VoiceAbility Independent mental capacity advocates (IMCAs) are seeing a significant increase in Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) work since two landmark cases saw the terms ‘deprivation of liberty’ redefined, an advocacy organisation has reported.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled in the cases of P v Cheshire West and Chester Council and P and Q v Surrey County Council that both had been subject to living arrangements that deprived them of their liberty. In her judgment, Lady Hale outlined specific criteria that define when a person is deprived of their liberty: if they are not free to leave and if they are under continuous supervision and control. Lady Hale also listed three criteria that are categorically not relevant to the assessment: the 'relative normality' of a person's circumstances; the reasons or motives behind the circumstances; and whether or not the person objects to the living arrangements. 

Since then, VoiceAbility’s IMCA services have seen the number of referrals quadruple and further increases are expected. Many referrals are being delayed as a triage system is being put in place to deal with the most urgent situations first.

This backs up the findings of a report by the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services (ADASS), published earlier this month, which estimated that DoLS requests will increase from 10,184 in 2013/14 to 112,533 in 2014/15, with additional costs valued at £45 million.

VoiceAbility’s findings demonstrate that local authorities are working hard to ensure that people who are deprived of their liberty are now being assessed and will receive suitable support and protection.

Another result of the judgement is that advocates are finding that they are able to continue their support for longer periods than before. Prior to the judgment, DoLS work would come to an end if the person being deprived of their liberty were shown to be happy with their situation. The new ruling is that anybody who is deprived of their liberty should continue to have support, whether they are happy about their status or not. 

VoiceAbility has welcomed this because it means that advocates can continue to safeguard vulnerable people, ensuring that they continue to receive the right medical and healthcare support as well as requesting regular evaluations of their care.

Adequate funding

In order to meet demand, VoiceAbility has brought in additional support and training, but admitted that resources are stretched. The organisation added that discussions are taking place locally to ensure that costs are allocated to IMCA DoLS services in order for the proper safeguards to be put in place for all those who need it. Without funds being released, people will continue to be detained without suitable rights and protection, the organisation warned.

Jonathan Senker, chief executive of VoiceAbility, said: “The Supreme Court judgment helps to ensure better protection for vulnerable people’s liberty. Advocates play an essential role in this. They ensure that people who may otherwise be ignored are listened to and that their rights are not unnecessarily interfered with. This will be placed at risk without adequate funding.”