Meeting the needs of vulnerable clients

This guide will help you identify and meet the needs of clients who may have difficulty using legal services, or who may be at risk of acting against their own best interests.

It's aimed at solicitors, practice managers and legal support staff.


Solicitors need to adapt their practices to identify and meet the needs of clients who may be vulnerable, due to their personal circumstances and barriers put in place by society.

Living with a disability, illness or diagnosis does not in itself make someone vulnerable.

In the context of legal advice, it is the person’s situation and barriers to accessing legal services that may make them vulnerable.

Equally a person may be vulnerable without any disability, illness or diagnosis: for example, if they are recently bereaved or frail.

For ease of reference, this guidance refers to such people as ‘vulnerable clients’.

Types of vulnerability

The terms ‘vulnerable’ and ‘vulnerability’ cover a range of situations that could affect any client who is at a disadvantage because of factors that affect their access to, and use of, legal services.

This guidance focuses on three broad categories of vulnerable clients:

This guidance does not provide specific advice about children or the needs of vulnerable defendants in criminal proceedings.

Regulatory and legislative obligations

There are mandatory principles which apply to all those whom the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulates, and to all aspects of practice.

You should always bear the SRA Principles in mind, particularly the requirement to act in the best interests of each client, and use these as your starting point.

Failure to meet your professional duties within the SRA’s Standards and Regulations may result in SRA sanctions or a referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

This guidance will help you to recognise and meet your duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010.

If you fail to meet the needs of a vulnerable client you could be at risk of:

  • a discrimination claim or a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, which could result in sanctions including damages
  • a claim for damages or compensation against you or your firm if you act on the instructions of a client lacking capacity to make relevant decisions, having failed to satisfy yourself about the client’s capacity or document your assessment
  • a complaint against you to the Legal Ombudsman, which could result in your name being published and/or you having to pay financial compensation
  • a complaint to the SRA about discrimination or failure to follow professional principles
  • reputational risk – your practice's reputation depends on how you treat your clients, and also how you treat their liability to other parties (for breach of warrant of authority see Blankley v Central Manchester & Manchester Children's University Hospitals NHS Trust [2015] EWCA Civ 18)

Paragraph 3.4 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, REL and RFLs specifically requires solicitors to “take account of your client’s attributes, needs and circumstances”.

In this context you should make sure you have the skills and processes to be able to identify a situation where someone may have reduced mental capacity, and how you approach the situation.

You must also be mindful of the potential for instructions to be given under duress or undue influence to avoid a breach of paragraph 3.1 of the Code of Conduct for Solicitors.

Conversely, a more inclusive practice will attract more clients and a more diverse workforce, bringing benefits to the business.

Vulnerability indicators

Risk factors that indicate a client may be vulnerable include:

  • advanced age
  • young age
  • physical disabilities
  • ill-health
  • cognitive impairment, such as dementia
  • mental health problems
  • learning disabilities
  • sensory impairment
  • acquired brain injury, caused for example by a stroke or head injury
  • behavioural disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • neurodiversity, such as autism spectrum disorder
  • psychological or emotional factors, such as stress
  • communication difficulties, including no or limited speech, English as a foreign language, limited ability to read or write, trouble with reading and writing accuracy and comprehension, and illiteracy
  • experience of domestic violence or sexual abuse
  • heavy reliance on others (family or friends) for care, support or accommodation
  • long-term alcohol or drug abuse
  • exposure to financial abuse
  • poor financial literacy
  • lack of a social network
  • living alone
  • living in poverty
  • adverse life events, such as bereavement
  • dependence on a care provider

It does not follow that because a person has a risk factor, they are vulnerable, but you should be alert to the possibility.

Some people may be affected by more than one risk factor. For example, a people with a learning disability may have hearing and/or visual problems that can affect their communication and understanding.

Risk factors may be temporary and can change over time.

One or more of these risk factors may mean that your client is vulnerable and may need your help to express their wishes, understand relevant advice and give you instructions, or that they may lack capacity to make relevant decisions and to give your instructions.

It is not always easy to identify vulnerability. Some signs will be easier to spot than others. You should not assume that your client will tell you about any difficulties.

Do not hold back from asking for more information for fear of being intrusive. Many clients will be open about their difficulties if asked and happy to discuss any help they need. 

For further guidance on identifying adults at risk of financial abuse, see our guidance on financial abuse.

