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November 2014: Problems with getting a powered wheelchair

Press release 

Monday 24th November 2014

New report highlights extent of problems facing disabled people in receiving a powered wheelchair

The powered wheelchair user survey - the first survey in the UK to ask wheelchair users for feedback on how they obtain and use their powered wheelchair - is published today by Rica and a range of disability charities – Disability Rights UK, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, Scope, Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and Whizz-Kidz.

The Powered wheelchair user survey report 2014 finds that disabled people and their families often struggle to locate relevant information about funding options, make an informed choice about provision and to get value for money when buying and maintaining their powered wheelchair. Statutory provision is limited and powered wheelchairs are predominantly purchased privately or with charitable help. 

The survey of 374 powered wheelchair users finds that:

  • 48% didn’t get the right information
  • Over a third (37%) get no assessment
  • A quarter (26%) are turned down for NHS funding
  • 32% had to fund their own powered wheelchair completely themselves

Powered wheelchairs have the potential to help many disabled adults and children to be more independent and the correct supportive seating can promote good posture and so reduce the need for future medical interventions.

However, with more than 300 models available, getting the right one to suit individual needs is vital. Powered wheelchairs are expensive products (some cost over £40,000) that are used every day and therefore require regular maintenance, which, in turn means extra costs.

The survey finds that wheelchair users experience considerable difficulty at all stages of acquiring a powered wheelchair from getting information about available and suitable equipment to funding, supply and maintenance. Powered wheelchair users said the following:

  • A lot of places just say no it’s not their responsibility and don't tell you where to go for advice/funding.
  • Feels very big decision and no one to advise me.
  • I had to wait 3 years for this because I couldn't afford to fund it myself.
  • I didn't really get a choice and I wasn't told about headrests or trays that attach.
  • I made no application for funding assuming that I did not qualify
  • [Servicing] takes a very long time and there seems to be no realisation of the fact that someone who can live a relatively independent life with the help of their powered chair may be totally helpless without it, and suddenly need 24/7 care. 

This report demonstrates that little detailed information is currently available to consumers about the pros and cons of different features of powered wheelchairs and who they might suit. It echoes findings from an Office of Fair Trading (OFT)4  investigation into the mobility aids market following consumer complaints in 2011 which concluded that it can be extremely difficult for consumers to select the right products and get value for money. It appears that nothing has changed since 2011 and identifies a need to provide new, detailed practical information to help consumers choose and fund powered wheelchairs.
Almost everyone who responded to the survey had some kind of problem. Many people had more than one problem getting a powered wheelchair. A powered wheelchair because it’s used every day, will need to be replaced every seven to ten years - more often for a growing child, so these are vital for people. Rica believes that, with good partnerships and more collaborative working between agencies and with the customer – the powered wheelchair user – as the focal point, provision can improve.  Jasper Holmes, Co-Director, Rica
The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) welcomes this report by RICA into provision of electrically-powered indoor-outdoor wheelchairs (EPIOCs). For many of our members, who are extensively paralysed, EPIOCs are essential in enabling them to live fulfilling lives with a level of independence and to achieve societal integration and maintain employment. The report highlights the problems faced by reliant users and those needing to use EPIOCs for the first time in selecting appropriate chairs and the issues they confront in terms of inadequately resourced NHS provision, cost and maintenance issues. Dr Rupert Earl, Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) 5

It is very simple - living lives like everyone else's costs more if you are disabled. One of the main reasons is that all too often disabled people are paying more than they should in many areas of their lives. It’s important that markets work more efficiently and that disabled people are as savvy consumers as possible. This investigation shows that supply of powered wheelchairs is a good example of a market that makes it difficult for disabled people to be savvy consumers and get the best deals. It’s very disappointing that in 2014 access to crucial information, assessments and funding are all haphazard. The current system is certainly not helping disabled people to get the best deals. The extra costs disabled people pay have a direct impact on living standards, prevent many from contributing fully to their local communities and from doing many of the things most of us take for granted. We hope that manufacturers and the NHS now listen to what disabled people are saying about the supply of powered wheelchairs. Our Commission on Extra Costs will take a close look at this information in conjunction with all the other evidence we are gathering and then publish our recommendations on how we can improve the supply of goods and services to disabled people.
Robin Hindle Fisher, Chair of the independent Commission on Extra Costs6

Contacts:
Dr Jasper Holmes – Co-Director – Rica
020 7427 2463 |jasperholmes@rica.org.uk

Chris Lofthouse – Outreach Manager – Rica
020 7427 2467 |chrislofthouse@rica.org.uk

Note to editors:
1. Rica (Research Institute for Consumer Affairs) is a national research charity that publishes consumer reports based on rigorous research to provide practical information for disabled and older consumers. Rica works with manufacturers, service providers, regulators and policy makers to improve products and services. For more information see

2. The Powered wheelchair user survey report 2014 is available online at: www.rica.org.uk/content/powered-wheelchair-user-research

3. Between April and July 2014 Rica carried out a survey of 341 powered wheelchair users to identify views and experiences of choosing, funding and maintaining a powered wheelchair. In addition, 23 people who had been unable to secure funding for a powered wheelchair completed part of the survey. The powered wheelchair user survey was funded by Motability and is part of a wider research and information project to provide the information that powered wheelchair users need to make informed decisions. The project is being led by Rica with the support of Disability Rights UK, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, Scope, Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and Whizz-Kidz.

4. Mobility Aids: An OFT Market Study: www.wheelchairmanagers.nhs.uk/pubs.html

5. The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) is the leading national user-led charity for spinal cord injured (SCI) people. For more information: www.spinal.co.uk

6. The Commission on Extra Costs will run from July 2014 to June 2015. It is an independent inquiry that will explore the extra costs faced by disabled people and families with disabled children in England and Wales.
For more information: www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/extra-costs-commission

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