The process of assessing a person’s mental capacity is often misunderstood by social care practitioners as they seek to apply the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and the lessons from case law. But help is at hand with the launch of a set of resources which aims to support practitioners, improve their capacity assessments and become more legally literate in this area of law.

Community Care Inform Adults’ knowledge and practice hub on mental capacity and deprivation of liberty includes at a glance and in depth guidance on assessing capacity in a range of practice contexts. Our quick guide to assessing capacity (written by MCA trainer and social worker Elmari Bishop), sets out five key steps to take when assessing capacity:

The starting point

The principles of the presumption of capacity and respecting a person’s entitlement to make unwise decisions with capacity (principles 1 and 3 of the MCA) are the starting point for any capacity assessment.

Capacity is decision and time specific

Saying that someone lacks capacity is meaningless. You must ask yourself, “What is the specific decision that needs to be made at this point in time?” If you don’t define this question before you start undertaking the assessment, the exercise will be pointless and may lead to the wrong outcome.

Preparation for capacity assessments

Remember that a crucial step of assessing capacity is to prepare yourself for the assessment. Don’t go in with a blank canvas.

Take all practicable steps

You have to ask yourself if there is something that you can do which might mean that an individual would be able to make the decision for themselves.

Applying the test

The MCA test for capacity has two aspects: the diagnostic element (that is, is there an impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain?) and the functional element (is the person unable to make a decision because of the impairment?). Being unable to make a decision means being unable to understand, retain or “use or weigh” information relevant to the decision, or to communicate their decision.