Identifying your client’s needs

Once you’re aware that there are risk factors, you can help your client to:

  • express their wishes and objectives
  • overcome any difficulties to understand relevant advice
  • give valid instructions
  • carry through acts and transactions

This is important because the client should be supported to make decisions that they are legally capable of making.

There is a risk that if a court finds the client to have lacked mental capacity to enter into a transaction, or the transaction was made through the undue influence of another, the transaction will be set aside.

You should try to find out whether your client:

  • has any needs or preferences for communicating with you
  • needs any help to access your services – for example, to overcome mobility problems or hearing or sight difficulties
  • has any needs for how services are provided  – such as documents written in clear and simple language or information given verbally
  • understands and can act on the information and advice you provide, or whether they need support to do this – for example, from an advocacy service or interpreter

Carers or family members may also be able to provide helpful information, but you should seek to discuss these matters with the client alone first. See the role of carers below.

Areas to think about


Think about how you promote your services and the ways in which you can help vulnerable clients and their families and carers. Not everyone has access to the internet.

Website accessibility

For many clients, your website will be an important source of information about your practice and your services.

If your website is not easy to read or navigate, or if its content is difficult to understand, you may put off potential clients.

Find out more about website accessibility

Accessibility to and around your premises

Are your premises easy to find and to access? Would clients with sensory and mobility difficulties be able to access your building? Are the floors and corridors clear?

Are your rooms well lit? This is particularly important for clients who may be lip reading.

Do you have meeting rooms large enough to accommodate clients who may bring other family members, carers or advocates with them?

The Centre for Accessible Environments can provide you with information about registered access audits.

Legal obligations

Make sure you comply with your legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments and avoid disability discrimination in charging for reasonable adjustments.

The SRA has published guidance on reasonable adjustments and your legal obligations.

Staff training

Provide training for staff who may have contact with clients on:

  • accessibility
  • disability and deaf awareness
  • reasonable adjustments
  • mental capacity
  • recognising vulnerability
  • conflicts between clients and carers
  • safeguarding
  • financial abuse
  • dementia awareness (such as the Dementia Friend scheme)


Offer flexibility around appointment times, how long they last and where you meet clients.

Visiting clients at home may put them at ease and help with communication, for example, if your client has dementia or mental health problems.

It may help you comply with your obligations under section 3(2) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and associated guidance, to try to support and enable a person’s understanding of a particular question.

Where you need to see a client at home, consider when the contract has been entered into, as the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 may apply, and appropriate notices must be provided. See our practice note on the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013.

When undertaking home visits, consider the following:

  • carry out a risk assessment of clients who have a history of aggression or difficult behaviour
  • consider whether for safety reasons, it is appropriate for two people to attend
  • write to the client in advance, setting out who will attend, the date and time
  • if you're not known to the client, provide a brief description or a picture
  • show the client identification before entering their home
  • call the office when you have arrived

Lone working tools are available from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

Written communications

Make sure that your written communications, such as client care letters, letters of advice and costs information, are written clearly, with headings, in clear fonts and free from legal jargon.


Plan for accessibility issues that may come up at tribunal, hospital or court hearings.

Specialist support

You can use support professionals or independent advocates who can help clients such as those who have a learning disability or mental health problems. They can support your client throughout the legal process, including at the initial advice stage.

Use appropriate safeguards when using semi-automated systems, such as e-conveyancing services, to make sure the client has capacity and is giving instructions freely.


Ask your clients for feedback on how to improve your services.

Tailored and appropriate communication

Under the Equality Act 2010 you must anticipate the needs of people with particular types of disability, as well as making tailored reasonable adjustments for such people.

This means you need to be prepared. You should know, for example, how to find and engage a sign language interpreter.

