Practical Consumer Hearing Aid Information for Private and NHS Hearing Aids


Practical Hearing Aid Information | Private hearing aids 

Why some people decide to buy a hearing aid privately

In the UK you can buy a hearing aid from a private hearing aid dispenser, or you can get them free on the National Health Service (NHS). To find out more about getting a hearing aid on the NHS, see this link "The National Health Service hearing aid service". Ask your GP (family doctor) to refer you.

Some people choose to buy a hearing aid rather than get a free NHS one. Their reasons are often to do with speed, choice and convenience:

  • If you buy a hearing aid, you can usually get it within two weeks. In some areas there's a long waiting list to get an NHS hearing aid.
  • The NHS has a standard range of hearing aids. You may want a hearing aid that isn't available on the NHS.
  • You can buy hearing aids from a hearing aid dispenser on the high street. You may prefer the convenience of the high street rather than having to go to a hospital for your NHS hearing aid.

Hearing aids can't restore perfect hearing.

They make sound louder so that you can hear it, but will not necessarily make everything clear. Hearing aids can benefit many people, but any hearing aid dispenser or company that promises to give you perfect hearing is giving you unrealistic expectations.

Things to consider if you are thinking of going to a hearing aid dispenser

There are some important points to consider if you are thinking of buying a hearing aid from a private hearing aid dispenser.

Talk to your GP

If you think you have a hearing loss, see your GP before you go to a private dispenser. Your GP will check your ears to see if you need further medical examination or treatment.

If you have definitely decided to buy a hearing aid, tell your GP, as they may be able to give you information about hearing aid dispensers in your area. Also, some private dispensers have premises in NHS hospitals, and some NHS audiologists also have a separate, private practice. It's a good idea to contact your local audiology department for more information.

Hearing Aid Council registration

All hearing aid dispensers have to be registered with the Hearing Aid Council (HAC). The HAC can't recommend either individual dispensers or particular hearing aids, so pick your dispenser carefully. The HAC has a Code of Practice (see the section "The HAC's Code of Practice" below). The hearing aid dispenser must give you a copy of the Code of Practice if you ask for it. Contact The Hearing Aid Council for more information.

Consider your choices

If you can, try to visit more than one dispenser to compare what they offer you and how much they charge. Do remember that you may be charged for your hearing test. Read the section on "The HAC's Code of Practice" later in this factsheet for more information.

Be aware that some dispensers will only sell products from one or two hearing aid companies, while other dispensers will be able to offer a wider range of products. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and make sure you receive all quotations in writing.

Caution - listening devices

Avoid advertisements offering 'listening devices' for as little as £10. Though they are cheap, listening devices do not give you the same benefits as having a hearing aid chosen and adjusted to suit your particular needs. Also, the HAC only has authority over companies selling 'hearing aids'. Companies that advertise 'listening devices' are not bound by the HAC's Code of Practice (see below).

Other issues

Don't respond to adverts offering information on better hearing unless you are prepared to deal with a company that may try to sell you expensive hearing aids. Some hearing aid companies and dispensers use high-pressure selling tactics.

Don't accept a home visit from a dispenser unless this is what you really want. You may prefer to visit the dispenser at their shop so that you can leave when you want, rather than inviting one to visit you in your home. If you do accept a home visit from a dispenser, make sure they send you advance notice of their visit so you can cancel if you want to. Whether you visit the dispenser or are visited by them in your home, you may want to have someone with you for support and to make sure you don't mishear something.

If you know someone who has bought a hearing aid privately, ask them if they would recommend their dispenser. Remember that their hearing loss is unlikely to be the same as yours, so their hearing aid may not necessarily be the right one for you.

If you are thinking of buying from a dispenser who is visiting your area, check that you will be able to contact them easily in the future. You will need to be able to see them if you have a problem with your hearing aid and need to get it adjusted. If in doubt, contact the HAC and find out where the dispenser is based, or use a local dispenser instead.

What happens when I see the hearing aid dispenser?

The hearing aid dispenser will first test your hearing. The range of tests carried out can vary, but they must include:

  • an air conduction hearing test. In this test, you listen to tones (bleeps) through headphones and tell the dispenser which ones you can hear.
  • a bone conduction hearing test. In this test, you wear a special headband that conducts sound through the bones of your skull. When the results are compared with what you heard through the headphones in the air conduction test, they show whether you have a problem with your eardrum or middle ear.

You will get your results in an audiogram. This is a graph that shows how well you hear low, middle and high tones.

The HAC's Code of Practice

The Code of Practice says that the dispenser must advise you to see a doctor if you have not already done so; for example, if:

  • you have been exposed to loud noise
  • you suddenly became deaf, your deafness suddenly got worse or your hearing seems to vary
  • your hearing is much worse on one side than on the other
  • you have medical problems such as excessive wax or a discharge in your ears, giddiness, tinnitus, or signs of injury or disease in your ear.

