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Explain what is meant by the term ‘capacity’ and why it is important to assume that someone has capacity unless there is evidence that they do not


This page is designed to answer the following questions:

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Mental capacity is an individual’s ability to make decisions for themselves. This means being able to understand, retain and weigh up information to make an informed decision.


Mental health conditions, dementia and learning disabilities can affect an individual’s capacity to make decisions, however, it is important to remember that all individuals have the right to make their own decisions unless there is evidence that proves they cannot.

Therefore, you should always assume that an individual has the capacity to make their own decisions, even if you do not agree with the choices that they make. This is part of a person-centred approach and encompasses the person-centred values of choice, independence, respect and choice.


It is also important to remember that mental capacity is not a blanket statement. Just because an individual lacks the capacity to make a decision in one area of their life (e.g. managing their money), it does not mean that they lack capacity in other areas (e.g. choosing their meals). In addition, mental capacity can change over time.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005


It is also a requirement of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and is referred to in the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice (it’s quite a long document, but well worth the read!)

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is underpinned by these five principles (paraphrased):

  1. Capacity should always be assumed
  2. Every effort should be made to empower an individual to make their own decisions
  3. Individuals have the right to make unwise decisions
  4. If an individual lacks capacity, any decisions made about them by others must be in their best interest
  5. When decisions are made in an individual’s best interest, due consideration should be taken to ensure that their rights and freedoms are affected as little as possible

All health and social care workers have a duty to comply with the Mental Health Act 2005 and the associated Code of Practice.

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