Wheelchairs are one of the most frequently used assistive devices for those living with disabilities, with more than 40,000 wheelchair users living in Ireland1.
However, despite the number of individuals who need a wheelchair to comfortably complete daily tasks, Irish wheelchair users often find the cost of purchasing the right wheelchair to be prohibitive.
In this article, we look at the ways in which wheelchair purchases can be funded in Ireland, taking a look at the circumstances in which you can claim the cost of your wheelchair under private health insurance and we clear up the questions surrounding VAT on wheelchair purchases.
Am I entitled to a wheelchair?
The HSE provides medical and surgical aids and appliances, including wheelchairs, free of charge to medical card holders and people on the Long Term Illness Scheme.
If you do not have a medical card, you may still be provided with such aids and appliances for free if they are part of hospital treatment you are undergoing. And, in practice, the HSE may also provide some help with the costs of your wheelchair in other cases. 2
Buying a wheelchair privately
While many wheelchair users are provided with a wheelchair by the state, others are required to purchase their wheelchair privately. And, some wheelchair users choose to purchase their wheelchair privately in order to broaden their selection of devices.
As a private buyers however, there are ways in which you can benefit from structures in place to support private wheelchair purchases, including:
- Avoiding VAT on wheelchair purchases and
- Claiming the cost of the wheelchair from your private insurance company
What is VAT?
VAT, an abbreviation for “value-added tax”, is a tax which is charged with the sale of most Irish goods and services. While VAT rates vary depending on the type of purchase being made, the standard VAT rate is 23%. 3
Is there VAT on my private wheelchair purchase?
First things first, it’s important to know that there is no VAT on any wheelchair purchases in Ireland. 15 This includes battery powered wheelchairs as well as certain wheeled commodes, shower chairs and evacuation chairs.
Can I claim the VAT back on other medical appliances and aids?
If you are living in Ireland and you have a disability, you may also be eligible for a refund of VAT on certain other special aids and appliances that you need. People with both physical and mental disabilities can avail of these refunds. 4
Private purchasers my reclaim the VAT paid on the purchase of other assistive mobility devices under the Value-Added Tax (Refund of Tax) (No. 15) Order 1981. 5
The ability to reclaim the VAT on other appliances, aids, and devices designed for living daily with a disability, extends to products such as: 6
- Domestic aids, for example, eating and drinking aids
- Walk-in baths
- Commode chairs
- Lifting seats and specified chairs
- Braille books
- Hoists and lifts, including stair lifts
- Communication aids
In some cases people who pay for aids and appliances that are for the exclusive use of a person with a disability can also claim the VAT refund. 4
This scheme of VAT refunds on aids and appliances can also apply to adaptation and installation work being carried out to make a home more suitable for an older person or for a person with a disability.
How to reclaim the VAT on your medical appliances and aids
Claiming VAT refunds for medical appliances and aids is a matter of applying via form VAT61a 7, available from Revenue, or applying online via eRepayments8. Before applying, you should ensure that you will be eligible for a refund. In order to reclaim VAT on a medical appliance, an individual must: 2
- Live in Ireland
- Have a disability
- Need the device to make day-to-day living easier
Additionally, the claim must be made within four years of the original purchase2, and those submitting a claim should be prepared to provide an invoice detailing the total amount paid for the device, including the amount of VAT paid.
VAT refunds are not allowed on services for people with disabilities or on rented aids and appliances2, and more information about reclaiming VAT on medical appliances can be found on the Revenue’s website9.
Wheelchairs and private insurance companies
Some wheelchair users may also be eligible for full or partial reimbursement via their private insurance company. In 2017, nearly half of Ireland’s population was covered by a private health insurance company, and the market has only continued to grow 10.
Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI), for example, is one of the most commonly utilised private insurance companies in Ireland.
Other popular insurance companies which provide private health insurance to the people of Ireland include: 11
- Irish Life Health
- Laya Healthcare
Some people may have separate health insurance provided by their employer.
Can I claim the cost of my wheelchair from my insurance company?
Wheelchair users purchasing their wheelchair privately rather than through the HSE, may be able to recoup some or all of the cost of their wheelchair from their private healthcare insurance provider.
The best way for anyone to determine whether or not their wheelchair or other assistive devices are covered by their insurance plan is to:
- Contact the insurance company and request a list of approved devices, and then
- Enquire about the particular circumstances and stipulations associated with the company’s decision to cover a wheelchair purchase or not.
- Enquire about the level of reimbursement they are entitled to
Some insurance companies will cover the cost of approved devices, including wheelchairs, on a case-by-case basis. Those covered by private insurance may also be subject to a limit on the number of outpatient devices they can claim.
Submitting a claim form with VHI
Some VHI policies include the cost of outpatient medical devices, the VHI 2019 International Health Insurance plan15, for example, is available online and addresses the coverage of out-patient costs (including the hire and purchase of wheelchairs).
Claiming your wheelchair under VHI insurance is a matter of submitting the appropriate form, a list of which can be easily accessed online13. In order to claim a wheelchair, wheelchair users should submit the appliance claim form14, along with details for each device in use and the original receipts of purchase.
Not every wheelchair user will be eligible for even partial reimbursement for the cost of their wheelchair via an insurance claim or a VAT claim on the purchase of another medical device.
But, if you are considering purchasing a wheelchair or other device privately, you absolutely should contact your health insurance company to find out the specifics of your policy’s cover for medical appliance purchases and enquire with revenue about whether or not you can reclaim the VAT on your purchase.
You’ll be glad you did!