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Mental Capacity Act 2005

21 January 2016

The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) aims to protect people who cannot make decisions for themselves whether they are day-to-day decisions, like what to wear or what to eat, or major decisions like where to live.

People may be unable to make decisions for themselves for many reasons including mental health, learning disabilities, dementia, head injuries, unconsciousness.

Professionals, such as paid carers, healthcare professionals, police officers, social workers, council officers, as well as informal carers, must assume that the person they care for can make decisions for themselves, unless they have proven that they cannot.

The only way for a professional to prove that someone cannot make a decision for themselves is carry out a capacity assessment.

The MCA's five core principles are:

  • a person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established via an assessment that they lack capacity
  • you must support someone as much as possible to make a decision for themselves, before concluding that they may not have capacity
  • a person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because they make an unwise decision
  • any decision made on behalf of someone who lacks capacity must be made in the person's best interests
  • whatever action is taken in someone's behalf must be the least restrictive option 

Paid carers

If you are a paid carer you may be caring for people who are unable to make decisions for themselves.
Your responsibilities are: 
  • to consider every decision separately. For example, not being able to manage finances does not mean you cannot decide what to wear
  • to presume that someone can make these individual decisions for themselves unless you have assessed that they lack capacity to do so
  • to assess capacity when necessary. There are different assessments for day to day decisions and significant decisions
  • to treat each individual equally and not judge their capacity on the basis of age, appearance, condition or behaviour
  • to support individuals as much as possible by involving them in making the decision even where they lack capacity
  • to keep records of all assessments you carry out 


Your rights are:

  • to take action to protect an adult from harm if they lack capacity to make the decision to protect themselves
  • to make decisions where necessary on behalf of someone who lacks capacity to do it themselves. This is what is termed being the decision maker

For more information please see MCA documents 1-15 

If you are a healthcare professional, please see MCA documents 1-15 

Police officers

If you are a police officer, please see MCA documents 4 and 6 – 14. You may also find the MCA Police Guidance useful.

As a social worker you need a thorough knowledge of the MCA. It sets out a clear framework for:

  • helping people make decisions for themselves;
  • assessing if someone has capacity (the ability) to make decision for themselves
  • how to make a decision on someone's behalf when you've proven that they can't do it themselves (making a best interests decision)
  • how people can plan for the future using an advance decision or lasting power of attorney

You must always follow the correct procedure for documenting capacity assessments. These differ according to whether you are assessing capacity for a day to day decision (such as daily care) or a significant decision (such as a change of accommodation, or consenting to serious medical treatment). 

For more information please see MCA documents 1-15 

If the work you undertake affects people who may have a mental disability, condition or trauma, you will need to know about the MCA. It sets out in clear language how you are expected to act when involving people with disabilities in making decisions that affect them.

Please see an example below of where you will need to consider issues of capacity.

You are expecting people in residential accommodation to move. You should consider:

  • how you will assess if they have the capacity to make the decision for themselves
  • will they have to sign a tenancy agreement.  If so, how will you ensure they have capacity to do it

For more information please see MCA documents 1-15 

MCA documents


MCA14 sample MCA2 documents:


Useful links

Useful documents