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Mental Capacity Act 2005

In 2007 the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) 2005 became law. The Act states that everyone aged 16 and over must be treated as able to make their own decisions until it is shown that they are not.  'Mental capacity' is the term used for a person's ability to make decisions. 

Some people may have difficulty making decisions because of a health condition that affects their thinking, or because of a condition they were born with, such as a learning disability.  The MCA 2005 puts in to law the steps that professionals and carers alike must take if they think someone needs a decision taking for them, but most importantly it protects the right of people whose capacity may be questioned to make their own decisions as much as possible. It also enables people to plan ahead for a time when they may lose capacity.

What does the act do?

 The Mental Capacity Act 2005 sets out five key principles, which underpin the legislation and apply to all: 
  • A presumption of capacity - it must be assumed that a person has capacity to make decisions unless it is proved otherwise;
  • The right for individuals to be supported to make their own decisions - before anyone concludes that they cannot;
  • Individuals retain the right to make what appear unwise decisions;
  • Any decision made or action taken on behalf of people without capacity must be in their best interests;
  • Anything done for or on behalf of people without capacity should be the least restrictive of their rights and freedoms.

The Act introduced a Code of Practice (PDF 1.3 MB),  which was written by the Department of Health.  This sets out how professionals, carers and others should work with people who are thought to lack capacity.  Carers and staff acting for someone who is thought to lack capacity must always follow this guidance. 

Information Download

Download the Mental Capacity Act 2005 information (PDF 97 KB) which includes:

  • The five key principles
  • Advice if you are family member, friend or other unpaid carer
  • If you work in health and social care
  • If you want to plan ahead for the future
  • Safeguarding vulnerable adults

The Act as a whole is explained as an easy read format in the booklet:
Making decisions about your health, welfare and finances. Who decides when you can't? (200 KB) 

If you are family member, friend or other unpaid carer see the booklet:
Making decisions. A guide for family, friends and other unpaid carers (PDF 560 KB)

The Act allows you to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) enabling you to appoint someone to make decisions about your finances and property or your health care and welfare should you ever lack the capacity to make these decisions yourself. For more information, please go to the website of the Office of the Public Guardian.

The Act also enables you to make an ‘advance decision to refuse treatment’ if there is a particular medical treatment you would not wish to receive at a time in the future when you may lack capacity to refuse it.  View the guidance at www.direct.gov.uk website.

The Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) service was created to represent you if you lack capacity to make certain important decisions and there is no one else who can be consulted.

The booklet: Making decisions. The Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) Service (PDF 594 KB)  contains more detailed information about the IMCA.

The 'Making Decisions' booklets and information is also available in alternative languages on the Department for Constitutional Affairs website.

Links to useful organisations

Some independent organisations have produced their own booklets about the MCA, which can be found on their websites.  For example:

Further Information

In this section

More Information

See also in our website

External websites

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This page was last reviewed 16 January 2014 at 12:08.
The page is next due for review 15 July 2015.