We often hear “can you complete a general capacity assessment” or ”I just need to know what their capacity is like, not for anything specific”.
The Mental Capacity Act (2005) explains capacity is decision specific but why is it so important and what does it actually mean?
Well, let's start with what it isn’t.
Being decision specific isn’t about punishing people, it’s not about making people’s lives more difficult, although it may feel like it when a competent assessor starts to disassemble the decisions you are wanting to be assessed.
It's not about being “finickity” and trying to create more work for ourselves (Social Workers have got enough going on without creating more!)
So why be decision specific?
Well, apart from the law requiring it there are several reasons why a competent and professional assessor will complete multiple assessments for one client.
1. It's about empowering the person!
The principles of the mental capacity act are quite clear, firstly we should always assume capacity and secondly, we should make every effort to support the person in their decision making.
If we assess someone lacks the capacity to make a specific decision, let’s say to grant lasting power of attorney for finances, then we shouldn’t make an assumption they also lack the capacity to grant lasting power of attorney for health, they are two separate decisions, therefore, we should complete an additional assessment or health decisions.
By acting in this way we are working anti-oppressively but also keeping within the principles of the mental capacity act, we are assuming they do have the capacity and an assessment aims to evidence that hypothesis and by breaking the decisions down into separate decisions we are supporting them in making the decisions they can make.
Revoking a lasting power of attorney, again a separate decision to granting a lasting power of attorney!
2. Evidence is king
Social Work practice is evidence-based, that means our decisions are based upon the evidence we collect through assessment, as are many of the decisions made by legal professionals.
By ensuring our assessments are broken down into their specific decisions we are able to provide specific evidence of capacity for each decision
Depending on the decision depends on which case law applies, the majority of decisions fall under the Mental Capacity Act (2005) however some decisions have additional relative case law.
Decision specific assessments ensure the assessments are with consideration to this law, for instance, if we were to complete a “general capacity assessment” this wouldn’t take into account Banks Vs Goodfellow and would therefore not be a legitimate assessment of a person testamentary capacity.
Mental Capacity is decision specific for important reasons, for Nellie the most important reason is it empowers people to make as many decisions as they are capable of making
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