Mental capacity and deprivation of liberty safeguards

What are Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS)?


A person is deemed to have mental capacity if they are able to make and communicate their own decisions.

The Mental Capacity Act says a person’s liberty can only be taken away if it is in their best interests under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.

Liberty Means being free to do the things you want and to live where you want to live.

Deprivation of Liberty means taking someone’s freedom away.


When can someone be deprived of their liberty?

Deprivation of Liberty could take place anywhere- in a care home or hospital, but also in your own home.

If you are unable to make an informed choice, the law says that responsible person looking after you cannot take your freedom away without independent checks to ensure this is the best thing for you.

The law is set out in the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act

Some people living in hospitals or care homes cannot make their own decisions about their care and treatment because they do not have the mental capacity to do so.

These people need extra protection to make sure that they do not suffer harm.

For example, in situations where delivering the necessary care requires their personal freedoms to be restricted to the point of actually depriving them of their liberty.

DoLS protect people:

  • Who lack mental capacity from being detained when this is not in their best interests
  • To give people the right to challenge a decision.


What are the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards?

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are a system of checks found in the Mental Capacity Act. They apply in registered care home and hospitals. They are intended to ensure that person aged 18 or over, who has a mental disorder and is not able to decide upon their stay in a care home or hospital, needs restriction on their freedom to keep them safe from harm.

The Supreme Court ruling in March 2014 identified a deprivation of liberty as occurring when an individual who lacks capacity to make decisions about their treatment and care is subject to continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave.

This could include:

  • Forcing a person to take medication against their will
  • Staff exercise complete control over a person's care and movements
  • Staff making all decisions about a person's assessments, treatments, visitors, being released into the care of others and where they can live
  • Staff refusing to discharge someone to the care of relatives or others
  • Preventing someone from seeing friends or family.