The rise in legal orders giving control over finance, property and welfare safeguards for adults without the capacity to make their own decisions is “concerning”, a watchdog has said.
Guardianship orders in Scotland rose 12% to 13,501 between 2017/18 and the previous year, a Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland report found.
The orders give those acting as welfare guardians a role in major decisions regarding the incapacitated person’s medical and personal care.
The commission wants reform of the legislation governing the orders to improve protection for people with dementia or learning disabilities.
These conditions account for the majority of guardianships in Scotland, with 45% for people with learning disability and 41% for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
More than one in five (21%) of welfare guardianship applications granted in 2017/18 were for those aged 16-24 with learning disability.
There were 4,990 indefinite orders as of March 31 this year, meaning 37% of active guardianships have no time limit, despite a drop in these types of orders.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of guardianship applications were from private individuals – usually a relative, carer or friend – up 4% on 2016/17.
Local authorities are duty-bound to apply where welfare guardianship is needed and no other application has been made, and these rose by 10% in the same period, now accounting for more than 26% of applications.
The number of new guardianship applications granted rose 5% to 3,084 between 2016/17 and 2017/18.
Mike Diamond (pictured), the commission’s executive director for social work, said: “The continued steep rise in guardianship applications is concerning.
“Most relatives find guardianship helpful, but it is a complex legal process and takes up a considerable amount of time for care professionals, particularly mental health officers.
“Sometimes it is required to allow people to access Self-Directed Support, which gives greater control over their own care to people who receive services.
“We believe the law needs to be modernised and streamlined to ensure care can be provided when it is needed, and to better protect the rights of people with dementia and learning disabilities.”
He welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to reforming the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, which governs the use of guardianship orders.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome this report, underlining as it does the need for changes to aspects of the Adults with Incapacity legislation which we are committed to bringing forward.
“We carried out a consultation on proposals for the reform of Adults with Incapacity legislation – including the reform of guardianship processes – earlier this year. Results of this are being analysed and we are working with stakeholders, including the Mental Welfare Commission, to develop improvements in the law to benefit those adults in need of the safeguards this legislation provides.”
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