How much do hearing tests cost?

Private hearing tests cost about £25. Some dispensers don't charge for tests, but you may not be given a copy of your audiogram if the test is free. It is useful to have a copy of your audiogram for future reference, so you can shop around and compare prices for hearing aids from other hearing aid dispensers. Ask if you can pay separately for your hearing test if this is what you want.

What happens next if I decide to buy a hearing aid?

Once the dispenser has tested your hearing, they will discuss which kind of hearing aid will be best for you. Many people benefit from wearing a hearing aid in each ear, rather than just one. However, remember that this will mean paying out almost twice as much. Also, ask the dispenser to give you information about all the different types of aid that might suit you and their prices. Be wary if they don't give you any choices.

If you decide to buy a hearing aid from the dispenser, they will then take an impression of your ear and send it to a laboratory for the earmould - or the casing, if it is a hearing aid that all goes in the ear - to be made. This takes about a week. When this is ready, you will need to visit the dispenser again for them to fit and programme the hearing aid to suit your hearing loss and explain to you how to use it.

The dispenser should arrange an after-care appointment about six weeks after fitting your hearing aid. It is important that you keep this appointment, as the dispenser may need to adjust or fine-tune the hearing aid for you to get the best results from it.

How much a hearing aid will cost

A private hearing aid costs between £300 and £2,500 depending on its style and how sophisticated it is. Hearing aids last five years or more, but you will have to pay again when they need replacing. Smaller hearing aids may not last as long. With behind-the-ear aids, you may also have to pay for new earmoulds from time to time.

You may want to take the following tips with you when you see the hearing aid dispenser to make sure you cover the important points about buying a hearing aid from them:

  • Are you getting the hearing aid you want at a price you can afford? If you have medical insurance then this may cover the cost, but do ask your insurer before you buy a hearing aid privately.
  • Does the price quoted include the cost of hearing tests, the dispenser's time, follow-up appointments and, for behind-the-ear types, the earmould and tubing? How long will it be before you have to start paying to see the dispenser?
  • Is there a discount for buying two if you need a hearing aid for each ear?
  • Will you be able to contact and see the dispenser quickly if you have a problem with your aid?

Before you sign anything, make sure you get everything in writing and that you understand all the terms of the agreement to buy your hearing aid.

Batteries for hearing aids are a hidden cost. You don't have to buy them from your dispenser. You may be able to buy them more cheaply from your local chemist.

How long is the hearing aid guaranteed for?

Dispensers should give you a 28-day trial period with a money-back guarantee so that you can return the hearing aid if you aren't happy with it. If the dispenser isn't prepared to offer this and suggests a guarantee for repair only, instead of giving you the option of a refund, go somewhere else. You are unlikely to get a full refund because the price you pay usually includes the hearing tests and fitting.

You will have to pay for repairs after the guarantee on the hearing aid runs out. The cost of these can mount up. Guarantee periods range between one and four years, so find out what the guarantee period is for the hearing aid you are being offered. You can usually insure your hearing aid against loss or damage through your house insurance, but it's a good idea to check this with your household insurance company first, before you buy the hearing aid.

Deciding which hearing aid to buy

You can buy from a range of hearing aids. Remember that the type of hearing aid someone else has will not necessarily suit you. For example, you may have seen advertisements for tiny hearing aids that can hardly be seen, and you may like this idea. But very small hearing aids may not have some of the helpful features of larger types. Very small hearing aids might not be suitable for you if you have a severe hearing loss, so you need to consider all the pros and cons before deciding.

You may find it difficult to put some types of hearing aid into your ear so that they fit correctly. You may find an in-the-ear type of aid easier to fit than a behind-the-ear type. On the other hand, if you find it difficult to manage small or fiddly controls, you may want to use a larger type of aid.

Should I get a digital hearing aid?

Hearing aids are described as analogue or digital, depending on the technology they use to process sound. Digital hearing aids are the newest kind of hearing aid. Most new hearing aids these days are digital. They tend to be more expensive than analogue hearing aids. Some digital hearing aids have more useful features than others, so don't buy a hearing aid just because it is digital without checking what it can do to help you. Some people find they get good results with analogue hearing aids, so digital hearing aids are not necessarily the only option. Also, remember that 'digital' does not necessarily mean smaller in-the-ear hearing aids.

What features should you look out for in digital hearing aids?

There are a number of features to look out for when choosing a digital hearing aid:

  • With more advanced digital aids, it is possible to tailor sound very precisely to suit your individual needs. Find out if the dispenser will be able to fine-tune the aid to give you the best result.
  • Find out if you can change the settings to suit different sound environments.
  • Find out if the aid automatically controls feedback to stop it from whistling.
  • Find out if the aid can reduce some kinds of background noise automatically, so that listening is more comfortable.
  • Find out if it has a directional microphone: this will make it easier for you to hear in noisy places.

