Mental capacity

​The mental capacity act 2005 is the law which protects people who cannot make their own decisions.

Every day we make decisions about lots of things in our lives. These decisions will range from what to wear or eat through to serious decisions such as where to live, consenting to an operation or what to do with your money and property. If you have mental capacity, you are able to make these decisions for yourself.

Some people however have difficulties making some decisions either all or some of the time, perhaps because they have dementia, confusion, concussion after a head injury, a significant learning disability or a mental health problem.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is a law that protects people who cannot make their own decisions, in some or all aspects of their life, including managing money. It strengthens the right of people to make their own decisions if they are able to, ensures they are involved in decisions that affect them and ensures they receive support to make decisions, if they need it. It makes clear who can take decisions, in which situations and how they should go about doing this.

The act also enables people to plan ahead for a time when they are unable to make decisions for themselves. This could include appointing someone to deal with their finances or property, or to make decisions relating to their health and day to day care. The act formalises living wills and advance decisions to refuse medical treatment.

The act affects people who are 16 years or over (and in some cases people under 16).

Key principles of the mental capacity act

The Mental Capacity Act has five key principles:

  1. every adult has the right to make their own decisions and has the capacity to do so, unless proved otherwise
  2. people have the right to be supported to make their own decisions and must be given appropriate support before anyone decides that they cannot make their own decisions
  3. people have the right to make what might seem to others as an unwise decision
  4. anything done on behalf of anyone without capacity must be in their best interest
  5. anything done for or on behalf of someone without capacity should be the least restrictive of their basic rights and freedoms.

Independent mental capacity advocates

The act introduces a number of important safeguards to protect people who lack capacity including the requirement that an independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA) is in place to help people who lack the capacity to make important decisions about serious medical treatment and/or changes in accommodation.

An advocate is someone who speaks and/or acts on behalf of people to secure the services they need and the rights to which they are entitled. They make sure that people's opinions, wishes or needs are expressed and listened to.

The purpose of the independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA) service is to protect particularly vulnerable people who lack capacity to make important decisions about serious medical treatment and changes to accommodation where they have no friends or relatives that it would be appropriate to consult about a particular decision.

To find out more about the Mental Capacity Act and view the code of practice visit Mental Capacity Act: making decisions - GOV.UK (

More information about The Mental Capacity Act 2005 can be found by visiting the Alzheimer's Society, Age UK and Citizens Advice Bureau websites.