Adjustments that could help you communicate with your clients include:

  • allowing extra time for meetings with clients who may need longer to understand what you are explaining, or who have a speech impairment, or who are communicating through a third party
  • visiting the client in a place that they feel most comfortable
  • breaking down an interview into many parts to allow them to rest
  • arranging a meeting for a time of day where the client feels most alert and aware
  • explaining issues without using legal jargon
  • getting the help of an independent third party
  • providing information in large print, Braille, audio, video, infographics, simple drawings by hand, or easy-read format
  • providing written text on a coloured rather than a white background (this can be particularly helpful for dyslexic clients or those with a visual impairment and they can tell you which colours to use)
  • facilitating a sign language interpreter, lipspeaker or deaf-blind communicator
  • facilitating a reader for clients with visual impairments
  • installing an induction loop or having a portable one available
  • conducting conversations with clients using the text relay system
  • using an electronic translation tool, where the client does not speak English
  • recording the meeting
  • providing a written note of the points raised and advice given in the meeting in a format that works best for the client
  • not requiring the client to make complaints or other requests in writing

Criminal cases

Special considerations apply to vulnerable defendants and witnesses in criminal and family cases. These are especially relevant if you are doing any advocacy on behalf of a vulnerable client or instructing counsel to do so.

The Advocacy Training Council has developed toolkits under the Advocates Gateway programme. These provide valuable advice on supporting vulnerable clients throughout the trial or hearing process.

Access the Advocates Gateway programme toolkits

A range of ‘special measures’ apply to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (but not defendants) in criminal cases under sections 16 to 33 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. These include:

  • screens to shield the witness from the defendant
  • use of a live link
  • excluding the public from the courtroom
  • removal of wigs and gowns in the Crown Court

The court may appoint an intermediary to help a vulnerable witness to give their evidence at court and help with communication.

The intermediary may explain questions or answers if this is necessary for the witness or the questioner to understand, without changing the substance of the evidence.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 extended intermediaries to the evidence of defendants, but this provision is not yet in force.

However, the courts have a common law duty to appoint an intermediary to make sure that a vulnerable child defendant can have a fair trial. See:

  • R(C) v Sevenoaks Youth Court [2009] EWHC 465 (Admin)
  • R (OP) v SS Justice, Cheltenham MC, and CPS (Just for Kids Law intervening) [2014] EWHC 1944 (Admin)

Read the SRA's resources on youth court advocacy

Family cases

Intermediaries have also been used in civil cases, in particular in the Family Court, for both children and vulnerable adults.

See also Practice Direction 3AA on vulnerable persons: participation in proceedings and giving evidence in the Family Procedure Rules.

Court of Protection cases

The Court of Protection is a specialist court for making decisions about the personal welfare and/or property and financial affairs of people who lack mental capacity. It was established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (see below).

Guidance on facilitating participation of ‘P’ and vulnerable persons in Court of Protection proceedings, published in November 2016, suggests how practitioners can help vulnerable people to participate in court proceedings.

An independent mental capacity advocate must be appointed if there is no one appropriate to consult about the person’s best interests and the decision to be made is about:

  • a long-term move into a care home or hospital
  • serious medical treatment
  • a deprivation of the person’s liberty

The advocate will support and represent the person who is considered to lack capacity. The role is separate from legal representation.

Mental health cases

An independent mental health advocate (IMHA) is an independent and specially trained advocate who provides support to people who have been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended) and are receiving inpatient care and treatment or treatment under a community treatment order.

They may help a person at a hearing in the First-tier Tribunal (Mental Health) in England or Mental Health Review Tribunal in Wales, to understand the issues and questions raised. The role is separate from legal representation.

Under paragraph 3.4 of the SRA’s Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs, you must consider and take account of your client's attributes, needs and circumstances.

You must satisfy yourself about their capacity if you have any doubts about whether your client has the capacity to give instructions.

This is also important as it can enable the client to make decisions or protect them from making a decision when they lack capacity, and reduces the risk of any subsequent complaint or challenge.

It is important to understand the context in which you are being instructed.

If you have acted for the client or their family over many years, you or another colleague may have useful background information. It will be very different if this is a new client.

Be mindful if you are acting for a client on a pro bono basis that the same duties of care arise.

See our separate guidance which explains when, how and by whom a capacity assessment should be undertaken: working with clients who may lack mental capacity.

Carers of vulnerable people

Carers can play a valuable role in supporting vulnerable people to access legal services and to make relevant decisions for themselves.

Carers may also be able to help with communication and help you to identify what reasonable adjustments could be made to assist the client.

In practice, the definition of a carer is wide. It includes:

  • informal carers such as relatives or friends providing personal care or supervision, either full time or on a casual basis
  • professional carers such as care workers, social workers and community nurses

Before speaking to carers, you should first seek to get information and discuss matters with the client alone.

Keep in mind the principle of client confidentiality and the need for consent if confidentiality is waived.

