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Making Decisions About Your Life

Mental Capacity

Mental capacity is the ability to make your own decisions.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is a set of rules that can protect you if you are not able to make particular decisions some or all of the time. These can be small decisions, such as what clothes to wear, or major decisions such as where to live.

This may be because of:

  • a learning disability
  • an illness such as dementia
  • mental health problems

Most of the Mental Capacity Act applies to people aged 16 and over.

It is important to remember that these conditions do not in themselves mean that a person lacks the capacity to make a particular decision.

The Act and its Codes of Practice set out:

  • who can make particular decisions on someone else's behalf
  • when and how a decision can be made
  • when and how people who lack capacity to make decisions about their care and welfare can be deprived of their liberty in order to get the care they need in a hospital or care home

What is the definition of 'lacking capacity' to make a decision?

If you do not have mental capacity, then it is stated by law that you are not able to make a particular decision for yourself at the time the decision needs to be made.
For a person to lack capacity they must be unable to do one or more of the following:

understand information relevant to a decision
remember that information long enough to be able to make that decision
use or weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a decision
communicate their decision
The person who 'lacks capacity' must always be at the heart of the decision making.

Everyone working with or caring for an adult who may lack capacity to make particular decisions must comply with this Act and its Codes of Practice.

Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice on GOV.UK

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards were introduced in April 2009. They are part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. They provide legal protection for vulnerable people who are, or may become, deprived of their liberty while in a hospital or care home. The safeguards exist to provide a proper legal process and suitable protection in those circumstances where restricting someone's liberty appears to be unavoidable and is in a person's own best interests.

The safeguards apply to people in England and Wales aged 18 or over who are in hospitals and care homes and are unable to make decisions for themselves. In these circumstances deprivation of liberty is sometimes necessary to protect them from harm. Where the conditions are met the Supervisory Body (local authority) may authorise the deprivation of liberty.

Last reviewed: 17/10/2017