Homepage Latest news Almost 18,000 Scots living with welfare guardianship orders– highest ever level

Almost 18,000 Scots living with welfare guardianship orders– highest ever level

Publication date: 7 Dec, 2023

New figures published today by the Mental Welfare Commission show that 17, 849 Scots were living with a welfare guardianship order in March 2023, the highest level recorded, and a 4.4% increase on 2022.

Ten years ago, in 2013, there were 8,717 people living with a welfare guardianship order. The numbers have risen steadily every year since then.

What is a welfare guardianship order?

When a person lacks capacity to make some or all decisions for themselves, a court can appoint a ‘welfare guardian’ to do that for them. It is usually a relative, but can be a local authority. Welfare guardianship is most commonly used for people with learning disabilities or those with dementia.

Welfare guardians can make a decision about where a person lives, as well as about their personal and medical care. Local authorities have a duty to supervise all welfare guardians.

Key facts

The vast majority of granted guardianship orders were new orders (94.7%), while the remainder were renewals.
Private guardians (meaning relatives or friends as opposed to local authorities) accounted for almost 72% of welfare guardianships granted, similar to previous years.  

The most common primary diagnosis was learning disability (46%), followed by dementia (39%). 

Today’s report gives a detailed breakdown of the information, including geographical variations, showing the highest rate per hundred thousand population in Dumfries and Galloway, and the lowest in Eilean Siar.

Mental Welfare Commission visits to people who are on welfare guardianship orders

As part of its role, the Mental Welfare Commission undertakes a series of visits to people on welfare guardianship orders every year.

In 2022-23 the Commission visited 205 people subject to welfare guardianship orders against a target of 350 people. The difference was due to a reprioritisation of Commission work following the pandemic. In 62% of those visits Commission staff were able to provide advice or undertake further actions.

Of the 106 individuals who we visited were on a private guardianship order, 59.4% had a local authority supervising officer allocated at the time we visited. 

Dr Arun Chopra, medical director, Mental Welfare Commission, 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.”

The Mental Welfare Commission publishes this information annually as part of its statutory role to monitor the use of the Adults with Incapacity Act.