Local councils are struggling to cope with a backlog of ‘Deprivation of Liberty Safeguard’ referrals following a recent Supreme Court decision.
People unable to make decisions about their own welfare, due to illness or mental disability, are protected by law. However, after the European Court of Human Rights stated that decisions made regarding the welfare of such people could sometimes amount to a ‘deprivation of liberty’, safeguards were added to the Mental Capacity Act 2005. These are designed to ensure that the human rights of people lacking capacity are protected. Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to “liberty and security”.
A recent Supreme Court ruling, known as the ‘Cheshire West case’, lowered the threshold for what constituted a deprivation of liberty.
Since the decision, local councils have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of people who require assessment under the new parameters. At Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, social workers have dealt with 46 referrals a month since the ruling. Before the Cheshire West case, they only dealt with six per month.
Ian James, director of adult social care for the council, said that the biggest issue with the increase is that it was “taking social workers away from other things”.
He added that social workers were struggling to meet deadlines due to the volume of applications. Previously a social worker would deal with one application a month, but now it is consuming a much greater portion of their time.
Several councils around the country have set up dedicated teams of social workers specifically to deal with deprivation of liberty applications.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) has predicted that the number of applications will rise from 10,000 to 94,000 by the end of this financial year. If their prediction is correct, the extra cost to local councils will be around £88 million.
President of the Family Division Sir James Munby predicted the increase in applications and recently set out guidelines in order to ‘steamline’ the process.