  • Stand up tall and hold your arms straight down the side of your body, and look straight ahead.  
  • Ask the person who is helping to ensure the top of the frame handle is level with the bony prominence on the outside of your wrist (or alternatively measure to the base of your thumb joint). 
  • You should be able to hold and use the frame with only a slight bend in the elbow. This will mean that you can weight bear through the frame without compromising your posture. 
Shopping Trolleys
If you’re going out shopping you may find it difficult to carry what you’ve bought, or you might need to sit down regularly. Shopping trolleys are a popular solution and can come in a range of sizes and designs.
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Note: It is important to understand that shopping trolleys are not intended as a mobility aid. They would not be safe as they do not generally have brakes fitted and will move if you lean on them heavily. If you need equipment to provide support when walking as well as carrying shopping consider a walking frame with wheels (rollator). 

Types of shopping trolleys 

Two-wheel shopping trolleys 

  • These are designed to be pulled along rather than pushed. 
  • Their main use is to make carrying your shopping around easier. 
  • They are widely available in high street shops and come in a variety of designs. 
  • Some can be folded up so they don’t take up much space in your car. 
  • Some include a small fold-down seat which can be useful if you want to rest from time to time. 

Four-wheel shopping trolleys 

  • These are designed to be pushed in front of you. 
  • The wheels on a four-wheel shopping trolley are fixed, making it difficult to turn. If you want to be able to turn the shopping trolley easily, consider a six-wheel trolley (see below). 
  • They are more stable and are less likely to fall over than the two wheeled trolleys. 
  • A four-wheeled shopping trolley can provide you with extra stability when walking, but if you are having difficulties walking, you should speak to a physiotherapist (see below). Some include a fold-down seat which can be useful if you want to rest from time to time. 

Six-wheel shopping trolleys 

  • The main difference between a six and a four-wheel shopping trolley is that on a six-wheel shopping trolley the front two legs have two wheels each.  
  • These are designed to make turning easier. The wheels on the front two legs can swivel in the direction you want to turn. 
  • Like a four-wheel shopping trolley, a six-wheel shopping trolley can be quite stable, and some include a fold-down seat.  

Stair climber shopping trolleys 

  • These have a unique arrangement of wheels on the bottom that allow you to easily pull the trolley up the stairs, or over a street kerb. 
  • Some include a fold-down seat which can be useful if you want to rest from time to time. 

Where to get a shopping trolley 

Shopping trolleys have become quite popular, and they are now available in a range of high street stores as well as mobility centres. You can also buy shopping trolleys online. 

Shopping trolleys aren’t considered as mobility equipment so you won’t be able to get one through the local council. 

However, if you are having mobility difficulties or find it difficult to walk for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to see a physiotherapist (see below). 

Wheelchairs
If you have significant difficulties with walking or you struggle with long distances when out and about, then a wheelchair may be a good option for you.
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Types of wheelchairs 

Manual (self-propelled) 

  • These are designed to be propelled by the person sitting in the wheelchair, generally with larger wheels at the back. 
  • They are useful if you would like to propel the chair yourself and you have enough strength in your arms to do so. 
  • They are available in a wide range of styles and can be purchased off the shelf or customised and bespoke-made to meet your lifestyle needs. 
  • They are available in a range of different sizes and it is important to ensure that the seat and back dimensions are suitable for your shape and size. Otherwise it will quickly become uncomfortable and even compromise your posture or skin. 
  • Chair frames either fold in the centre or may have a rigid frame. Chairs with rigid frames have less flexibility and so some people say they feel more stable.  

Manual (attendant-propelled) 

  • These are designed so that someone else can push the wheelchair from behind. 
  • They have four small wheels so are not general suitable for someone who wants to move themselves around.  
  • They are frequently used on outings to avoid walking long distances outdoors so they normally fold down quite small to fit into a car boot. 

Powered 

  • If you don’t have enough strength in your arms to push yourself but you don’t want to rely on someone else, a powered wheelchair may be the best option. 
  • Powered wheelchairs come in a range of sizes. Some are designed to be used mainly indoors and may be referred to as “Class 2” wheelchairs. Others are designed to be used on the pavement, with larger wheels that can navigate rough terrain. You can even buy “Class 3” wheelchairs, which can be used on roads at higher speeds. 

