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Making life easier

Guide to support aids and equipment 

A guide to equipment

There is a huge range of gadgets and equipment which have been designed to help disabled people and their carers manage everyday life more easily. They range from simple things like two-handled mugs to complex and sophisticated support aids like hoists or environmental control systems. This section looks at:

  • where you can get support aids and equipment
  • where you can view them
  • help with paying
  • VAT
  • getting more information.

You can get help and advice from the Carers National Association CarersLine on 0345 573 369 or

  • a disablement association 
  • a carers’ project
  • your local council’s social services department. In Scotland, this is called the social work department. In Northern Ireland, contact your local Health and Social Services Trust.

These should all be listed in the phone book. If you can’t find the phone number ask at your local library or council offices.


Where you can get support aids and equipment

Health authority

Health authorities have a legal duty to provide sick and disabled people with the medical support aids and equipment they need.

Where to get equipment?

Support aids and equipment can be obtained:

  • through your health authority
  • through your local authority
  • through the Department of Employment
  • by buying them privately
  • by making them yourself
  • from charities, benevolent organisations and selfhelp groups.

Who provides equipment?

These are usually organised through the local GP.
GPs can prescribe some equipment themselves, e.g.:

  • incontinence products
  • stoma products
  • equipment to help manage diabetes
  • support and wound dressings
  • respiratory equipment.

They can also refer patients to other services which can provide aids and equipment, e.g.:

  • for ‘special’ medical equipment (e.g. orthotic appliances, hearing aids, low-vision aids) to hospital consultants
  • for paramedical equipment (e.g. walking aids, speech aids, footwear appliances) to physiotherapists, speech therapists and chiropodists, either directly or via a hospital consultant
  • for home nursing equipment (e.g. bed accessories, incontinence pads) to the community nursing services (health visitor, district nurse etc) for daily living equipment and home adaptations to the community occupational therapist
  • for educational equipment to the education authority or board for employment equipment to the employment service.

Hospital consultants can prescribe support aids and equipment including wheelchairs for permanent use and ‘special’ medical equipment as listed previously. They can also refer patients to other services. 

Medical or nursing products and equipment might be provided free of charge by the health authority or there might be a small fee.

Local authority

Local authorities can provide non-medical support aids and equipment to help with daily living. To find out what is available, contact the social services department of the local council (social work department in Scotland or Health and Social Services Trust in Northern Ireland). Support products and equipment to help with daily living might be provided free of charge by the local authority or there might be a small fee.

Who provides equipment?

Type of support aid or equipment

Provided by

Who to contact

Equipment for toilet and bathroom (e.g. raised toilet seats, commodes, hoist or rails for bath)

District health authority or social services

District nurse (through GP) or social services

Equipment for the bedroom (e.g. raised or special bed, hoist or rails)

District health authority

District nurse (through GP) or social services

Support aids for washing, dressing, eating, going to the toilet

Occupational therapist

Social services

Walking sticks, walking frames, wheelchairs

District health authority

GP, physiotherapist or hospital specialist

Free pads, pants or other incontinence aids

District health authority

District nurse or in some areas health visitor GP

Source: Who cares now

The Department of Employment

The Department of Employment runs a range of schemes to give help with special aids and equipment which someone with a disability might need in order to be able to work, e.g. special computers, talking calculators, loud-speaking telephone accessories. There are also grants for employers to adapt their premises. Contact your local Jobcentre for more information.

Buying support aids and equipment

There are a number of companies which sell support aids and equipment. Most of them have a mail order service for people who are unable to visit showrooms. Before you buy anything by mail order, it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion from the occupational therapist at your local social services department (social work department in Scotland or Health and Social Services Trust in Northern Ireland). Some of the companies which run mail order services are listed next.

Keep Able 
Catalogue and advice line. Items can be loaned to organisations. Showrooms in Brentford, Middlesex, and Dudley, West Midlands.

Keep Able
Fleming Close
Park Farm

Tel: 01933 679426

Chester-care and Homecraft
Mail order items for people who are elderly, disabled or in pain. Hire crutches and wheelchairs.
Chester-care and Homecraft
Sidings Road
Low Moor Estate
Kirkby in Ashfield
NG17 7JZ

Tel: 01623 757955

HNE-Community Care
Catalogue for individuals or professionals. Sometimes arrange home assessment visits. Showroom at their office.

HNE-Community Care
1 Regent Road
L3 7BX

Tel: 0151 236 5311

Ways and Means and Nottingham Rehab
Catalogues for individuals (Ways and Means) and therapists (Nottingham Rehab).
Ways and Means/ Nottingham Rehab
Ludlow Hill Road
West Bridgford

Tel: 01159 452000

Winslow Press
Catalogue mainly intended for professionals but includes many recreational products which carers may find interesting.

