31 MoneySaving tips for disabled people

31 MoneySaving tips for disabled people

On average, life can cost a whopping £583 more each month if you're disabled, according to disability charity Scope. So we've rounded up as many tips and tricks for disabled MoneySavers as we can – from knowing your consumer rights and what adjustments firms should make for you, to how to get a free (or cheap) key to accessible toilets or a 'free' cinema ticket for a friend/carer.

In this guide

This is the first incarnation of this guide. We originally wrote this as a blog with 13 quick tips, but it was so popular we've turned it into a guide and added new points, many suggested by MoneySavers. Please let us know if you have any other tips in the forum. And don't forget there are a number of disability charities which can offer expert advice, including MencapRNIB, Sense and Scope (which kindly reviewed this guide for us).

The basics – what every disabled MoneySaver should know

  1. What is officially classed as a disability?

    Even if you don't consider yourself to be disabled, the Equality Act 2010 may protect you from discrimination if your physical or mental health condition fits its definition of disability.

    According to the Equality Act, you've a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

    Not everyone realises the term disability can include mental health conditions, as well as physical conditions. If you're unsure, mental health charity Mind has some useful info to help work out whether you are officially classed as disabled under the Equality Act.

  2. Make sure you're getting the benefits you're entitled to

    There are a number of specific benefits to help those who are disabled, ill or elderly. Some can be claimed on top of other benefits, eg, those for parents, jobseekers or those with a low income. They include:

    • Personal independence payments (PIP) – £23.20 to £148.85/week. The PIP is a tax-free benefit for people aged 16 or over who haven't reached state pension age. It's supposed to help with the extra costs caused by a disability. PIP is gradually replacing the disability living allowance.

    • Disability living allowance (DLA) for children – £23.20 to £148.85/week. DLA for children is a tax-free benefit for under-16s to help with the extra costs caused by long-term ill health or a disability.

    • Attendance allowance – £58.70 or £87.65/week. This is a tax-free benefit for people who are state pension age or over, have a disability and need someone to help look after them.

    • Employment and support allowance (ESA) – up to £111.65/week plus top-ups. ESA is aimed at those who can't work because of illness or disability.

    • Carer's allowance – £66.15/week. This is for carers rather than disabled people – it's designed to provide extra money if you care for someone for at least 35 hours per week and they get certain benefits.

    Our benefits calculator can give you an idea of how much you're entitled to, so even if you're already receiving some benefits, it's well worth checking you're getting as much support as you can.

  3. You have extra consumer rights – know what adjustments banks, retailers and service providers should make for you

    In addition to your basic consumer rights, if you're disabled, you also have rights protecting you against discrimination when you buy goods and services or use certain facilities. These are set out in a law called the Equality Act 2010.

    This means providers must make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow you to use their services. For example, most companies now offer written information in alternative formats, such as large print, braille, different coloured paper or audio CD.

    If companies don't make adjustments for you, they must be able to show that their failure to do so is reasonable. See Citizens Advice for more help and info. If you feel you've been discriminated against, Scope recommends contacting the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

How to save on equipment, home adaptations, utility bills & more

  1. Apply for equipment and support from your council – eg, get a grant for a stairlift

    If you need to adapt your home due to your disability, it's worth applying to your local council to see what equipment and support it can offer you. What's on offer varies by council, but it can be a real help.

    Leeds City Council, for example, says if you're finding it difficult to move around your home and use your bathroom/kitchen, you may be eligible for a 'disabled facility grant' of up to £30,000. It's designed to help adults keep their independence and for children to lead ordinary lives (if the grant is for an adult it's means-tested, but children automatically qualify).

    The council says an occupational therapist will meet with you to discuss your needs, and may recommend adaptations such as:

    • Ramps.
    • Wider doorways.
    • Stairlifts.
    • Wet floor or walk-in showers.
    • Major alterations to your home.

    In Northern Ireland it works slightly differently, as grants are provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

  2. Avoid paying VAT on wheelchairs, emergency alarms & more

    If you're disabled or have a long-term illness, the Government says you shouldn't be charged VAT on items which have been designed or adapted for your personal use  for example, wheelchairs or equipment to help you get around your house. This also covers installation, repairs/maintenance and spare parts or accessories.

    As this covers products specifically made for disabled people, your supplier simply won't charge VAT if you (and the goods) are eligible.

    You'll need to confirm to the supplier or retailer that you're eligible for VAT relief, which may mean filling out a form or simply ticking a box at the online checkout. The method may vary by supplier  Blue Badge Co, for example, says it simply needs the name and address of the person the item is for, and not a doctor's letter or proof of disability.

    • For VAT purposes, you're disabled (or have a long-term illness) if:

      • You have a physical or mental impairment that affects your ability to carry out everyday activities, eg, blindness.
      • You have a condition that's treated as chronic sickness, like diabetes.
      • You're terminally ill.

      The Government says you don't qualify if you're elderly but able-bodied, or if you're temporarily disabled.