Taking instructions: the involvement of carers

It’s important to be clear about who your client is, whenever relatives or other carers seek to give instructions on their behalf.

As a general rule, you can act only on a client’s instructions.

No one, whether a family member or a professional, has the right to give instructions or make decisions about another person's property, financial or legal affairs unless they have been given formal authority to do.

This authority must be given either by the client or by a court (for example an attorney acting under an enduring power of attorney (EPA) or lasting power of attorney (LPA), a litigation friend or deputy).

For further information, see our practice note on lasting powers of attorney.

Taking instructions from an agent

In some cases where the client lacks capacity to give instructions, you may be taking instructions from an agent such as an attorney or a deputy, if it’s within the scope of their authority.

The person for whom the attorney or deputy is acting (the principal) is still your client and you must act in the client’s best interests.

If you are concerned that the instructions the agent gives you are not in your client’s best interests or that there is a conflict of interest, you should tell the agent about your concerns.

If necessary, you should decline to act on the agent’s instructions if you still believe that these are not in the client’s best interests.

You will have to decide whether you can continue to act for the client, or alternatively for the agent if another independent solicitor is appointed to represent the principal.

In certain limited situations, you will be deemed to be acting for the agent rather than the principal. These include:

  • where an attorney has instructed you to apply to the Office of the Public Guardian for registration of the EPA or LPA
  • where a prospective deputy instructs you to apply to the Court of Protection for the appointment of a deputy
  • where you represent the deputy, attorney or other party to Court of Protection proceedings when there is a conflict of interest, or potential breach of the agent’s fiduciary duty not to benefit from their position. In this situation, you may act for the party to the proceedings and the Court of Protection may, if no other party is available and in the last resort, appoint the Official Solicitor or another independent person to act as litigation friend to represent the interests of the principal
  • where you believe there is a conflict of interest and that you must act for the agent rather than the principal (who should then be separately represented)


While they still have capacity to do so, adults aged 18 and over may make an LPA appointing their chosen attorney(s) to make specific decisions on their behalf.

The attorney’s role and powers will depend on the type of power of attorney and whether the donor has specified any restrictions in the attorney’s authority to act.

In the case of a health and welfare LPA, attorneys must always consider whether the donor can make the decision themselves and should only act in their best interests if the donor is unable to.

Attorneys are not entitled as of right to act as litigation friends and must be appointed in the normal way. See litigation friends below.

For further information on the various forms of LPA and their effect, see our practice note on lasting powers of attorney.


Where there is an ongoing need for decisions to be made on behalf of a person lacking capacity, and the person has not previously made an LPA or EPA appointing an attorney to make the relevant decisions, the Court of Protection may appoint a deputy with authority to make those decisions.

Court-appointed deputies can be given wide powers, including the power to conduct legal proceedings on behalf of a person lacking capacity if authorised by the court to do so.

The scope of the deputy’s authority will be specified in their order of appointment.

Deputies can be appointed to make decisions on property and financial affairs or health and welfare, or occasionally both.

However, the court is required under the MCA 2005 wherever possible to make a single order instead of appointing a deputy who will act on an ongoing basis.

Most care and treatment decisions can be made without an order from the court.

This is because those who provide or decide on care or treatment on behalf of people who lack capacity to consent are legally protected against liability, provided the decision maker, applying the test in section 4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, believes their decision is the person’s best interests (section 5 MCA 2005).

In Re Lawson, Mottram and Hopton (appointment of personal welfare deputies) [2019] EWCOP 22, the Court of Protection has held that the decision whether to appoint a deputy is always to be taken by reference to whether an appointment is in the best interests of the person.

The person’s wishes and feelings will form an aspect of that decision (for instance if it is clear that the person would wish a family member to be appointed to be their personal welfare deputy).

The court has also held that proper operation of section 4 and section 5 means that, in practice, personal welfare deputies will not often be appointed, in particular because the appointment of a deputy should not be seen, in and of itself, as less restrictive of the person’s rights and freedoms.

Deputies must always act in the best interests of the person lacking capacity and in accordance with the MCA 2005 principles (see above).

They must have regard to the guidance in the MCA Code of Practice, in particular Chapter 8.

Litigation friends

People who lack capacity to conduct proceedings may become parties to proceedings in the High Court, the county courts and the Family Court, as well as in the Court of Protection.

Litigation friends are appointed to give instructions and otherwise conduct the proceedings on their behalf.