Things to consider when buying a wheelchair 

  • Where do you want to use it? An outdoor wheelchair can be useful for getting to the shops but may be too bulky to use indoors.  
  • Do you want to get it in and out of the car? Some wheelchairs are lightweight to make it easier to lift into the car. Some are foldable so you can fit it into the boot. 
  • Do you need the seating to be adapted to your needs? Most wheelchairs can be adapted with pressure-relief seating. 
  • If you’re planning on buying a powered wheelchair, can you operate the controls? 
  • You might want to buy accessories for your wheelchair, such as storage bags to carry your shopping, or clothing that is shaped to avoid bulky folds and designed to keep you warm and or dry. 
  • If you’re buying an attendant-propelled wheelchair, will the person pushing you be confident enough? Will they be able to pick up the wheelchair and put it in the car or will they need a ramp or lifting equipment to help? 
  • Do you need it in the long term or do you only need it for a short period of time? You may be better off hiring a wheelchair instead of buying (see below). 

How to get a wheelchair 

There are three main ways to get a wheelchair: through the NHS wheelchair services, through a hiring scheme such as Motability, or by buying privately. In all these situations it’s important to make sure that whatever wheelchair you buy suits your needs and provides the right physical support. Therefore it’s a good idea to get professional advice about your requirements before you make any commitment. 

Getting professional advice 

An occupational therapist can assess your needs and recommend the type of wheelchair that is right for you. If you see an occupational therapist, they will then determine whether you are eligible for a wheelchair on loan from the NHS (see below).  

However, getting an appointment with an occupational therapist through the NHS or social services can take a while. If you prefer to see a private occupational therapist, they can still provide you with independent advice but may not be able to directly arrange equipment on loan. Instead, you can use their recommendations to make a more informed choice when purchasing or hiring your wheelchair privately. 

For more information on finding a private occupational therapist, see our guidance here. For more information on accessing one through the NHS, see below. 

NHS wheelchair services 

Each county in the UK has an NHS wheelchair service, which will assess your situation to see if you are eligible for a wheelchair on loan. To book an assessment, some wheelchair services will take a self referral, if not, see your GP who will refer you. 

If you’re eligible you’ll receive a wheelchair on loan and the NHS will be responsible for maintenance and repairs. Some services offer a voucher scheme, where you receive a voucher equal to the cost of the chair you would have been offered by the NHS. You can use this voucher to purchase a wheelchair of your choice and “top up” the cost with your own money. 

If you’re looking for a wheelchair for a short period of time, an NHS loan scheme is not suitable. Instead, consider a different hiring scheme (see below). 

Other hiring schemes 

  • Motability – a national scheme which you qualify for if you are receive certain benefits, such as the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. You can hire a powered wheelchair or scooter for a weekly sum which comes out of your benefits. For more information, read our page on the Motability scheme. 
  • Red Cross – the charity Red Cross offers wheelchairs on loan for free on a short-term basis. This is a useful service if you need a chair because of a temporary mobility problem or for a visiting relative. For more information on how to apply, click here
  • Shopmobility – if you just want a wheelchair for a day to go shopping, Shopmobility offers wheelchair and/or scooter hire services across the UK. To find your local Shopmobility scheme, click here

Buying privately 

Buying a wheelchair privately will give you the most choice. Make sure you try out the wheelchair you’re interested in before making a purchase. Some suppliers may offer a home visit if you struggle to get to a mobility shop or demonstration centre. In any case, is a very good idea to try the chair in the location of where you intend to use it to ensure that you do not have any restriction with manoeuvring it around.  

When you’re considering a particular supplier, check the following: 

  • Does the wheelchair come with a guarantee? How long is it? 
  • Will the supplier be able to provide spare parts? 
  • Does the supplier do repairs? If so, can this be carried out in your home? 

Although it’s important to try out a wheelchair in person, this doesn’t mean there isn’t merit to doing some research online. You can use RICA’s online database of powered wheelchairs to see what powered wheelchair models are available, so you know what you’re looking for when you go into a mobility shop.   

Choosing a Mobility Scooter
Mobility scooters are an increasingly popular way of getting around if you struggle with walking or you want a simpler alternative to driving. This page looks at the types of mobility scooters available, and what to consider before buying one. If you’re ready to buy, take a look at our guidance on buying a mobility scooter.
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Types of mobility scooter

“Class 2”

  • This is a smaller form of mobility scooter that has a maximum speed of 4mph.
  • They’re generally good for short distances and flat environments where you can get around using just the pavement or a pedestrianised area.
  • Some can be used indoors and are particularly suited to getting around public buildings as well as outdoors, but they cannot be used on the road.
  • Some can be dismantled, so you can take it apart into several pieces to pack into your car or store away at home. The component parts can still be heavy – especially the battery – so do check it can be lifted if this is important to you.
  •  Some models can be folded up.
  • Available with three or four wheels – this will affect the stability of the scooter.