    • See the Government's VAT relief guidance for the full list, but examples include:
       
      • Medical and surgical appliances.
      • Wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
      • Equipment to aid the hard of hearing, and low-vision aids.
      • Specialist beds, chair and stairlifts, rise and recline chairs and other lifting equipment and sanitary devices.
      • Goods that have been designed solely for disabled people.
      • Computer equipment designed solely for use by disabled people.
      • Emergency alarm call systems.
      • Boats adapted for use by a disabled person.
      • Parts and accessories.

    Officially, the Government says VAT needs to be removed at the time of purchase – you can't reclaim VAT on items you've already bought.

    However we have heard of occasional exceptions, such as the following from MoneySaver Dave, so it could still be worth asking if you've already bought something:

    I have hearing loss and bought a vibrating alarm clock from Amazon. I then sent a simple completed disabled decleration form (from the HMRC website) to Amazon's customer services and they refunded the VAT to my account.

  3. Check if you qualify for a council tax discount

    If you're disabled, there are a couple of different ways you may qualify for a reduction in council tax.

    Get a reduction if you need extra space in your home

    You may be able to get money off your council tax bill if you qualify for the 'disabled band reduction scheme'. It's designed to stop disabled people paying higher council tax simply because they've had to live in a larger house than they would've done otherwise.

    To qualify, your home must have at least one of these:

    • An extra bathroom or kitchen, which is necessary to meet your needs as a disabled person.
    • Enough floor space to use a wheelchair (you must need to use the wheelchair indoors).

    Check your local council's website to see if you qualify to be moved into a lower council tax band.

    It works slightly differently in Northern Ireland, but you may be able to get a 25% discount on your council tax bill.

    Pay £100s less in council tax if you qualify for the 'severely mentally impaired' discount

    Tens of thousands of people classed as 'severely mentally impaired' (SMI) are entitled to a council tax discount and could be missing out on about £400 a year.

    If you're diagnosed as SMI, you can be 'disregarded for council tax purposes' in England, Scotland and Wales (it works differently in Northern Ireland). This means if you live alone you're exempt from paying council tax, and if you live with just one other adult, you're 'disregarded' so they get a 25% discount.

    By law, to qualify someone must be medically certified as having a severe mental impairment (ie, one that severely and permanently affects their intellectual and social functioning). While this is a medical diagnosis in itself, the underlying cause could be a condition such as dementia (including Alzheimer's), severe learning difficulties or something else.

    It's important to note that having an underlying condition does not automatically mean a person qualifies for the SMI discount.

    We've been raising awareness of this since 2016. Our How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount guide shows how to check if you're due the discount, how to claim it, and in some cases, how to backdate it too.

  4. Some telecoms firms offer extra help contacting customer services – so don't be afraid to haggle a better deal

    We often tell MoneySavers to pick up the phone and haggle a better deal with their service provider – and many companies require you to call if you want to cancel a contract. But for some disabled people, it isn't always easy to make a phone call.

    While all companies must make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow you to contact them, what this means in practice varies. For example, some providers offer a sign language option via webcam when you contact customer services, others offer a live chat function.

    To contact your provider (whether to simply make changes to your account, or haggle a better deal), it's worth checking what it does – we've listed a few of the big telecoms firms below and the extra help they offer disabled people to give you an idea of what's available:

    • BT offers a sign language option (via webcam) if you need to contact its customer service.

      It also offers a free priority fault repair scheme, aimed at people with chronic long-term illnesses or disabilities who rely on their phone and may need it urgently. Essentially, you'll be treated as a priority if you have issues with your phone line. To apply, you'll need to meet its criteria and have your application counter-signed by a doctor.

      Its protected services scheme lets you nominate someone to look after your account and bills, eg, if you have to go into hospital.

      You can request written information in alternative formats, such as large print, braille, different coloured paper or audio CD. For more info on the support offered to disabled people, see BT's Including You pages.

    • Plusnet offers free priority fault repair for some customers who register with it as disabled and/or vulnerable. Firstly, you'll need to let it know about any disabilities or vulnerabilities you have by calling 0800 432 0200 or via the 'Additional support form' in its member centre. It will then assess whether it's able to provide the service to you, as it says it can only provide it to 'those who need it most'.

      You can also nominate an authorised user to manage your account, eg, if you have to go into hospital and need someone to help manage your bills.

      See Plusnet's support for customers with disabilities pages for more info.

    • Sky has a dedicated accessibility customer service team, with options to contact it via live chat, telephone, email, British Sign Language (via webcam) and textphone. You can also request written information in alternative formats, such as large print, braille, different coloured paper or audio CD.

      If you have a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer's, or have a long stay in hospital, you can nominate someone to manage your account.

      See Sky Accessibility for more info on the support it offers disabled customers.

    • TalkTalk offers a free priority fault repair service for customers who rely on it for health and mobility reasons. If you're eligible, you'll get priority when you report a fault. To apply, simply contact TalkTalk. The service is available if your household includes someone at risk, or you have accessibility requirements including:

      • A home renal dialysis machine.
      • A home peritoneal dialysis machine.
      • An artificial ventilator.
      • Being unable to leave the house unaided due to chronic long-term illness or disability.