A litigation friend can be a family member or a professional, but will not (except in exceptional circumstances) be the solicitor themselves.

There is guidance in Part 21 of the Civil Procedure Rules for how a litigation friend can be appointed. The court can appoint a litigation friend without an application, but a prospective litigation friend will need to complete a ‘Certificate of Suitability’ form which varies depending on which court the case is being made in.

An accredited legal representative (ALR) may be appointed directly to represent the person who is subject to proceedings before the Court of Protection instead of appointing a litigation friend.

We have established a panel of ALRs, and the Court of Protection can appoint representatives from the panel. Find out more about accreditation and the panel

The Official Solicitor is the litigation friend of last resort, although the Official Solicitor will not act in any proceedings unless she has security for her costs.

Read GOV.UK guidance on litigation friends


There are a range of independent advocates appointed under the following acts who may be involved with vulnerable clients:

  • the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (independent mental capacity advocates)
  • the Mental Health Act 1983 (independent mental health advocates)
  • the Care Act 2014 in England
  • Part 10 of the Code of Practice (Advocacy) under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

Aside from statutory advocates, many advocates are also appointed from the voluntary sector on a privately paid basis and often from personal care budgets.

You should always check the basis upon which the advocate has been commissioned to provide services to your client, because each will be providing a different function.

Advocates will often play a vital role in supporting vulnerable clients, and may be important in helping the client to communicate with you to provide instructions.

However, an advocate will never, by virtue of their role alone, be in a position to provide you with those instructions.

The appointment of an advocate to support the client provides an additional layer of independent support to the client.

When acting as a professional attorney or deputy, you should consider whether appointing an advocate would be helpful.

Appropriate adults in criminal matters

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice, police custody sergeants must secure an appropriate adult (AA) to safeguard the rights and welfare of vulnerable people who are detained and questioned by the police.

Vulnerable people are classed as children aged 10 to 17 and mentally vulnerable adults.

The role of an AA includes:

  • supporting, advising and assisting the detained person, particularly while they are being questioned
  • observing whether the police are acting properly, fairly and with respect for the rights of the detained person – and telling them if they are not
  • assisting with communication between the detained person and the police
  • ensuring that the detained person understands their rights and that the AA has a role in protecting those rights

An AA should be someone who is completely independent of the police. Where possible they should also be independent of the vulnerable person, although parents often do act as AA for a child or young person.

Ideally they should have a sound understanding of, and experience or training in, dealing with the needs of juveniles, vulnerable adults or mentally disordered people.

An AA cannot, merely because of their position, give instructions to a solicitor on behalf of the individuals they assist.

Read more information on appropriate adults

Some people are unable to make a material decision not because of an impairment or disturbance in their mind or brain but because of the influence of others, such as family members.

The law treats such individuals differently from those lacking capacity for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Because the person has capacity to make their own decision, no other person may take the decision on their behalf.

Assistance from the High Court

The High Court can use its jurisdiction in relation to a vulnerable adult who, even if not incapacitated by mental disorder or mental illness, is, or is reasonably believed to be, either:

  • under constraint
  • subject to coercion or undue influence
  • for some other reason deprived of the capacity to make the relevant decision, or disabled from making a free choice, or incapacitated or disabled from giving or expressing a real and genuine consent


  • Re SA (Vulnerable Adult with Capacity: Marriage) [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam)
  • A Local Authority v DL & Ors [2011] EWHC 1022 (Fam)
  • Re L (vulnerable Adults with Capacity: Court's Jurisdiction) [2012] EWC CIV 253

Such cases are usually brought by a public body, such as the local authority undertaking safeguarding functions.

The High Court has the power to grant injunctive or other relief with the aim of putting in place a framework to enable the individual to make their own decisions.

The precise scope and extent of the High Court’s powers is subject to rapidly evolving case law and practitioners should make sure they keep up to date with developments.

Assessing whether there is undue influence

In your first meeting with a vulnerable client, information may come from an intermediary, such as a family member, carer or concerned neighbour.

In most cases, the intermediary will be well intentioned and communicating on the client’s behalf with their consent.

However, you should be aware of the possibility of conflicts of interest or undue influence.

Your overriding duty is to your client and you must ensure that your instructions are from your client, free of undue influence of others.

So, if your client has capacity to do so, you should confirm your instructions directly with the client by seeing them on their own, especially if detailed information has been provided by someone else.