“Class 3”

  • These are the largest form of mobility scooter, designed to be usable on the road. They have a maximum speed of 8mph and have lights so that you can go out in the dark.
  • You won’t be able to use them indoors (they’re generally too big).
  • They are useful for travelling longer distances
  • They generally have large wheels for navigating rougher terrain.
  • Available with three or four wheels – this will affect the stability of the scooter.

Things to consider when choosing a mobility scooter

  • Usage – do you want to make shorter or longer journeys with your scooter? Will there be someone with you who can help you get it in and out of a car? Do you want to use it indoors? How hilly is the area where you live?
  • Size – a larger scooter can provide greater comfort and stability, but you may want a smaller scooter that you can fit into your car or your home. Generally the larger the scooter the greater the travelling range and the more robust it will be on rough terrain. Do you wish to transport it in a car or van? If so this may well affect the size of scooter that you can consider.
  • Stability – a more stable scooter will be safer to use when going round corners or over uneven terrain. Class 3 scooters are generally more stable than Class 2 scooters, and you may prefer a scooter with four wheels over one with only three.
  • Comfort – scooters vary in the comfort of their seating, and generally a smaller scooter will have a more basic and less comfortable seat. The larger scooters tend to have suspension built into the seat to better absorb the discomfort of uneven surfaces.  If you need special support when seated, a scooter may not be for you. Instead, consider a powered wheelchair.
  • Controls – some controls are adapted for people with limited mobility or strength in the hands, or limited vision.
  • Storage– have you got a permanent storage room that you are able to drive it in and out of? It is likely you will need a garage or large shed to safely store a Class 3 scooter. Mains power supply is also essential to recharge the batteries. If you do not have storage in your current property separate scooter storage units are available to purchase with a mains supply and automatically opening doors but it can be a costly extra.
  • If you live in council-owned or housing association accommodation, for example, a sheltered housing scheme or similar, it is important to check whether scooter storage is available, there are frequently local arrangements for the number of scooters that can be stored often resulting in a waiting list for people wishing to purchase a scooter.

Not sure what you need?

It can be helpful to see an occupational therapist before you make a significant purchase like a mobility scooter. They can provide impartial advice on what kind of physical support you may need or what controls would be best for you as well as storage facilities. For more information on finding an occupational therapist, click here.

Ready to start looking?

Once you’ve got an idea of what you need, it’s time to research what’s out there. A good place to start is RICA’s online mobility scooter search.

Before you make a decision, it’s always a good idea to try before you buy. Here are your options:

  • Try one at home – some suppliers of mobility scooters offer a home visit so you can give a mobility scooter a test drive in your local area.
  • Visit a mobility shop – specialist mobility shops will stock a range of mobility scooters and may have the space for you to give one a test drive.
  • Visit an equipment demonstration centre or Mobility Centre – these offer impartial advice, and some offer assessments for mobility scooters so you know exactly what you need. To find your local equipment demonstration centre, click here. To find a Mobility Centre, use this search tool.

When you’re trying out a scooter, check the following:

  • Can you reach the controls? Are they comfortable and easy to grip? Are they intuitive to use? Can you press the buttons? Can you turn the scooter on and off? The controls may take some practice before you can use them easily. Can you understand and read the control panel?
  • Can you speed up and slow down? Can you navigate slopes and get on and off the kerb? Can you turn confidently?
  • Can you sit in an upright and comfortable position?
  • Is there enough leg room?
  • If the scooter is foldable – can you fold it up? Can you pick it up?
  • If the scooter can be dismantled – can you take it apart / put it back together?
  • Can you can fit it in the storage area that you are intending to use?

Finally, you might consider using a scheme such as Shopmobility to try out a scooter for a day before committing to a purchase. The Shopmobility scheme operates across the UK and allows you to book a scooter for a day to go shopping. To find your local Shopmobility scheme, click here.

