By Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey
Q: I suffer from a disability that affects my mobility. I am currently dependant on crutches but my family have suggested that a wheelchair would be more suitable. How do I get one?
A: If you have walking difficulties, you may benefit from a wheelchair or pavement vehicle. Sometimes these are free on loan from the NHS or you can buy one.
• Can you get a wheelchair on the NHS? - If you have walking difficulties that are permanent or near permanent, you can get an NHS wheelchair on free loan. Details of local wheelchair services are available from GPs, local health centres and the physiotherapy or occupational therapy departments of your local hospital
The NHS will pay for servicing or repairs of wheelchairs provided on loan as long as the need for repair is not caused by neglect or misuse on the part of the client and the work is carried out by an approved dealer.
• Renting your own wheelchair - The Red Cross operates short term wheelchair hire. You can contact the Belfast office on 02890 735350. The service is free, although donations are welcome.
Shopmobility offer a free daily hire between 8am and 4pm or you can agree a long term rental, which would incur a charge. Telephone 02890 808090 for more information.
Disability Action also have a rental service throughout Northern Ireland for a small charge. Telephone 02893 369367 for further details.
• Buying your own wheelchair - There is a wide range of wheelchairs available from different manufacturers. Prices depend on the quality of chair and features that are available. Also think about how much maintenance and repair will cost and the back-up service offered by the manufacturer. For example, replacing batteries and tyres can be expensive.
There may be local services which will provide repair and maintenance service for wheelchairs, for example, local garages or aid shops. Check that getting repairs done in this way will not prejudice any arrangements you have with the manufacturer or supplier.
If you buy your own chair, it’s a good idea get it insured. There are organisations which can give advice about insurance cover for wheelchairs.
• If you need to borrow money to buy a wheelchair - If you need to borrow money to buy a wheelchair you can get a loan in any of the usual ways, for example, from a bank. The Motability hire purchase scheme is also available to people on certain benefits. Contact Citizens Advice for details of organisations who may offer grants for wheelchairs.
• Pavement vehicles - Scooters and buggies designed for use only on the pavement are known as Class 2 vehicles. They are suitable for people who do not need a wheelchair all the time but have difficulty walking. Other scooters or buggies can be used on the road as well as the pavement. These are called Class 3 vehicles.
Class 2 vehicles are battery operated, have a maximum speed of four miles per hour, don’t require a driving licence (but it is recommended you get some instruction), can sometimes be dismantled to fit in the boot of a car, can often be used indoors and outdoors. Class 3 vehicles are battery operated, have a maximum speed of four miles per hour on the pavement and eight miles per hour on the road, don’t require a driving licence (but it is important you get instruction on using the vehicle before you take it on the road), need to be registered with the DVLA for use on the road, licensed in the ‘disabled’ taxation class and display a nil duty tax disc.
It’s a good idea to take out insurance for using a Class 2 or 3 vehicle although the law does not require you to do so. Specialist organisations can give advice about which insurance companies provide cover for pavement vehicles.
You can apply for the tax disc on form V55/5 for used vehicles or V55/4 for new vehicles. You can get a form at your local post office.
• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at firstname.lastname@example.org