Mental capacity - your rights

Making your own decisions is called having mental capacity and every day we make decisions about lots of things in our lives.

Some people find making decisions difficult either all of the time or some of the time. This may be due to;

  • a learning disability
  • dementia
  • a mental health issue
  • a brain injury or a stroke

The Mental Capacity Act came into force in October 2007 to protect people over 16 who find it difficult to make decisions due to a learning disability or a mental health condition, or for any other reason. It helps people make decisions for themselves and affects people’s families and carers. The Mental Capacity Act could affect a lot of different decisions for example money matters, medical treatment and social care.

When someone is no longer able to decide, the Act intends to protect people who lose the capacity to make their own decisions. Specifically, it:

  • allows the person, while they are able to do so, to appoint someone - for example a trusted relative or friend -to make decisions on their behalf once they lose the ability to do so themselves. This includes decisions on the person's health and personal welfare. Previously, the law only covered financial matters.
  • provides a checklist for decision makers. This ensures that decisions are in the best interests of the person on whose behalf they are made.
  • introduces a Code of Practice for people such as healthcare workers who support people who have lost the capacity to make their own decisions.

People with no one to act for them will also be able to leave instructions for their care under the new provisions.

You can read more about the Mental Capacity Act on the GOV.UK website.