Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) at a glance
SCIE At a glance 43
Published: May 2015
Last reviewed: November 2020
This briefing summarises the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), an amendment to the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It also introduces Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), the Law Commission’s proposed replacement for DoLS.
DoLS ensures people who cannot consent to their care arrangements in a care home or hospital are protected if those arrangements deprive them of their liberty. Arrangements are assessed to check they are necessary and in the person’s best interests. Representation and the right to challenge a deprivation are other safeguards that are part of DoLS.
- The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are an amendment to the Mental Capacity Act 2005. They apply in England and Wales only.
- The Mental Capacity Act allows restraint and restrictions to be used – but only if they are in a person's best interests.
- Extra safeguards are needed if the restrictions and restraint used will deprive a person of their liberty. These are called the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
- The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards can only be used if the person will be deprived of their liberty in a care home or hospital. In other settings the Court of Protection can authorise a deprivation of liberty.
- Care homes or hospitals must ask a local authority if they can deprive a person of their liberty. This is called requesting a standard authorisation.
- There are six assessments which have to take place before a standard authorisation can be given.
- If a standard authorisation is given, one key safeguard is that the person has someone appointed with legal powers to represent them. This is called the relevant person's representative and will usually be a family member or friend.
- Other safeguards include rights to challenge authorisations in the Court of Protection, and access to Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCAs).
Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS): In July 2018, the Government published a Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill which will see DoLS replaced by the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). Under LPS, there will be a streamlined process for authorising deprivations of liberty. Read more: Liberty Protection Safeguards.
What is a deprivation of liberty?
Article 5 of the Human Rights Act states that 'everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his or her liberty [unless] in accordance with a procedure prescribed in law'. The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards is the procedure prescribed in law when it is necessary to deprive of their liberty a resident or patient who lacks capacity to consent to their care and treatment in order to keep them safe from harm.
A Supreme Court judgement in March 2014 made reference to the 'acid test' to see whether a person is being deprived of their liberty, which consisted of two questions:
- Is the person subject to continuous supervision and control? and
- Is the person free to leave? – with the focus, the Law Society advises us, being not on whether a person seems to be wanting to leave, but on how those who support them would react if they did want to leave.
If someone is subject to that level of supervision, and is not free to leave, then it is almost certain that they are being deprived of their liberty. But even with the 'acid test' it can be difficult to be clear when the use of restrictions and restraint in someone's support crosses the line to depriving a person of their liberty. Each case must be considered on its own merits, but in addition to the two 'acid test' questions, if the following features are present, it would make sense to consider a deprivation of liberty application:
- frequent use of sedation/medication to control behaviour
- regular use of physical restraint to control behaviour
- the person concerned objects verbally or physically to the restriction and/or restraint
- objections from family and/or friends to the restriction or restraint
- the person is confined to a particular part of the establishment in which they are being cared for
- the placement is potentially unstable
- possible challenge to the restriction and restraint being proposed to the Court of Protection or the Ombudsman, or a letter of complaint or a solicitor’s letter
- the person is already subject to a deprivation of liberty authorisation which is about to expire.
Restraint and restrictions
The Mental Capacity Act allows restrictions and restraint to be used in a person’s support, but only if they are in the best interests of a person who lacks capacity to make the decision themselves. Restrictions and restraint must be proportionate to the harm the care giver is seeking to prevent, and can include:
- the use of some medication, for example, to calm a person
- close supervision in the home, or the use of isolation
- requiring a person to be supervised when out
- physically stopping a person from doing something which could cause them harm
- removing items from a person which could cause them harm
- holding a person so that they can be given care, support or treatment
- bedrails, wheelchair straps, restraints in a vehicle, and splints
- repeatedly saying to a person they will be restrained if they persist in a certain behaviour.
Such restrictions or restraint can take away a person's freedom and so deprive them of their liberty. They should be borne in mind when considering whether the support offered to a person is the least restrictive way of providing that support.
Care providers don't have to be experts about what is and is not a deprivation of liberty. They just need to know when a person might be deprived of their liberty and take action.
Final decisions about what amounts to a deprivation of liberty are made by courts. The Code of Practice for the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards gives examples of where courts have found people being and not being deprived of their liberty. These examples, together with other cases which have gone to the courts, should be used as a guide.
Care providers don't have to be experts about what is and is not a deprivation of liberty. They just need to know when a person might be deprived of their liberty and take action. When care providers are putting together the care plans of persons who are unable to consent to their care, they should consider whether any restrictions or restraint being proposed in the best interests of the person amount to a deprivation of liberty.
Ben has learning disabilities and Prader-Willi syndrome. There are concerns about his health because his weight has been increasing steadily and now stands at 120kg.
Staff in his residential home have tried to support Ben to limit what he eats and to make healthy choices but with little effect.
Ben has been assessed as lacking capacity to make decisions about the amount and type of food he eats (this is common among people with Prader-Willi syndrome). It has been proposed that it is in Ben’s best interests to stop him going into the kitchen, and always supervising him when out, to prevent him spending all his money on, or stealing, food. An application is made by the home manager for standard authorisation because they believe that the restrictions would deprive Ben of his liberty.
