Number of Scots living under welfare guardianship 'reaches record high'

Courts appoint a welfare guardianship order when a person lacks the capacity to make some or all decisions for themselves.

Welfare guardianship orders in Scotland at record high of almost 18,000, Mental Welfare Commission figures show iStock

The number of people in Scotland living with a welfare guardianship has reached a record high of almost 18,000.

Courts appoint a welfare guardianship order when a person lacks the capacity to make some or all decisions for themselves.

It is usually a relative that takes the role, but a local authority can be appointed, with the order most commonly used for people with learning disabilities or dementia.

Figures published by the Mental Welfare Commission (MWC) show 17,849 people had such an order in place in March 2023.

That is the highest on record since the Adults with Incapacity Act came into effect in 2000, and is up 4.4% from 17,101 in 2022.

A decade ago in 2013, 8,717 people had a welfare guardianship order, with figures rising steadily since, prompting the MWC to reiterate its calls for reform.

Dr Arun Chopra, medical director of the MWC, said the system is “too complex” and must be simplified.

The Scottish Government noted reforming the law around adults with incapacity as a “high level priority” following a number of recommendations made to ministers in a Scottish Mental Health Law Review.

Ministers promised to address “long-standing gaps” in the legislation to improve safeguards, while improving the efficiency of the process.

Dr Chopra said: “People who lack capacity because of learning disability, dementia or other conditions are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community and have a right to be protected by the law.

“While that legal protection is vital, we believe the system is too complex. We have called for reforms for the benefit of individuals, families and authorities.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment, in their response to the Scottish Mental Health Law Review, to take action in this area, and as a priority to improve efficiency in welfare guardianship processes. We look forward to seeing those changes and supporting reform.”

Of the 3,501 orders granted in 2022/23, 94.7% were new while the remainder were renewals.

The figures also show the most common primary diagnosis among those subject to an order was learning difficulty (46%), followed by dementia (39%).

The majority (81.5%) of the orders were for a period of five years or less, a 1.5% increase from the previous year, 14.9% were for six or more years, and 3.6% were indefinite orders.

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.

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