Getting a Mobility Scooter
A mobility scooter can cost anywhere between £400 and £5000, so it’s a significant purchase. Unlike other walking equipment, a mobility scooter is not available through the NHS or council. The good news is that there are a number of schemes available which make the cost of a mobility scooter more manageable.
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Motability

The Motability Car and Scooter scheme provides you with a mobility scooter on loan and charges you through your benefits. You must be receiving certain benefits to be eligible for the scheme. As well as the price of hiring a mobility scooter, insurance, maintenance and breakdown cover are included in the cost.

For more information on how the scheme works, click here.

Here are the contact details for the Motability scheme:

Website: www.motability.co.uk
Helpline: 0300 456 4566

Charitable grants

A number of charities, national and local, provide grants to people who need to buy equipment to help them stay independent. What’s available will depend on where you live and in some cases your occupation and/ or financial resources.

Note: charities will frequently want to assess your ability to drive a scooter to ensure that you are safe and that the chosen model is appropriate for your needs before agreeing to the funding.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government scheme that provides grants if you have a disability or long-term health condition and you need equipment to help you stay in work or get back into work. If you need a mobility scooter to get to work, for example, you may be eligible for an Access to Work grant. You can apply for an Access to Work grant in the following ways:

By e-mail: atwosu.london@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
By phone: 0345 268 8489
Online: https://www.get-disability-work-support.service.gov.uk/apply/condition

Second hand mobility scooters

Second hand mobility scooters are widely available and can be a great way to get a bargain as long as you are happy to go for a slightly older model. However, just as if you were buying a used car, it’s important to get the history of any mobility scooter you are thinking of buying. Make sure you get a record of its service history and any maintenance work that needs to be done. A run-down scooter might look like less of a bargain once all the refurbishment costs are added on. Batteries also have a life expectancy and if they have not been cared for properly then you may find that they do not hold an adequate charge.

Insurance & Breakdown

It is important to plan for unforeseen events. Although not a legal requirement, insurance is important not just to cover your scooter repairs but also, just like owning a car it is wise to be covered for damaging other people’s property, theft, as well as the possibility you may be involved in an accident.

Break down cover is essential if you do not have any one close by who can rescue you in the event of a breakdown or battery failure.

The scooter supplier should provide you with insurance and breakdown cover details but also take the opportunity to shop around for best price.

Finally, carrying a mobile phone every time you go out and about will ensure that you can call for immediate assistance.

Ready to buy?

When you’re considering a supplier, check the following:

  • Does the scooter come with a guarantee? If so, how long is the guarantee?
  • How long will it take to be delivered?
  • Does the supplier provide spare parts? If not, are they easy to find?
  • Does the supplier provide repairs or maintenance? If so, can these be done in the home?

Finally, see if the scooter you’re interested in, is eligible for VAT exemption by asking the supplier. If it is eligible, the supplier will need you to fill out a declaration form or statement that explains that you have a disability

Haven’t seen a physiotherapist?
It’s important that any mobility aid you buy is properly adapted to your height and weight. If you are in any doubt about what will suit your needs see a physiotherapist first before making any decisions, 
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They can tell you about how to safely use the equipment and what would support you best in the situations where you may need it. They can recommend an alternative walking aid if it is more suitable, which would save money as well as informing you about on the safest option.  

You can see an NHS physiotherapist on referral from the GP, through a falls prevention service, or by booking privately. For more information on finding a physiotherapist, read our guidance here

Worried about the Cost?
There are ways that can help towards the purchase of an expensive item, including charitable grants, the Access to Work scheme, and VAT exemption.
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Take a look at our page on charitable grants to see if there’s anything you may be eligible for. In addition, if you are employed and need a wheelchair at work, you may be eligible for support under the Access to Work scheme. Finally, when you purchase mobility equipment you may be eligible for VAT exemption. 

VAT Exemption 

If you have a long-term illness or have a disability, you don’t have to pay VAT on certain goods and services that you buy or bring into the UK.  

To apply for VAT exemption on a new purchase, ask the supplier if the item you’re buying will qualify. Then you’ll need fill in an eligibility declaration form, or just write a declaration, to confirm in writing that you have a disability. In some cases, the supplier may provide a form for you.  

For more information, read our guidance on VAT Exemption and VAT relief

Other pages you may find useful:

Would you like to talk through your options with someone?

Our team at the Guideposts Information Service can support you over the phone.

Call our helpline for free on: 0800 048 7035 | Mon-Fri 9am-5pm

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