Parental responsibility & mental capacity beyond 16

6 mins read

This advice applies across the UK unless stated otherwise.

As your child gets older, you might have to decide whether they’re able to make decisions for themselves. If not, there may be legal steps you can take to make decisions on their behalf.

In this article

Parental responsibility up to 18

As a parent, you have certain rights and responsibilities in relation to your child. These rights and responsibilities are defined in law and called parental responsibility.

Having parental responsibility means having a key role in the way you bring up your child. It can mean making decisions for them and acting in their best interest. This includes decisions on where your child lives, their education and consenting to medical treatment.

All mothers and most fathers have parental responsibility automatically. Other carers can gain or apply for parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility ends when a young person reaches the age of 18. But it can end earlier in specific circumstances, including if the child is adopted or a young person between 16 and 18 gets married.

You can read more about parental responsibility at

Involving your child in decisions

Even before 18, you will be involving your child in decisions about their life and plans for the future. This is particularly so from age 16, when the Mental Capacity Act framework applies – see below.

You and any professionals working with them, including education, health and social care teams, should be supporting their involvement.

Mental capacity beyond 16 (England and Wales)

The Mental Capacity Act in England and Wales presumes that young people aged 16 and over have mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. Until they are 18, this is alongside the parental responsibility you have for them.

Mental Capacity Act’s five principles

The Mental Capacity Act introduces five key principles around supporting people who may lack mental capacity to make their own decisions:

  1. A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that they lack capacity.
  2. A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success.
  3. A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision.
  4. An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.
  5. Before the act is done, or the decision is made, regard must be had to whether the purpose for which it is needed can be as effectively achieved in a way that is less restrictive of the person’s rights and freedom of action.

The first three principles relate to assessing whether someone has mental capacity. The last two principles are to do with making decisions on behalf of someone who lacks mental capacity.

Assessing mental capacity

Usually, social care or health professionals will decide whether your child has mental capacity to make a particular decision. Alongside the principles above, they must follow guidance and consider financial and other implications.

If your child lacks capacity to make decisions for themselves, there may be legal steps you can take to make decisions on their behalf.

Becoming a deputy (England and Wales)

If your child has always lacked mental capacity, you can apply to the Court of Protection to become their deputy. Becoming your child’s deputy will allow you to make decisions on their behalf.

Property and financial affairs deputies can manage someone’s bills and finances. Personal welfare deputies can make decisions about medical treatment and personal care. You can apply to be one type of deputy or both.

However, the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice states that the court will appoint personal welfare deputies only in the most difficult cases, where either:

If a personal welfare decision is not controversial and no one opposes it, it may be possible to make the decision on behalf of the person who lacks mental capacity without referring to the Court of Protection. ​

The Court of Protection will also hear cases for becoming a deputy for a child aged 16 to 17 where any of the following applies:

The Court of Protection is likely to refuse a deputyship application if there is some other way to achieve the benefit to your child.

See more about deputyship on the website.

Becoming an appointee

An appointee is a role particular to the welfare benefits system. By acting as your child’s appointee, you’ll be able to manage on their behalf the benefits they receive from age 16. This includes Personal Independence Payment, Child Disability Payment, Adult Disability Payment and Universal Credit.

Acting as your child’s appointee means that you’ll receive their benefits for them. You’ll be able to make claims on their behalf, and you’ll be responsible for keeping the relevant office informed of any change to your child’s circumstances.

Read more about becoming a benefits appointee.

Power of attorney

​Power of attorney is when a person gives their consent to someone else to make decisions on their behalf, for example in the event they get ill or have an accident.

The person must have the mental capacity to give someone power of attorney to make decisions on their behalf.

Read more about power of attorney at

Accessing Child Trust Funds & Junior ISAs

If you set up a Child Trust Fund or Junior ISA for your child, only they can access their savings when they turn 18.

If they lack mental capacity to do so, you usually need to apply to the Court of Protection to become their deputy in England and Wales. In Scotland, you will need to make an application to the Office of the Public Guardian in Scotland. And in Northern Ireland, you’ll need to apply to the Office of Care and Protection.

Some providers do allow parents to access the savings via the benefits appointee system on a case-by-case basis. Talk to your provider to see what they can do. We are campaigning to expand the benefits appointee system so that it covers all Child Trust Funds and Junior ISAs up to £5,000.

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