      You can also appoint a nominated user to manage your account and make payments on your behalf. For more info on the assistance offered to disabled people, see TalkTalk Accessibility.

    • Virgin has a number of ways you can contact its customer service team, including via text, telephone, sign language and a text relay service.

      It also offers a priority fault repair service for phone lines to customers who have an impairment and urgently need a repair. You'll need to contact customer services to register for the service.

      You can nominate a friend or family member to manage your account, which means they can pay your bill and speak to Virgin about any issues. For more info on the assistance offered to disabled people, see Virgin's accessibility and extra support pages.

  5. Need to use a lot of water? You might qualify for a water bill discount

    There's a scheme in England and Wales called WaterSure, which is designed to help people struggling with their water bills. You may qualify if you're on certain benefits and need to use a lot of water for medical reasons. You also need to be on a water meter (or be waiting to have one installed).

    The scheme caps your water bill, so you won't pay more than the average metered bill in your area – if you use less than the average, you'll simply pay for what you use.

    Who qualifies for the scheme?

    Eligibility for the scheme depends on your supplier – you won't always qualify just because you receive disability-related benefits such as DLA (disability living allowance) or PIP (personal independence payments).

    Water regulator Ofwat says you MAY be eligible if you (or a member of your household):

      • Income support.
      • Income-based jobseeker's allowance.
      • Housing benefit.
      • Working tax credit.
      • Child tax credit (except families in receipt of the family element only).
      • Pension credit.
      • Income-related employment and support allowance.
      • Universal credit.
      • Desquamation (flaky skin disease).
      • Weeping skin disease (eczema, psoriasis, varicose ulceration).
      • Incontinence.
      • Abdominal stoma.
      • Crohn's disease.
      • Ulcerative colitis.
      • Renal failure requiring home dialysis (except where the health authority contributes to the cost of the water used in dialysis).

    You may also be able to get help for other conditions. For example, United Utilities says other medical conditions can be accepted if the condition uses significant amounts of water and is supported by a signed certificate issued by a doctor or registered practitioner.

    How to apply

    You'll need to apply for the scheme via your water supplier. If you're not sure who that is, check via the Water UK website by entering your postcode.

    Ofwat says disabled customers can also ask their water provider for special assistance, for example, being put on its priority service register and being given extra warning of interruptions to supply.

    There are no equivalent schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as water is billed slightly differently. It may still be worth speaking to your local council or water supplier to see what help is available.

  6. Check if you can get £140 towards your energy bill

    The Warm Home Discount scheme requires big suppliers, by law, to help vulnerable customers in England, Scotland and Wales to pay for energy. Those who are eligible are able to get a £140 rebate on energy bills between September and March.

    If you're disabled and on certain benefits, you may be eligible for the scheme. There are two groups of people who qualify, with a different application process for each.

    • The 'Core Group'. If, as of 7 July 2019, you received the 'guarantee credit' element of pension credit and your name (or your partner's) is on the bill, you're in this group. If your energy supplier is part of the scheme, you'll be sent a letter between October and December 2019 telling you how to apply.

    • The 'Broader Group'. If you don't qualify for the above, you can still apply for the discount providing you get certain benefits. If you're eligible you'll need to apply directly to the supplier, which you should do as soon as possible, as discounts are often limited and cut-off dates vary. Each provider that offers the discount may have additional requirements. 

    To check, you can call the Warm Home Discount helpline on 0800 731 0214 before 28 February 2020. See our Housing and Energy Grants guide for more information on the eligibility criteria.

    Quick questions:

    • The money isn't paid to you, it's a one-off discount on your electricity bill before 31 March. If you're on prepay, your supplier can tell you how to claim it – usually it's a voucher worth £140 for your meter.

    • You can compare tariffs from suppliers offering the discount via our Cheap Energy Club – simply select the warm home discount filter, under 'tariff features'.

      However, not all suppliers offering the warm home discount offer it to the broader group. These are the ones which do:

      Avro Energy, British Gas (inc Scottish Gas), Bulb, Co-operative Energy (inc GB Energy), E, EDF, E.on, Flow Energy, Green Network Energy, Green Star Energy, Npower (inc Powershop), Octopus Energy, Ovo Energy (inc Boost, Lumo and Spark Energy), Sainsbury's Energy, Scottish Power (inc Manweb), Shell Energy (formerly First Utility), SSE (inc Atlantic, Scottish Hydro, Southern Electric, SWALEC), Utilita, Utility Warehouse.

  7. You may be entitled to FREE prescriptions in England (normally £9)

    Prescriptions are free for everyone if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but if you live in England you usually pay £9 for each item.

    However, free prescriptions are available to people with certain medical conditions and disabilities. You'll qualify if you have a valid medical exemption certificate (known as a 'MedEx') – which is given for a range of illnesses, such as epilepsy or cancer, or severe disability.

