I wanted to share a few handy nuggets of information that I have found useful while I've been sourcing the (mostly) specialist equipment for Smiler's bathroom. They come under that category of Things I Did Not know (But Wish Someone Had Told Me) - you know how you often find things out just that little bit too late to take advantage of?
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The most obvious of these is to do with VAT exemptions. Rather than trying to explain the rules myself, I just want to point you in the direction of a couple of links that I found really helpful in getting my head around it. I'd recommend the Independent Living website as a good place to start to do some research about equipment and to have a browse around anyway (and sign up to their weekly newsletter while you're there), but especially the VAT exemptions page for an explanation of what conditions need to be met in order for a purchase to be exempt from VAT, and the helpful advice it gives about how you actually benefit from that exemption! They have a blank exemption form that you can download and fill in, which is handy if a business you're using isn't familiar (or even aware) of the system and does the equivalent of getting scared and going silent and looking at you like a rabbit in your headlights when you mention it. There's also the official government page on VAT relief for disabled people which gives the legal basis for the exemption, but to be honest I found the Independent Living explanation more useful and applicable to real life.
Have you read the Independent Living info yet? If not, go and read it quickly so the next bit makes sense - it won't take you long, and it opens in a new window so you can close it when you've finished reading and come right back here.
Okay. You'll now know that as well as the end user being eligible for the exemption, the equipment itself has to be eligible. You'd think this would be easy to find out, but I struggled. I was emailing manufacturers who'd designed the blasted stuff and couldn't tell me if it would be eligible, because they 'don't get involved in that side of things'. A shortcut I found was to see if the item was stocked here, because at the very beginning of their product description it's made very clear whether an item is exemptible (is that a real word?) or not. I'm not actually buying anything from here however - long story and I think I'll take the high road and simply say that the prices they offer are not the most competitive, and nor is their customer service.
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Researching the equipment that you're looking to buy is essential - some of it can be bloody expensive and although it may not be possible to be certain that it will meet your needs, there are some simple checks you can use to get a fairly good idea.
● I would highly recommend talking to an OT if you have access to one, and if you're looking at major home adaptations you should be able to get an assessment. If they mention a piece of equipment and you have no idea what that is, tell them! Some can assume that you'll know about things that you don't, or use a specific brand name when actually they mean any one that is like that might work for you. If they're talking about a specific item, ask if they can write down the name of it for you, or email you a link to somewhere you can buy it from. Even if you don't get it from there, at least you'll know what they were going on about!
● Try gathering other users/carers opinions on equipment - use social media or any forums or groups that you're part of to say "Hey, I've been thinking of getting grab rails / specialist cutlery / a wash&dry toilet - does anyone have any recommendations or horror stories to share?" If it's a piece of kit for someone other than yourself, have a think about whether there is anyone else whose brains you can pick about what works - does your child attend school for example, could you ask their teacher what cutlery/crockery they use to eat lunch when they're at school, or what kind of grab rails they have in the bathrooms there and how your child gets on with them. If your dad regularly goes to a specialist setting overnight, can someone there who is familiar with him spare ten minutes to show you the type of bed he uses, and whether it has any particular functions or elements that suit him, such as adjustable positioning or a guard rail.
● Use websites of organisations such as the DLF (Disabled Living Foundation) who have loads (and loads) of general information factsheets about features to think about when looking at equipment (all of which are free to download), as well as Living Made Easy, who have gathered together info on specific types of equipment to help you work out what you need, and what is actually available out there.
● See if there's any way you can actually try out the equipment (or at least see it and touch it) before you part with your cash - maybe through the DLF's short term equipment loan library, or at a local equipment demonstration centre. It might be worth asking your OT if their department has any of what you're pondering that you could borrow for a week or two, or at least for you to take a look at. For bigger purchases I'd recommend getting in touch with a company rep and see if they can come to you - we had visits from reps from two different companies when we were choosing a wash and dry toilet - but obviously keep in mind they have a vested interest in wanting you to choose their product!
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When you've decided exactly what you want, run through your usual buying things routine - mine is to google the item (including a model number as well as manufacturer if possible) and see where I can get it from. Keep in mind possible VAT exemptions and delivery charges, and I always try and check out a website's reputation if I haven't heard of it before - look for independent reviews, read a forum thread or two - if there are pages of comments about items either not turning up, or else turning up but being generic copies instead of the 'real' branded version that was paid for - well, I personally wouldn't risk it.
Do check out ordinary mainstream shops as well as specialist suppliers, as sometimes they can surprise you - places like Argos and Boots for example are worth a look.
I've found that prices can sometimes be negotiated a little - if you're spending a lot with one company and they also sell the tap / plate / other relatively smell item that you want, but are charging more than you've seen it for elsewhere, it might be worth asking if they could possibly match that lower price - it's more business for them, as well as less hassle for you, and you might save yourself a separate delivery charge - obviously be polite and be prepared for them to say 'sorry but no'. In my experience as long as you're being reasonable then you're in with a chance, and hey, if they say no - it's not like you've lost anything!
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Okay, that's it - hopefully some of that will be helpful to someone at some point - maybe I'll be the someone that clues someone else into something that they didn't already know. It's also made me realise how much I've achieved by actually doing the research and sourcing all the equipment for Smiler's adaptations - no wonder I'm shattered!
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