A person may need to be deprived of their liberty before the supervisory body can respond to a request for a standard authorisation. In these situations the managing authority can use an urgent authorisation. Urgent authorisations are granted by the managing authority itself. There is a form that they have to complete and send to the supervisory body.
The managing authority can deprive a person of their liberty for up to seven days using an urgent authorisation.
The managing authority can deprive a person of their liberty for up to seven days using an urgent authorisation. It can only be extended (for up to a further seven days) if the supervisory body agrees to a request made by the managing authority to do this.
When using an urgent authorisation the managing authority must also make a request for a standard authorisation. The managing authority must have a reasonable belief that a standard authorisation would be granted if using an urgent authorisation.
Before granting an urgent authorisation, the managing authority should try to speak to the family, friends and carers of the person. Their knowledge of the person could mean that deprivation of liberty can be avoided. The managing authority should make a record of their efforts to consult others.
Brian has been living in a nursing home for the past three years. Recently he has become very agitated and distressed which is thought to be linked to his dementia. He tells people he wants to go home not remembering that he had to give his flat up when he moved into the home. He also spends a lot of time trying to open the front door which has a key pad lock on. An incident has occurred where he climbed out of his ground floor bedroom window and was only found a couple of hours later on a main road. The nursing home asks the local authority for a standard authorisation. They want to continue to use the key code so that Brian does not go out unaccompanied, and to put safety locks on some of the windows. Because of the seriousness of the recent incident, the home manager completes the form for the urgent authorisation and arranges the window locks to be fitted the same day.
Safeguards for people who may be deprived of their liberty
The first safeguard is the assessment process for a standard authorisation which involves at least two independent assessors who must have received training for their role. There will always be one mental health assessor and one best interests assessor who will stop deprivation of liberty being authorised if they do not think all the conditions are met.
Family, friends and paid carers who know the person well should be consulted as part of the assessment process. They may have suggestions about how the person can be supported without having to deprive them of their liberty. Those people who don’t have family or friends who can represent them have a right to the support of an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) during the assessment process. And at all times, the fifth principle of the Mental Capacity Act, that any decision made in a person’s best interests must be the least restrictive of their rights and freedoms, should be borne in mind.
If the person has an unpaid relevant person's representative, both they and their representative are entitled to the support of an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate.
If standard authorisation is granted the following safeguards are available:
- The person must be appointed a relevant person’s representative as soon as possible. Usually this will be a family member or friend who agrees to take this role. If there is no one willing or able to take this role on an unpaid basis, the supervisory body must pay someone, such as an advocate, to do this.
- The person and their representative can require the authorisation to be reviewed at any time, to see whether the criteria to deprive the person of their liberty are still met, and if so whether any conditions need to change.
- The person and their relevant person's representative have a right to challenge the deprivation of liberty in the Court of Protection at any time.
- If the person has an unpaid relevant person’s representative, both they and their representative are entitled to the support of an IMCA. It is good practice for supervisory bodies to arrange for an IMCA to explain their role directly to both when a new authorisation has been granted.
- The home or hospital should do all it reasonably can to explain to a detained person and their family what their rights of appeal are and give support.
When DoLS cannot be used
The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards can only be used if a person is in hospital or a care home. If a person is living in another setting, including in supported living or their own home, it is still possible to deprive the person of their liberty in their best interests, via an application to the Court of Protection.
If a person is in hospital they should not be subject to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards if they meet the criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act.
The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards should not be used if the main reason is to restrict contact with individuals who may cause the person harm. If it is believed to be in a person’s best interests to limit contact an application should be made to the Court of Protection.
If there is a dispute about where a person should stay, an authorisation does not resolve the dispute. The Code of Practice of the Mental Capacity Act says that unresolved disputes about residence, including the person themselves disagreeing, should be referred to the Court of Protection.
The local authority is following safeguarding proceedings for Mavis, a woman with dementia who is currently living at home with her husband. They are concerned her needs are not being met because her husband is refusing the support that is being offered. It is believed that he has untreated mental health needs. Mavis was assessed as lacking capacity to decide on her residence, though clearly communicates a wish to remain in her own home.
It has been proposed that a placement in a care home would be in Mavis’s best interests. It is also believed that in the care home she will need a high level of restrictions to give her appropriate care and treatment.
Because the move is against Mavis's wishes and those of her husband, the local authority makes a fast-track application to the Court of Protection to make a decision in her best interests. If the court authorises a move to the care home, an application will be made by the home for a standard authorisation under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
Liberty Protection Safeguards
In July 2018, the government published a Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill which will see DoLS replaced by the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). This passed into law in May 2019. Under LPS, there will be a streamlined process to authorise deprivations of liberty. Read more here: Liberty Protection Safeguards.
LPS will go live on 1 April 2022
How to keep up to date in this area
Court of Protection judgements can be found on the Bailii website. This includes cases to decide whether a person is being deprived of their liberty.
We hope this at a glance about DoLS has been helpful. Some aspects of DoLS are complex, and it is important that they are fully understood. SCIE offers e-learning, bespoke training, and consultancy support, to make sure that you and your organisation are aware of good practice and legal duties in this area. Or if you would like to talk to our team about how we can help, please complete our enquiry form.