    • The NHS says you can apply for a medical exemption certificate if you have one of the following medical conditions:
       

      • A continuing physical disability which means you cannot go out without the help of another person.
      • A permanent fistula (eg, caecostomy, colostomy, laryngostomy or ileostomy) which needs continuous surgical dressing or an appliance.
      • A form of hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison's disease) for which specific substitution therapy is essential.
      • Diabetes insipidus and other forms of hypopituitarism.
      • Diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone.
      • Hypoparathyroidism.
      • Myasthenia gravis.
      • Myxoedema (that is, hypothyroidism which needs thyroid hormone replacement).
      • Epilepsy which needs continuous anticonvulsive therapy.
      • Cancer (and are undergoing treatment for either cancer, the effects of cancer or the effects of cancer treatment).
  8. Use specialist/emergency equipment? Register for priority service from your power network

    There are a variety of reasons you may be able to register for priority service with your power network (not your energy supplier, but the organisation responsible for owning and maintaining electricity cables). These include if you rely on specialist equipment for home medical care or have special communication needs, eg, if you're blind, partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing.

    Each energy supplier and network operator runs its own register – the UK electricity network is split into regions, but Ofgem has a handy map to help you find yours.

    Ofgem says by joining a priority services register, you should get advance notice of power cuts and priority support in an emergency if you:

    • Are of pensionable age.
    • Are disabled or chronically sick.
    • Have a long-term medical condition.
    • Have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs.
    • Are in a vulnerable situation.

    Even if you don't fall into one of the categories above, it may still be worth asking – eg, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) says you're welcome to contact it if you have other needs and feel you would need extra help in the event of a power cut.

    If you live in Northern Ireland, you'll need to join the Northern Ireland Electricity Networks critical care information register.

  9. Facing extra studying costs? Check if the disabled student allowance can help

    If you're studying and need help with costs you have to pay in relation to your course as the result of a disability, long-term health condition, mental health condition or specific learning difficulty, then disabled students' allowances (DSAs) can help you. There are three different allowances:

    • Specialist equipment (up to £5,684). Such as a new computer, if you're assessed as needing one.
    • Non-medical helpers (up to £22,603). For example, a sign-language interpreter.
    • General allowance (up to £1,899). For example, extra travel, photocopying and other disability-related costs.

     How you apply depends on whether you're studying full or part-time:

    • Full-time student? You can apply for DSAs as part of your student finance application, either online or via a paper form. You won't need to re-apply each year.
    • Part-time student? You'll need to apply for DSAs using the paper form (you can't apply online). You'll need to reapply each year of your course.

    You'll get the allowances on top of your other student finance, and you don't need to pay them back. The amounts you can get differ between regions – here's what you may be eligible for in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Travel and transport

  1. How to get a blue badge for disabled parking

    The blue badge scheme allows you to use car parking spaces which are reserved for disabled people and are usually closer to your destination.

    Many with disabilities can apply for a new badge or renew one on the Government website. It costs up to £10 in England and Northern Ireland, and £20 in Scotland. It's free in Wales. Your application will be sent to your council and it makes the decision on your eligibility.

    What's more, if you have a 'hidden' disability, such as dementia or an anxiety disorder, you can now access blue badge parking permits. This is thanks to a recent roll out of new guidance to councils in England (similar rules in Scotland and Wales already existed, but the rules are slightly different in Northern Ireland).

    • You automatically qualify for a blue badge if you:

      • Are registered as blind.
      • Get the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA).
      • Get a personal independence payment (PIP) and scored eight points or more in the 'moving around' area of your assessment – check your decision letter if you're not sure.
      • Get war pensioners' mobility supplement.
      • Received a lump sum payment as part of the armed forces compensation scheme (tariffs one to eight), and have been certified as having a permanent and substantial disability.

      If you don't meet this criteria you may still be able to get a badge, but you'll have to fill in an extra part of the application to show why you need one. Under the new guidance, eligibility for permits will be extended to those with hidden disabilities, including:

      • People who cannot travel without risk of serious harm to their health and safety or someone else's (such as young children with autism).
      • People who cannot travel without "very considerable psychological distress".
      • People who have very considerable difficulty when walking (even if this isn't obvious). This covers "both the physical act and experience of walking".

      Full details on the rules can be found on the Government website.

    • If you have a blue badge, you can park in places other drivers can't. It's linked to you rather than a vehicle, so you can use it with any car. This includes taxis that you're travelling in as a passenger.

      When you get your blue badge you should be given a leaflet from your council, as the rules do differ from council to council. Here are some examples of where a blue badge usually lets you park for free (but always check local rules):
       

      • On streets with parking meters or pay-and-display machines for as long as you need to.
      • In disabled parking bays on streets for as long as you need to, unless a sign says there is a time limit.
      • On single or double yellow lines for up to three hours, unless there's a 'no loading' sign.
  2. Get free bus travel with a disabled person's bus pass

    You can get free or discounted bus travel in England by applying for a disabled person's bus pass from your local council. There are similar schemes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Simply check your local council's website for details of how to apply. For example, Manchester City Council says you can apply for a pass to travel on reduced fares or for free across Greater Manchester, and in some cases, nationally.

