Equipment, adaptations and improvements to the home

4. How to get hold of equipment

What social services can provide

If a person is considered to have ‘eligible needs’, they are entitled to receive support from social services. This may include aids and adaptations, if they are needed. A social worker can assess someone to see if they have eligible needs.

An occupational therapist can also visit the home to assess if any equipment or adaptations are needed. This is called an occupational therapy home assessment. The occupational therapist will advise on whether or not a particular adaptation or piece of equipment may be helpful to meet someone’s individual needs. They can arrange minor adaptations such as handrails, adapted cutlery and special chairs through social services. The equipment that is available will vary from one local authority to another.

Social services have a duty to fund aids and minor adaptations up to the value of £1,000, regardless of your income and savings. More expensive equipment can also be arranged but this will be means-tested, meaning it will depend on your financial situation. However, each local authority social services will have its own criteria for which daily living aids and adaptations it will provide.

Some people will be given a personal budget by social services, which they can use to hire or buy their own equipment. After a financial assessment, the person may have to contribute to the personal budget amount themselves, depending on their financial situation. For more information see page: Personal budgets.

If major adaptations are needed, grants towards the cost may be available in some cases (see ‘Grants and assistance available from local authorities’, below, for more information). An assessment is usually required if someone is applying for a grant from the local authority to help meet the cost of any adaptation needed because of disability. Carers can also ask the local authority for an independent assessment of their needs if they are providing care. These needs may include adaptations to help them to provide care.

What the NHS can provide

The NHS can provide certain types of equipment to aid mobility, such as walking sticks, walking frames and wheelchairs. These are provided on long-term loans, for as long as the item is needed, and can be arranged through the GP, hospital consultant or physiotherapist. There is no charge for the equipment, but a refundable deposit may be needed. Community equipment for home nursing, such as commodes, is usually provided through the NHS. Depending on the area, equipment for daily living, such as shower chairs and raised toilet seats, might be provided by the local authority.

Wheelchairs, which are available from the local NHS wheelchair service, are usually standard models. Some health authorities offer voucher schemes towards the cost of a more expensive chair. The wheelchair service can supply details. The NHS will pay for servicing and repairs, as long as these are not needed because of misuse or neglect.

Equipment needed for nursing someone at home, such as bedpans, pressure relief mattresses, hoists or hospital beds, should be available on free loan from the local NHS community health service. The most appropriate team member will assess whether this equipment is needed.

Grants and assistance available from local authorities

Some pieces of equipment will be provided directly by local authority social services – see ‘What social services can provide’ above.

For other pieces of equipment or adaptations, the local authority may be able to supply a grant or some other assistance. The various types of support that may be available are outlined below.

Disabled facilities grants

Disabled facilities grants are designed to help meet the cost of adapting a home for the needs of a disabled person. These are mandatory, meaning that if a person is eligible and needs the adaptation, the grant must be available to them. They can be awarded for:

  • improving a disabled person’s access to and from their home
  • improving a disabled person’s access to:
    – the main family room in their home
    – their bedroom (or providing a new bedroom)
    – the bathroom (or providing a new bathroom, and making it easier for the person to use the facilities)
  • making the home safe for a disabled occupant and anyone else living with them
  • making it easier for the disabled person to prepare and cook food
  • improving the heating system or providing a suitable new heating system
  • making it easier for the person to move around their home to enable them to care for someone who is dependent on them and also lives there
  • improving or moving controls for heating, lighting and plug sockets.

Disabled facilities grants are means-tested. The test is applied to the person with disabilities and their partner, if they have one, even if the disabled person is not the applicant for the grant.

The maximum amount available as a disabled facilities grant is £30,000 in England, £36,000 in Wales and £25,000 in Northern Ireland. The local authority will not consider the grant application if the work has already started, so it is important to apply before any work begins.

Disabled facilities grants are generally administered by the local housing authority rather than the social services department, although this may vary across different authorities. An application form should be available from the grants department of your local authority offices.

Local authority assistance with housing repairs

Local housing authorities now have wide powers to help people with repairs, adaptations and improvements to their home. They can set their own conditions for this, such as whether to perform a means test, and under what circumstances financial assistance should be repaid. Assistance can be given in the form of a grant, a loan, labour, materials, advice or any combination of these. Local authorities may also require some sort of security for any financial assistance they provide, including taking a charge on a person’s home (securing a loan against the value of the house), if they own it.

What help is available to owner-occupiers, tenants or landlords will depend on each local authority’s policy. They must have a published policy that sets out the type of assistance they are willing to provide and under what circumstances. For more information, ask your local authority for a copy.

Other sources of funding

Social Fund

Some people may be eligible for a budgeting loan from the Social Fund to help with the cost of minor repairs or improvements to their home. This may include people receiving income support, income-based Jobseeker’s allowance or Pension credit guarantee. For people in the Universal credit system, a budgeting advance may be possible. Information about the Social Fund is available at local Jobcentre Plus offices. The local authority will also have information about any local welfare scheme which replaced Social Fund community care grants.

Charities

Some charities and trusts may offer help towards the cost of minor adaptations or repairs. Information is available at a local library, advice centre, Citizens Advice Bureau or other local agency, such as a housing advice agency. Alternatively, contact Charity Search, who can direct you to other charities that may be able to help (see ‘Other useful organisations’).

Getting hold of equipment yourself

When looking for a piece of equipment, it is important to ask for a product demonstration and seek professional advice. You can get advice from the Disabled Living Foundation (see ‘Other useful organisations’), independent or disabled living centres (ask your local council) and ‘assisted living’ shops on the high street. Equipment specially designed to help with disability, such as a wheelchair, should be exempt from VAT.

It may be possible to hire equipment that is only needed on a short-term basis. The local British Red Cross centre may hire or lend wheelchairs and other items free of charge. How long you can hire them for will depend on whether you have a medical referral from a GP or occupational therapist. Alternatively, a specialist hire company, or the manufacturer or supplier, may be able to lend it out temporarily. Ask the Disabled Living Foundation or your nearest disabled living centre for details (see ‘Other useful organisations’ for details).

Tips for buying equipment

If you are thinking of buying equipment, it may help to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Is it fit for purpose (ie, does it do what it says it does)?
  • Are spare parts easily obtainable? Are they expensive?
  • Does the equipment need regular servicing? Who pays for this?
  • Is it safe? Equipment that conforms to European safety standards will have a CE kitemark. You may also see a BSI mark on some products. This means they have been tested and approved by the British Standards Institution.

You can buy equipment from many different sources. Many suppliers have mail order services or an online shop, and some items may be available from local shops, such as pharmacies. It is also worth noting that sometimes the best ‘equipment’ may just be a simple household item from an ordinary shop, such as a noticeboard for reminders or Velcro fastenings for clothes.

To see a range of products, including equipment and adaptations, go to Alzheimer’s Society’s online shop or see the Daily living aids catalogue.

It is advisable to buy from businesses that are operating under an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) approved code (these will display the OFT approved code logo).