How to access occupational therapy 

You can get a referral for free occupational therapy through your GP surgery, local council or local clinical commissioning group, or you can go private.

The duration and severity of your condition determines whether you can access care through your local council or the NHS. In general:

  • for short-term conditions, such as after an operation, occupational therapy is usually accessed through the NHS
  • for long-term conditions, such as a permanent physical disability, occupational therapy is usually accessed through your local council

If you are not sure how to access occupational therapy, you can contact your local council and ask if they provide occupational therapy to someone in your situation. You can search for your local council on the GOV.UK website. If they cannot help you, they may suggest that you speak to your GP.

Private occupational therapy

If you do not want to access occupational therapy through the NHS or your local council, you could contact an occupational therapist directly. If you decide to see a private occupational therapist, make sure they are fully qualified and a member of a recognised body, such as the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT).

Only healthcare professionals registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) are allowed to use the title of "occupational therapist". You can see if your occupational therapist is registered by checking the HCPC online register.

If you choose to access occupational therapy privately, heed the below advice about buying your own equipment.

Short-term conditions

If you require occupational therapy because of a short-term condition, it is usually the responsibility of the NHS to provide this.

Speak to one of the healthcare professionals treating you. They will discuss your needs and decide if you would benefit from occupational therapy.

If it is decided you would benefit from occupational therapy, an assessment with an occupational therapist can be arranged as part of your care.

At your assessment, your occupational therapist will decide if you need any equipment or training.

It may be provided free of charge by the NHS, although this could depend on what is available from your local clinical commissioning group (CCG).

Long-term conditions

If you have a long-term condition affecting your ability to carry out most everyday activities, you may be able to access occupational therapy through your local council.

Local councils usually provide occupational therapy as part of their social care services. They may work with local NHS providers and organisations, and other councils to run these. 

Councils normally have eligibility criteria to determine whether someone can receive social care services such as occupational therapy. This is largely based on the Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) guidance.

The criteria may vary between councils, but should include the following points:

  • There is a critical risk to your independence and wellbeing  for example, you are unable to wash, dress or feed yourself.
  • There is a substantial risk to your independence and wellbeing  for example, you are unable to carry on with many areas of your employment or education.
  • Your needs may be due to a physical or learning disability or a mental health condition  however, temporary medical conditions are not usually covered.

You can contact the social services department of your local council to arrange an assessment with an occupational therapist, or you can be referred for an assessment by:

  • your GP or consultant (specialist doctor)
  • a nurse
  • another healthcare professional
  • a social care professional

Assessing your needs

An occupational therapist can carry out a health and social assessment to identify what areas of your everyday life are causing problems. They will discuss your needs with you and explain what help is available. An assessment and any advice or information should be free.

Read more about assessments.

Accessing equipment

An occupational therapist can make decisions about what equipment would be most useful to help you live independently. These decisions are made as part of your health and social care assessment (see above).

Equipment might include items such as:

  • two-handled cups, tap turners and kettle tippers for the kitchen
  • grab rails and raised toilet seats in the bathroom
  • bed raisers and hoists in the bedroom

Read more about occupational therapy techniques and equipment.

Equipment cost

If an assessment has concluded you need equipment, it can usually be provided free of charge on a long-term loan. However, different local authorities may charge for some pieces of equipment.

You may need adaptations made to your house. These changes may be carried out free of charge, but this will depend on your local authority.

Larger, more expensive items and major adaptations may be the responsibility of the housing department. You may need to contribute towards the cost of these items, or you may be able to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant to help with the cost.

A Disabled Facilities Grant (in England) is a grant from your local council to pay for changes to your home so you can continue to live there. Similar grants are available in Scotland, but each local authority should be contacted to establish what their criteria is.

The amount paid through the grant will depend on your income and outgoings. Read more about housing support for carers or visit the GOV.UK website for more information on Disabled Facilities Grants.

Equipment for employment

If you need equipment to help you carry out your work, the Access to Work scheme may be able to provide funding. Contact the disability employment adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus for advice and assistance, or see the GOV.UK website for information about Access to Work.

Buying your own equipment

You may choose to buy your own equipment rather than use the equipment provided by your local council. If you are going to buy your own equipment, it is still a good idea to have an assessment by an occupational therapist. They can provide guidance on what equipment is most suitable and advise you on what is available.

Sources of advice

Rica is a consumer research charity that produces information for disabled and older consumers. All reports are based on independent research carried out by Rica. This includes user trials, technical tests and survey work.

Help is also available from the Disabled Living Foundation. This national charity provides free, impartial advice about all types of home adaptation and mobility products for disabled adults and children, and older people.

Equipment loans

If you need some equipment on a short-term basis – for example, because someone with a disability is visiting you – your local British Red Cross can often lend you wheelchairs and other equipment for short periods of time.

Where do occupational therapists work?

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, such as in a special school or a hospital. They can also visit your:

  • home
  • workplace
  • school or college

Page last reviewed: 23/08/2014

Next review due: 23/08/2016