Winslow Press,
Telford Road, 
Tel: 01869 244733

Croftcare Supplies
Useful gadgets not available elsewhere.

Croftcare Supplies
Cranbourne Industrial Estate
Potters Bar,

Tel: 01992 633226

Mangar International
Lifting and support aids.

Mangar International
LD8 2UF Wales

Tel: 01544 267674

Chailey Heritage Rehabilitation Engineering Unit
Custom-made aids and equipment for children and adolescents.

Chailey Heritage Rehabilitation Engineering Unit
North Chailey, Lewes

Tel: 01825 722112 ext 210

Custom-made aids and equipment for all ages.

c/o John Wright

TN15 9AD

Tel:01732 883818

Second-hand equipment

Second-hand equipment is available on loan free of charge from:

Swanbourne Road
Milton Keynes
MK17 0JA

Send a large SAE for more details. Second-hand equipment is also listed in the ‘On offer and wanted’ section of CNA’s magazine, The Carer.

Making your own aids and equipment

You might be able to make your own aids and equipment. The following publications might be helpful:

'Handmade helps for disabled living,'
by Stuart Granger, Batsford, £12.99

ISBN 07134 39351

'I can do it myself,'
by Wouter Van Leeuwen and Hans Elzenger, £6.95

ISBN 0 907 349315

Charities, benevolent organisations and self-help groups
There are a number of organisations which lend, hire or sell aids and equipment. Some can also give advice or make grants to help you buy equipment.

British Red Cross Society
Local branches lend basic items including wheelchairs.

Head office:

9 Grosvenor Crescent,
Tel:0171 235 5454

Hire purchase for electric wheelchairs and cars.

Gate House, Westgate
The High,
Essex CM20 1HR

Tel: 01279 635666

Advice on wheelchairs and other aids and equipment.

12 City Forum ,
250 City Road

Tel: 0171 250 3222

Continence Foundation
Special equipment, advice and leaflets on any aspect of incontinence.

Continence Foundation
2 Doughty Street

Tel: 0191 213 0050 (Helpline)

Other charities and benevolent organisations which can give grants are listed in a book called A Guide to Grants for Individuals in Need. Libraries and advice centres usually have a copy.

There might also be a local self-help or support group which can give you advice and information about aids and equipment. CNA’s CarersLine on 0345 573 369 can put you in touch with local groups.

Carers National Association

Carers National Association is the voice of carers in the UK. Our work involves:

  • raising awareness at all levels of government and society of the needs of carers, 
  • helping carers become more aware of their own role and status in the community, 
  • providing information, advice and support to carers,

enabling them to make their own choices about providing care.

If you have any questions or any other queries about caring, please contact our CarersLine on: 0808 808 7777 (Monday-Friday l0am-midday and 2pm-4pm).

Carers National Association

20/25 Glasshouse Yard

Tel:020 7490 8818



Some support aids and equipment are exempt from VAT. To avoid paying VAT, you have to sign a declaration that the goods are for the use of someone who is chronically sick or disabled. You can get a leaflet about VAT exemption from your local Customs and Excise office. The leaflet includes the declaration to sign.

Getting more information

Occupational therapists are employed by health and local authorities. Part of their role is to provide advice on support aids and equipment. Ask your GP, district nurse or social worker to put you in touch.

Equipment and services for disabled people (code HB6).
Booklet produced by:

the Department of Health, 
PO Box 410, 
LS23 7LN.

Directory of aids for disabled people, by Ann Darnbrough and Derek Kinrade. 
Detailed source of information on aids.
Published by Woodhead Faulkner. Price £23.50.
Your local library might have a copy. ISBN 0 85941 264 4

Directory for disabled people, by Ann Darnbrough and Derek Kinrade. 
Detailed source of information on a range of subjects including aids and equipment.
Published by Woodhead Faulkner. Price £19.99. Your
local library might have a copy. ISBN 0 85941 701 8

Information sheets available from:
Disabled Living Foundation 
380-384 Harrow Road 
London W9 2HU  
Tel: 0171 289 6111 
Disability Action 
Annadale Avenue 
Belfast BT7 3UR 
Tel: 01232 491011 
Disability Scotland 
5 Shandwick Place 
Edinburgh EH2 4RG 
Tel: 0131 229 86322 
Disability Wales 
Llys Ifor 
Caerphilly CF8 1XL 
Tel: 01222 887 325 

Carers association