First drop in Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards applications since ‘Cheshire West’ ruling

Figures show first quarterly fall in Dols applications since landmark Supreme Court ruling but councils still struggling with demand

The number of Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (Dols) applications per quarter has dropped for the first time since the Supreme Court’s landmark ‘Cheshire West’ ruling was handed down in March 2014.

Government figures published today show 34,500 Dols applications were made between July and September 2015. This marks a 9% reduction on the previous quarter and the first time the quarterly figures have dropped since the ‘Cheshire West’ judgment.

Figures were submitted by 101 of 152 councils in England.


The Supreme Court ruling effectively lowered the threshold for what constitutes deprivation of liberty in care. It triggered a ten-fold rise in Dols applications in 2014-15, with local authorities racking up significant backlogs of cases as they struggled with the demand.

Although today’s figures show the first quarterly drop in applications, the number was still higher than the same period last year. In a sign of the sustained pressure on Dols teams, two-thirds of applications (67%) were either not signed off, or had been withdrawn, within the quarter. The figures show 25% of applications were granted and 9% refused.

About the ‘Cheshire West’ ruling

The Supreme Court’s judgement in the linked cases of P v Cheshire West and Chester Council and P&Q v Surrey County Council in effect lowered the threshold for what constitutes a deprivation of liberty in care.

The court’s “acid test” said that a person who lacked capacity to consent to their care arrangements was deprived of their liberty, under Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights, if:-

    1. they were under continuous supervision and control;
    2. they were not free to leave, and;
    3. their care arrangements were the responsibility of the state.

The ruling rendered irrelevant factors that had been allowed for in the past, such as whether the person objected to their care arrangements.The Supreme Court also made clear that such a deprivation of liberty would apply in a domestic setting, as well as in health or social care placements.

The judgement was welcomed for extending key human rights safeguards to a broader group of vulnerable people. But it meant that, overnight, many people in care homes, hospitals and supported living arrangements suddenly met the threshold to have their care arrangements assessed or reassessed to see if they were deprived of their liberty and, if so, whether or not this was in their best interests.


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