    If you live in London, you can apply for a disabled person's Freedom Pass, which gets you free travel across the capital (including tube, bus and TfL Rail), as well as on local bus services across the UK.

  3. Get 1/3 off rail fares with a £20/year Disabled Person's Railcard – plus 1/3 off for a friend

    If you have a disability that makes travelling by train difficult, you may qualify for a Disabled Person's Railcard* (see Are you eligible? below).

    It costs £20 for one year, or £54 for three years (equivalent to £18/year), and gets you one-third off most train travel. That means if you spend over £60 on eligible rail fares in a year, it's worth getting one as the savings beat the cost of the card.

    Even better, if you travel with another adult, they'll also get one-third off their ticket. The accompanying adult does not have to have a disability, but does need to travel with you for the duration of the journey to qualify.

    Unlike most other railcards, there are no time restrictions for when the Disabled Person's Railcard can be used, although it won't work on season tickets.

    You'll need to provide evidence of your eligibility when applying – see the Disabled Person's Railcard* site for a list of accepted proof. The railcard can't be bought at station ticket offices, but you can pick up an application form which you'll need to complete and post, or you can apply for the card online.

    • You would need to provide one of the below as evidence of your eligibility:
       
      • You are registered as deaf or use a hearing aid.
      • You are registered as having a visual impairment.
      • You receive personal independence payments (PIP).
      • You receive disability living allowance (DLA) at either the higher or lower rate for the mobility component, or the higher or middle rate for the care component.
      • You have epilepsy and have repeated attacks, even though you receive drug treatment or are currently prohibited from driving because of epilepsy.
      • You receive attendance allowance or severe disablement allowance.
      • You receive war pensioner's mobility supplement.
      • You receive war or service disablement pension for 80% or more disability.
      • You buy or lease a vehicle through the motability scheme.
    • If your child (aged 5-15) has one of the eligible disabilities, they can apply for a Disabled Person's Railcard (or you can apply on their behalf). They won't get discounted child fares, but the card will allow one adult travelling with them to get one-third off.

    • If you have a Tesco Clubcard with enough points, you could use your Clubcard vouchers to get a one year Disabled Person's Railcard for £7 in vouchers. See Disabled Person's Railcard for £7 in Tesco points.

  4. You may be exempt from toll road charges

    If you have a blue badge for disabled parking or receive certain benefits, you may be exempt from paying tolls on roads such as the M6. Criteria for exemption varies, and for some roads you may need to apply in advance – with others you can simply present your blue badge at the toll booth.

    Here are some examples of how you can get an exemption:

    • M6 Toll. You'll need to apply in advance for a free M6 Toll mobility exemption pass. You must receive either the higher-rate mobility component of DLA, attendance allowance, enhanced-rate mobility component of PIP or the war pensioner's mobility supplement to be eligible.

    • Dartford Crossing. If you're driving a vehicle that's exempt from vehicle tax because you're disabled, you don't need to pay the toll. Your vehicle will be checked automatically when you cross – you don't need to do anything.

    • Mersey Gateway Bridge and Silver Jubilee BridgeBlue badge holders can cross both bridges without paying the toll, but will need to register first and pay a £5 registration fee.

    Other routes which offer exemptions include the Mersey TunnelsHumber Bridge and Tyne Tunnels, though you'll need to check if you qualify.

  5. Get a free 'offer me a seat' badge for public transport

    If you're unable to stand for long periods, travelling on public transport can be tricky, particularly during rush hour. Not everyone feels comfortable asking other passengers to give up their seat, so some train and bus companies offer free badges to disabled passengers, which say 'please offer me a seat'. This can be particularly useful if you have a disability which isn't visible.

    The transport providers below all offer free 'priority seat' badges or cards – let us know if you've spotted any others. Scope also has a helpful page of tips on how to ask for a seat when you need it.

  6. Get special assistance at the airport (& choose your seat on the plane for free)

    If you have a disability, reduced mobility or difficulty with communication or social interaction, you have a legal right to special assistance when you travel. This applies on any flights out of the UK or anywhere else in the EU, or if you're flying to an airport in the EU (including the UK) on an EU airline.

    If you think you need special assistance, you can declare your disability to the airline.

    Crucially, you need to contact your airline in advance to tell it about your requirements. This should be done as early as possible, and no later than 48 hours before you travel.

    The aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority says help is available from the moment you arrive at an airport and can cover:

    • Your journey through your departure airport.
    • Boarding the aircraft and during the flight.
    • Disembarking the aircraft.
    • Transferring between flights.
    • Travelling through your destination airport.

    Forumite houseofloxley says:

    Do request special assistance from your airline when flying. My partner is disabled and walks with crutches – when we arrive at the airport, she has a separate seating area in which to wait. She is collected by wheelchair and taken speedily through security – no queuing. I trot along behind!

    She is often loaded first onto the plane. She has a free suitcase allowance for medicines etc. She and I have free seat allocations. At the destination airport, she is met and taken to the bus stop, taxi rank etc. All this, free of charge.

