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Councils dealing with "massive backlog" of deprivation of liberty applications

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A “massive backlog” of deprivation of liberty applications to local authorities may lead to people being “unlawfully deprived” of their freedom, a charity has warned.

Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, care homes and hospitals can seek authorisation from councils or NHS providers to deprive someone who lacks capacity to make decisions of their liberty as part of their care or treatment.

The latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show there was an 87% increase in applications between the first and fourth quarter of 2014-15 with a growing number waiting to be signed off.

There were 19,100 applications for deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS) in the first quarter of 2014-15 to the 116 councils that submitted data for all four quarters of the year. Of these, 58% were granted, 14% not granted and 28% not yet signed off by the supervisory body or withdrawn.

In the fourth quarter there 35,600 applications, 23% of which were granted, 8% refused and 69% either not yet signed off by the supervisory body or withdrawn.

George McNamara, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We are deeply concerned that a massive backlog of cases may lead to people being unlawfully deprived of their liberty because the paperwork is yet to be completed. Taking away someone’s liberty must always be a last resort. It must be closely monitored, legal and only happen in that person’s best interests.”

Councils have seen a substantial rise in DoLS applications following a Supreme Court judgment against Cheshire West & Chester Council, handed down in March 2014, which widened the definition of deprivation of liberty.

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Ray James said: “The changes have led to a tenfold and growing increase in the number of referrals, an increase which has been difficult to address since social workers as well as potentially other professions need to have training which qualifies them to do the assessments.

“Additionally there are many people in supported living where [an] application has to be made to the Court of Protection to sanction their care arrangements. Adass has calculated that this requires at least an extra £100m annually. Just before the election the government agreed to fund an extra £25m.

“In the context of a 40% reduction in local authority funding from central government over the past four years – and more planned – we call on the new government to properly fund this greater burden on council finances and to do everything possible to accelerate the reforms.”

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