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Mental Capacity in Practice

The Mental Capacity Act in practice.

Contact meeting between relevant person and their representative

How many stages are there in a Mental Capacity Assessment?

According to the Mental Capacity Act (2005), a Mental Capacity Assessment is made up of two stages, functional and diagnostic. It has therefore been referred to as the ‘two-stage’ test. However, a quick browse online, alongside discussion with different professionals, reveals quite a bit of misunderstanding around how many stages there are and when these stages apply. This is perhaps due to the inconsistent way that assessments are referred to by certain institutions and professional bodies. There also seems to be some confusion between the four steps of the functional stage of an assessment, and the two stages of the overall assessment.

Clearly, terminology is important, and we should make efforts to ensure we are always using the correct terms.

Mental Capacity Ltd - Mental Capacity Assessment

Retrospective Mental Capacity Assessments

A standard mental capacity assessment (also known as the two-stage test) is usually carried out for a specific decision at a specific time. It is completed prior to the decision being made if there is either a ‘reasonable belief’ that an individual may lack capacity, or to reduce the risk of someone challenging the person’s capacity to make the decision at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, a retrospective mental capacity assessment refers to a traditional assessment of capacity for a specific decision, but for a decision made historically. Examples might include a Lasting Power of Attorney submission signed and submitted the previous month, or a financial gift made to a family member or friend several years in the past.

Man in electric wheelchair looking out to the sea

Case study: What do we mean by ‘decision specific’?

We all make many thousands of micro-decisions on a daily basis, from the way we make a cup of tea to what we watch on TV. However, when it comes to decision making, the Mental Capacity Act (2005) is ‘decision specific’. This means that it relates to a specific decision made at a specific time. It does not refer to decision-making more broadly. This raises the question: how specific do we need to be when we assess capacity?

Man with learning disability getting married

DoLS in focus: The role of the Best Interest Assessor (BIA)

The primary role of a Best Interest Assessor (BIA) is to complete the Mental Capacity Assessment and Best Interest Assessment steps within the DoLS process. These are recorded as part of Form 3.

They can also be commissioned by the Supervisory Body to complete ‘Age’ and ‘No Refusals’ steps if required.