    Check if you can choose your plane seat for free

    Many airlines charge passengers an extra fee for selecting their preferred seat, but if you have a disability, you may be able to select (or be allocated) a seat that's suited to your needs for free. While there aren't specific rules on seating reservations, airlines do have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for you, so they should help if you have special requirements.

  7. Check if you're exempt from car tax or if you can get a discount

    If you're disabled and receiving certain benefits, you may be exempt from paying vehicle tax, or be able to get a 50% discount. However, bizarrely you WILL still need to tax your vehicle even if you don't need to pay anything.

    Who's eligible for a vehicle tax exemption?

    You can apply for an exemption if you get the:

    • Higher-rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA).
    • Enhanced-rate mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP).
    • War pensioners' mobility supplement.
    • Armed forces independence payment.

    The vehicle must be registered in the disabled person's name or their nominated driver's name.

    It must only be used for the disabled person's personal needs. It cannot be used by the nominated driver for their own personal use.

    Who's eligible for a 50% vehicle tax reduction?

    You can get a 50% discount on vehicle tax if you get the PIP standard-rate mobility component, but not if you get the DLA lower-rate mobility component.

    • You must include the following with your application:
       

      • A letter or statement from the Department for Work and Pensions that shows your PIP rate and the dates you're getting it.
      • The vehicle log book (V5C).
      • V10 form.
      • An original MOT or GVT certificate (if your vehicle needs one).
      • A cheque or payable order (made out to 'DVLA, Swansea') for 50% of the full rate of car tax for the vehicle.
      • An insurance certificate or cover note (if you live in Northern Ireland).

Going out and about

  1. Consider a £15 'Access Card' to get support more easily

    An issue many disabled people face is having to 'prove' they need special assistance or reasonable adjustments made, eg, at music venues or when dealing with service providers. One solution to this is to get an Access Card, which costs £15 for three years.

    To apply, you'll need to fill out a form and provide evidence of your disability, eg, a letter from your doctor. You'll then be sent your Access Card, which will display symbols relevant to your needs – these include wheelchair access, urgent toilet needs or difficulty with standing and queuing (see the full list). The idea is that staff will quickly and discreetly understand what assistance you require.

    While it's not necessary to have an Access Card in order to get assistance, even in venues which specifically work with the scheme, many say it can make the process a lot easier if you can simply flash a card.

    MSE Kirsty says her life was transformed when she got her card:

    I'm deaf, and one of the biggest barriers I face is around proof, eg, when trying to buy access tickets at venues. I don't claim benefits, I don't have a 'deaf' certificate, but now I just show my card to the access team and there are no arguments or difficulties. I get the access tickets and rate, and a carer ticket.

    • If you live in Wales, and need support or assistance to attend a performance at a theatre or arts centre, then you may be eligible to join Hynt – a free card scheme that gets you free tickets for personal assistants or carers, and can be used across participating theatres and venues in Wales.

      The Hynt website also has information about accessible performances at venues across Wales, and its access guides can help you plan your visit.

      The scheme is available to people who have visual impairments or are on certain benefits. See the full eligibility criteria.

  2. Get 'free' cinema tickets for friends/carers

    The CEA card, developed by the UK Cinema Association (formerly the Cinema Exhibitors' Association, which explains the name), gets you a free ticket for someone to accompany you when you visit the cinema and pay full price yourself. The idea is this person can assist you with anything you need during your visit, but they don't have to be a professional carer – a friend or family member counts too.

    You'll need to pay £6 for the card, which lasts for a year. CEA says about 90% of cinemas accept the card – you can check if your local one does here.

    • You must be receiving one of the following benefits to qualify for a card (and will need to send a copy of the awarding letter from the Department for Work and Pensions or statement confirming receipt of the allowance):
       
      • Disability living allowance (DLA).
      • Attendance allowance (AA).
      • Personal independence payment (PIP).
      • Armed forces independence payment (AFIP).

      Or send a copy of your:
       

      • Severely sight impaired registration (formerly registered blind).
      • Sight impaired registration (formerly partially sighted).
  3. Unlock 9,000+ accessible toilets around the UK with a free (or cheap) key

    The National Key Scheme (NKS) offers disabled people access to over 9,000 locked, accessible toilets around the UK. Toilets with NKS locks can be found in shopping centres, pubs, cafés, department stores, train stations etc.

    As well as aiming to ensure these toilets are kept free for those who need them, the NKS allows disabled people to access the toilets independently, without having to ask staff to unlock them.

    To access these toilets, you need a 'radar key'. Some councils, such as Manchester City Council, give them out completely free, though you may have to fill out a form and provide evidence such as a note from your doctor, a photocopy of your blue badge or a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions. Other councils may ask you to pay – for example, Cheshire West and Chester Council charges £3.

    Visit your local council's website, or contact it, to find out what it offers. Alternatively, you can buy an official 'radar key' for £4.75 (including delivery) from Disability Rights UK. It's worth noting you don't need to provide evidence of a disability, but the organisation says that by buying one you're declaring yourself eligible to claim VAT relief (as disabled people are) and that the key is for your personal use.

