Decision Support Service marks first 100 days in operation
04 Aug, 2023
Since it was launched to the public 100 days ago, thousands of people across the country have been actively and positively engaging with a new State service for adults who may require help, now or in the future, to exercise their right to make decisions about personal welfare, property, or affairs.
The Decision Support Service (DSS), which officially opened its doors on April 26, is an essential new service for all adults who may have difficulties with decision-making capacity. This could include adults with an intellectual disability, a mental illness, an acquired brain injury, or those with neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia.
The DSS is established under the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (as amended). As anyone could face challenges with decision-making in their future lives, the 2015 Act also provides new tools for any adult who wishes to plan ahead by way of an advance healthcare directive, or a revised form of an enduring power of attorney (EPA).
Estimates suggest that there could be as many as 220,000 people living in Ireland who have capacity-related difficulties and who may become users of the DSS. The level of support that a person requires, if any, will always depend on their personal circumstances and the decisions that they need to take. Based on the above figure, it is estimated that one in 20 adults could have an active arrangement registered with the DSS, and that one in every two people will interact with the DSS in their lifetime.
Already, in the first 100 days of its existence, almost 1,300 applications have been initiated for various support arrangements on the DSS website by members of the public. By far the most popular of these has been applications for an EPA, with almost 85% of all applications initiated by people who wish to put this particular advance planning tool in place.
The DSS has also seen strong uptake in co-decision-making assistance agreements and decision-making assistance agreements, two new arrangement types in Ireland under the Act. A total of 68 applications have been initiated to make a co-decision-making agreement – whereby a person can appoint someone they trust as their co-decision-maker if they feel they are unable to make certain decisions on their own – while 142 applications have been initiated to make a decision-making assistance agreement, whereby a person again appoints someone they know and trust as a decision-making assistant if they feel they require support to make certain decisions on their own. The first decision-making assistance agreement was recently registered by the DSS registration team.
The DSS Registration Team has also received 41 decision-making representation orders made by the Circuit Courts across Ireland.
“The Act provides tiers of decision support, overseen by the DSS, each with varying levels of responsibility, depending on what the relevant person wants and the decisions that they need to take,” said the Director of the Decision Support Service, Áine Flynn. “It is very encouraging that people are already taking the first steps towards putting these supports in place.
“We are especially pleased that the take-up for EPAs is particularly high. As the DSS continues to make clear, advance planning is a key part of the 2015 Act. The Act provides these tools because at a future time, any one of us could experience difficulty exercising our right to make our own decisions, due to an accident or a degenerative illness. This is why the Act is described as ‘an Act for everyone’ and it is something that the DSS seeks to promote on an ongoing basis.”
EPAs have been in place since the Powers of Attorney Act 1996 but with relatively low take-up. According to a survey of 1,000 adults by Safeguarding Ireland late last year, only 6% of Irish adults reported having an EPA. The DSS can also investigate complaints about attorneys appointed under the Powers of Attorney Act 1996. So far, the DSS Complaints and Investigations team has received seven complaints, of which four are currently being investigated.
One key reform in the 2015 Act is the abolition of the wards of court system for adults under the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act of 1871, and the discharge of adults from wardship within three years. In a welcome development on Friday, July 28, the first person was discharged from wardship under the 2015 Act by the President of the High Court, who then assigned a decision-making representative from panels of professionals established by the DSS.
Meanwhile, more than 6,000 individual queries have been handled by the DSS’s dedicated information services team since the launch of the service 100 days ago.
“The interest and engagement we have received from members of the public - who, by and large, either want to find out how to put an arrangement in place or who have heard about the service and simply want to learn more - has been both exhilarating and encouraging in equal parts,” said Ms. Flynn.
“Thank you all those who have either emailed or called our teams, and we continue to stand ready to help more and more people put in place these essential services in the weeks, months and years ahead.”