Councils see tenfold increase in DoLS applications, costing an extra £172m

There has been a tenfold increase in the number of Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) applications received by councils in the last year, according to new figures from the HSCIC. 

Between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015, local authorities received 137,540 DoLS applications – significantly more than the 13,700 made in 2013-14. 

Recently, the LGA said that since the Cheshire West ruling councils have faced an additional £172m annual cost of carrying out higher numbers of DoLS assessments. 

The latest figures are the first annual official statistics reported since a March 2014 Supreme Court judgment gave new guidance on the use of the DoLS

The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of ‘Cheshire West’ clarified an ‘acid test’ for what constitutes a deprivation of liberty. The acid test states that an individual who lacks the capacity to consent to the arrangements for their care and is subject to continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave their care setting, is deprived of their liberty and should be the subject of a DoLS application (where they are in a care home or hospital setting). 

In short, the Supreme Court ruling meant every individual was entitled to their own assessment rather than a general one. 

ADASS president Ray James told PSE: “These figures clearly conform with what our own research – anecdotal and formal – has been telling us regularly for the past 18 months. 

“Discussions are ongoing with government about the money and time required to fund and complete what has been an important step forward in the protection of individuals for whom local authorities care.” 

In the last 12 months there were 52,125 granted applications, which represented 83% of all completed applications. This was the highest percentage granted since DoLS were introduced. 

Alison Fiddy, head of legal at Mind, said the Supreme Court judgment provided much-needed clarity on a hugely complicated issue. 

She added that the huge rise in the number of DoLS applications is a sign that more is being done to protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. 

“However, the unintended consequence of this is that the system is stretched to the limit,” Fiddy told us. “We know that the workloads of Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCAs) have grown dramatically and that many are feeling the strain. It is really important that there is sufficient resource in the system to ensure that it can keep pace with demand and that IMCAs can perform their roles in a thorough and safe manner.” 

The most frequent reasons for an application to not be granted were not satisfying the mental capacity requirement (cited in 2,895 applications) and the best interests assessment (2,525 applications). 

In 2014-15, the HSCIC data revealed there were 122,775 individuals with an active DoLS application.  People can have multiple DoLS applications made on their behalf in a year and 12,005 individuals had at least two DoLS applications in 2014-15, 10 per cent of people with an application. 

LGA chair Cllr Gary Porter said: “Leaving councils to pick up the bill for new national policies while being handed further spending reductions cannot be an option. If our public services are to survive the next five years, councils need fairer funding and the freedom to pay for them.” 

Earlier this year, the Law Commission unveiled proposals for a framework to replace what it calls the “deeply flawed” DoLS. The Commission provisionally proposes that DoLS be replaced with a new system, to be called ‘Protective Care’. This system is not focused on authorising deprivations of liberty, but instead upon providing appropriate care and better outcomes for people who lack mental capacity and helping their family and carers. 

George McNamara, head of policy and public affairs at the Alzheimer's Society, told us:  “For too long this issue has been a minefield, over complicated and poorly understood by those working in the care sector to the detriment of thousands of vulnerable people. 

“While the significant increase in applications might suggest this picture is improving, the backlog of unresolved requests is unacceptable, with a high number of outstanding applications. This raises serious questions about the current system and leaves the worrying potential of a person being unlawfully deprived of their liberty simply because the paperwork is yet to be completed.” 

“Depriving anyone of their liberty has to be a last resort, but when necessary it is essential it is closely monitored, legal and always with the best interests of the person in mind. The Law Commission is currently consulting on new legislation to replace the current over-complicated system and Alzheimer’s Society is working with the Law Commission to ensure that any new law works for people with dementia.”


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