    How to find accessible toilets

    You can use The Great British Toilet Map to find accessible public toilets near you – simply go to 'preferences' and select 'accessible'. It lists details of each toilet, including opening times and whether you need a radar key to access it.

    There's also a special map to find Changing Places toilets, which offer more facilities than standard accessible toilets, including adequate space for up to two carers, hoists and height-adjustable adult-sized changing benches. For more details, see the Changing Places website.

  4. Get a free 'Just Can't Wait' toilet card to discreetly ask for help

    If you have a bladder or bowel condition, there's a handy free card you can use to discreetly ask to use the toilet when you're out and about. While the card doesn't guarantee access to any toilet, it can help by making staff aware that you have a medical condition that means you 'just can't wait'. For example, you could show it if you're passing a pub or cafe with a sign saying 'toilets are for customers only'.

    You can order your free card from the Bladder & Bowel Community, by submitting a few details. There's also a free Just Can't Wait Card app, which you can use to show the card instantly, plus find the nearest public toilet.

  5. Save money on days out, including 'free' football tickets for friends/carers

    Disability charity Scope has lots of suggestions when it comes to days out for disabled adults and young people. Here are a few to get you started:

    • Find wheelchair-accessible scenic walks. There's a searchable database at WalkswithWheelchairs.com to help you find accessible (and free) walks near you.

    • Check out accessibility features at music festivals. See 10 of the best UK festivals offering disabled access, eg, Glastonbury Festival provides accessible shuttle buses, an accessible campsite, hearing loop systems, British Sign Language (BSL) support, accessible shower and toilet facilities, volunteer stewards and wheelchair recharging and hire services.

    • Get concessions tickets at the theatre. Simply contact your local theatre, or check its website to find out what discounts it offers. If you're going to see a show in London, check out Access London Theatre for special accessible West End shows.

    • Free entry for a friend/carer at National Trust properties. When you pay full price, a friend/carer can go for free. You simply need to turn up and ask, but to make things even simpler, you can get a free Essential Companion card to show at the ticket office.

    • Discounted football tickets (or a friend/carer goes free). Simply check out your team's website to see what discounts they offer disabled supporters, eg, Arsenal says it offers half-price tickets for disabled supporters, and a free place for a companion.

    For more, see Scope's days out tips.

    And remember, it never hurts to ask for a discount...

    Scope says many attractions will offer discounts, special access and 'carers go free' offers, though carers often don't ask for it. It recommends asking whenever you're visiting any attraction or facility, as it could end up saving you a small fortune.

    Forumite fryster2006 says:

    In addition to providing a free ticket to a companion, Arsenal disability tickets are also half the normal cost of a ticket. My son is disabled and it means that he is able to attend with my assistance and also makes it a lot more affordable!

Help with specific disabilities

  1. Sign up to a free text service to get help making phone calls if you have hearing or speech difficulties

    If you have hearing or speech difficulties, there's a free service (run by BT, but available to everyone) called Next Generation Text (NGT), which can help you make phone calls via a 'text relay'. You can use it with landlines, mobiles, textphones, computers and tablets. Here's how it works:

    • If you have speech difficulties... You can type a message using the NGT app (or a textphone), and a 'relay assistant' will speak your message to the other person.

    • If you have hearing difficulties... When the person you're calling speaks, the relay assistant will type what they say for you to read.

    You can download the NGT Lite app for Apple and Android phones and tablets, as well as PC and Mac computers. Normal call charges apply.

    Is it safe to use a text relay service?

    NGT says its service is confidential, and regulated by Ofcom (which means it has to comply with strict guidelines). It also says it's fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which means that your data is 'completely safe'. The text relay service is covered by the BT Privacy Policy.

    What's more, if you use the service to call banks, retailers and service providers (and need to give card details), it's worth knowing it operates to Payment Card Industry Data System Security (PCI-DSS) standards and is checked every year for compliance. It says: "We take this very seriously. Pens, paper, mobile phones and electronic equipment are not allowed on our relay assistants' desks".

    Forumite Deborah Mary says she's found it very useful:

    The relay assistants are as helpful as can be. Highly recommended.

  2. Find 'autism hours' at supermarkets & more

    'Autism hours' are an initiative run by the National Autistic Society, where businesses such as shops and banks agree to dim their lights and reduce noise (eg, music and announcements) to create a calmer atmosphere for autistic customers.

    There is a National Autism Hour campaign, where the charity encourages businesses across the UK to hold autism hours over a particular week (the most recent was 5-11 October 2019). But some national chains now hold them more regularly, including Morrisons, which says all its stores do this every Saturday from 9-10am.

    It's worth checking for autism hours in your local area, as there may be smaller businesses and local shopping centres which offer the scheme. For example, Teesside Shopping Park says it also has an autism hour every Saturday from 9-10am.

    We also spotted a number of trampolining centres offering autism-friendly sessions. Oxygen Freejumping (which has a number of locations, including Acton, Derby and Southampton), holds 'Peaceful Play' sessions, which are designed to be autism and disability friendly. Flip Out holds similar sessions across the country.