Don't be pressurised into buying an expensive digital hearing aid unless you can try it first in everyday situations to make sure it is easy to use and that it really helps you.

Different types of hearing aid

Hearing aids are described as analogue or digital, depending on the technology they use to process sound. Digital hearing aids are the newest kind of hearing aid. The following types of aid are available as digital or analogue except for body-worn and bone-conduction aids, which are analogue only. Your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will advise you on the most suitable type for you.


Behind-the-ear hearing aids


This type of hearing aid has an earmould which sits inside your ear. The hearing aid rests behind your ear and a plastic tube connects it to the earmould. They are the most common types of hearing aid and most people with NHS hearing aids have one of these.


In-the-ear and in-the-canal aids


These aids have their working parts in the earmould, so the whole aid fits into your ear. They tend to need repairing more often than behind-the-ear aids. Some in-the-ear aids can be seen from the side. The smallest in-the-canal aids fit right inside your ear canal, where they can't be seen. If you have severe hearing loss, or very small ear canals, these aids will probably not suit you.


Body-worn hearing aids


These aids have a small box that you clip to your clothes or put in your pocket. This is connected by a lead to an earphone and earmould. Body-worn hearing aids are the most powerful hearing aids available and may be more suitable for if you have sight problems and/or problems using very small switches or buttons.


Bone conduction hearing aids


These are for people with conductive hearing loss, or people who can't wear a conventional hearing aid. They deliver sound through the skull by vibrations. A bone conduction hearing aid can be fitted to a special headband. Another type, called the bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA), involves having a small operation behind the ear. See our factsheet "Bone conduction hearing aids" for more information.

Hearing aids and loop systems

Not all private hearing aids can be used with loop systems. If using a loop is important to you, make sure that you can use one with the model you are buying. A loop system helps deaf and hard of hearing people who use a hearing aid or loop listener to hear sounds more clearly by reducing or cutting out background noise. Infrared systems are an alternative to loop systems. To hear sound, you need to use an infrared receiver.

Buying a hearing aid abroad

You may have read about buying hearing aids abroad at cheaper prices, particularly in Germany and Denmark. We can't recommend any particular hearing aid models, manufacturers or services. We would advise you to think carefully before buying a hearing aid abroad.

The initial cost of buying a hearing aid abroad may be less than in the UK, but you may need to see the dispenser for adjustments - sometimes several times - which could be expensive and inconvenient. It is important to check before you buy what will happen if you need more help or if your hearing aid breaks down once you are back home again.

What to do if you have a problem

Most people are happy with the hearing aid they buy and with the service they get from their private hearing aid dispenser, but some people run into difficulties because:

  • the aid doesn't help them to hear as well as they had hoped or were led to believe
  • the dispenser pressurised them to buy a hearing aid
  • the aid gives repeated trouble - for example, it may whistle or be uncomfortable - and the dispenser cannot put this right.

If you have any problem at all with a hearing aid you have bought, the first thing you should do is ask the dispenser who sold it to you for help and advice. Make a note of the problems you experience over a period of a few days so that you can explain what is wrong and help the dispenser to sort it out.

If, after a period of time, you are still unhappy with the aid, or feel the dispenser is not providing a good and professional service, your next step is to write to the Hearing Aid Council. Describe the problems you have had with the hearing aid dispenser, include copies of any correspondence or other documents connected with the sale of the aid, and give the name and address of the dispenser or company that sold you the aid.

The HAC's Code of Practice does protect you to a great extent. If the HAC Disciplinary Committee decides a dispenser has broken any of its regulations, it can fine that dispenser. In extreme cases, a dispenser may be struck off the HAC's register and will then be unable to continue to sell hearing aids. If you still aren't happy with the outcome, and feel the HAC has not addressed your concerns, it may be worth pursuing a claim through the small claims court. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to advise you about this.

The Hearing Aid Council

The Hearing Aid Council (HAC) has a duty to regulate the conduct of hearing aid dispensers. By law, all hearing aid dispensers, whether fully qualified or in training, must be registered with the HAC and follow its Code of Practice.

HAC regulations also state that a hearing aid should be sold to you only by a qualified dispenser or by a trainee who is being supervised by a qualified dispenser.

How do I know if the dispenser is qualified?

Qualified hearing aid dispensers have the letters RHAD after their name. RHAD stands for Registered Hearing Aid Dispenser. They may also use other letters after their name which show their membership of professional organisations, such as Member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (MSHAA), Fellow of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (FSHAA) or Member of the Royal Society of Health (MRSH). But it is RHAD that shows they are qualified and registered to dispense.