    Carole told us:

    Our local Bounce (trampolining) has an Autism Hour each week, when the lights are lower, the music quieter and the machine noise switched off. A carer goes free and the entry fee is lower than normal. I go with my adult daughter.

    Special cinema screenings for autistic viewers

    A number of cinemas offer special screenings for people with autism, where special adjustments are made. For instance, Odeon says it keeps the lights on at a low level, sound levels are lower than usual, there are no trailers or adverts, and guests are allowed to move around and make noise.

    These cinema chains all offer autism-friendly screenings: Cineworld, Everyman, Odeon, Picturehouse, Showcase, Vue.

  3. Consider a Max Card to bag family discounts if you have children with additional needs

    The Max Card is a two-year discount card for foster families and those with children and young people who have additional needs (up to the age of 25).

    It's provided by local authorities and selected charities, and gets families free or discounted admission to attractions across the UK, eg, 10% off Go Ape, 15% off Bristol Zoo, £20 off Butlins and 20% off Virgin Experience days.

    You can also get 'up to 52% off' Merlin attractions such as Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and London Dungeon. (Deals on these attractions are common though, so it's worth first checking our Merlin deals page to see if you can find a better deal.)

    The cost of the card varies, depending on the charity or local authority providing it. For example, Spectrum Cambridge charges £5 for the card, but it's free if you're a member of SNAP Parent Carer Forum in Bedfordshire.

    You'll need to check if your local area is covered by the scheme, by filling out a few details online. You'll then be given details of how to apply (this also varies by area).

Blind or severely sight impaired?

We hope to have sections with help for a variety of specific disabilities soon, but for now we've separated out specific help for those who are blind or have severe sight impairments, to make it easier to find relevant points if you're using a screen reader.

  1. Check if you qualify for the blind person's tax allowance

    The blind person's allowance gives you an extra amount of tax-free allowance (on top of your personal allowance), which means you can earn more before you start paying income tax.

    For the 2019/20 tax year, it's £2,450 – regardless of your age or income. You'll need to contact HMRC to claim the allowance (it doesn't apply automatically).

    You can transfer your blind person's allowance to your spouse or civil partner if you don't pay tax or earn enough to use all of your allowance.

    • In England and Wales, you can claim the blind person's allowance if both of the following apply:

      • You're registered with your local council as blind or severely sight impaired.
      • You have a certificate that says you're blind or severely sight impaired (or a similar document from your doctor).

      In Scotland and Northern Ireland, you can claim the blind person's allowance if both of the following apply:

      • You can't do work 'for which eyesight is essential'.
      • You have a certificate that says you're blind or severely sight impaired (or a similar document from your doctor).
  2. Get free help from sighted volunteers with the Be My Eyes app

    A free app called Be My Eyes (available for iPhone and Android) aims to connect blind and sight-impaired people with over 2.8 million sighted volunteers through a live video call.

    Simply visit the app whenever you need assistance (at any time of the day), and select 'call first available volunteer'. The service can be used for anything from checking the expiry date on your milk, distinguishing between different coloured shirts, reading instructions or navigating new surroundings.

    It's worth noting, while the app is completely free to use, make sure you're connected to Wi-Fi if possible – otherwise it will use your mobile data.

    There's also a 'specialised help' function, which lets you call a limited number of companies via the app. There aren't many on board yet, but when we checked, these included Bank of ScotlandClearblueGoogle's disability support, Halifax, Herbal Essences, Lloyds Bank and Microsoft's disability answer desk (plus Be My Eyes technical support).

  3. Get 50% off your TV licence if you're blind or severely sight-impaired

    If you are (or someone you live with is) blind or severely sight-impaired, you can get 50% off the cost of a TV licence, making it £77.25. (Of course, it's always worth checking whether you need a TV licence at all, as if you only watch Netflix or certain other catch-up services you may not.)

    To get the discount, you must provide TV Licensing with a photocopy of one of the following documents to confirm you're certified as either blind or severely sight-impaired:

    • The certificate or document issued by or on behalf of your local authority.
    • The certificate from your ophthalmologist.

    If you're only partially sighted or sight-impaired, you won't qualify for the concession. Details on how to apply for the discount are available on the TV Licensing website.

  4. How to find programmes with audio description on Netflix, Prime Video etc

    Audio description gives visually impaired viewers an extra description of what's happening on screen. The streaming and catch-up services below offer this, but only on selected programmes. Here's how to find them:

    • All 4 has an Audio Described category. When we checked, we spotted The Great British Bake Off, Hollyoaks and The Handmaid's Tale.

    • Amazon Prime Video has a search function to help you find programmes with audio description, which are included with your Prime membership. Shows with this feature include Good Omens, The Grand Tour, Hanna and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.

    • BBC iPlayer has an Audio Described category. When we checked, we spotted Peaky Blinders, Dragons' Den and EastEnders.

    • Netflix lists shows with audio description. When we checked, these included The Good Place, Suits and The Theory of Everything.

    Now TV says it doesn't currently offer audio description on any of its films or TV shows.

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