Clients may seek legal advice (for example to make a will, an LPA or a significant gift) because they have been influenced or told by someone, such as a family member, that they ought to do so. This ‘influence’ may be well-intentioned and sensible.

However, if you suspect that a client's instructions are the result of coercion or pressure (‘undue influence’), you cannot act unless you have satisfied yourself that the instructions are the client's wishes. See the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs, paragraph 3.1.

You also have an overriding interest to protect your client's best interests under Principle 7.

Assessing whether undue pressure is being used to make an LPA

It is a legal requirement that an independent person, who may be a solicitor must form an opinion that at the time when the donor signs the LPA:

  • they understand its purpose and the scope of the conferred authority
  • no fraud or undue pressure is being used to induce the donor to create the LPA
  • there is nothing else which would prevent the LPA from being created (Schedule 1, paragraph 2(1)(e) Mental Capacity Act 2005)

Undue pressure is not identical to undue influence, although there is an overlap.

Undue pressure is not defined and there is no direct case law, although Cretney & Lush on Lasting Powers and Enduring Powers of Attorney, para 17.88 (8th Edition) (Lexis Nexis) provides it will be established if:

  • the donor was induced to make the power
  • pressure was used to induce the donor to grant the power
  • the pressure was undue

To exercise undue pressure is to behave in a manner that is excessive or creates greater hardship than the circumstances warrant.

A solicitor should only take on the role of being a skills-based certificate provider if they have the skills and expertise to form an opinion required by the certificate.

Presumed undue influence


Undue influence may be a factor even when there is no evidence of any coercion or pressure.

If an individual is thinking about making a significant lifetime gift, undue influence is presumed where:

  • there is a relationship of trust and confidence between the client and the recipient of the gift – for example, care giver and care receiver, patient and doctor, solicitor and client, and
  • the proposed gift needs an explanation – for example, it is an absurdly generous gift, or a gift of their main asset, such as their home, perhaps to just one of their children

Once undue influence is presumed, it’s not enough for the recipient to demonstrate that the individual had capacity to make the gift, and that there was no actual coercion or influence.

It is important that the individual has their own independent legal advice, considering all the relevant information and risks, before making a free and fully informed decision to go ahead with the gift.

See our practice note on making gifts of assets.

Testamentary dispositions

This ‘presumption’ of undue influence does not arise for testamentary dispositions – that is, gifts left in a will.

Persuading an individual to include someone as a beneficiary in their will would not necessarily amount to undue influence. Coercive behaviour is usually required.

However, if the client is particularly elderly or frail, then less obviously aggressive methods might amount to undue influence, for example where a person poisons the client’s mind against a natural beneficiary causing them to change their will through deliberate deception.

If you have no evidence of undue influence but concerns remain

Where there is no evidence of undue influence or pressure, but the client appears to want to continue with a transaction that you consider to be against their best interests, you should see the client alone, or with a neutral third party if they want help with communication.

You should explain the consequences of the client’s instructions and get confirmation (preferably in writing) that they want to proceed.

Remember that a core principle of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (and the common law) is that a decision you consider unwise may still be a decision that the client can make with capacity. It’s therefore important that you probe carefully to find out the driver for the decision and keep a detailed note of your discussion.

It may be better to use an independent advocate or interpreter, or another independent helper, rather than relying on a family member or carer to communicate the client’s wishes.

While the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) expects that a means assessment is completed fully for all cases, it recognises that for particularly vulnerable clients – for example, some homeless and community care clients – it may be difficult to provide the full set of means information needed.

In such circumstances, to avoid the means application being rejected on multiple occasions, the LAA has agreed to arrange for its senior means assessors to take a view based on the particular circumstances of the case.

Email the LAA at with 'vulnerable client means assessment' in the subject line.

Find out how the means test is changing

Law Society

Practice Advice Service

We provide support for solicitors on a wide range of areas of practice. You can contact the Practice Advice Service from 9am to 5pm on weekdays.

Call: 020 7320 5675

Practice notes

Access and disclosure of an incapacitated person’s will

Conflict of interests

Lasting powers of attorney

Legal professional privilege

Making gifts of assets

Other guidance 

Financial abuse

Working with clients who may lack mental capacity

Working with vulnerable clients case studies

Law Society publications

Assessment of Mental Capacity: a Practical Guide for Doctors and Lawyers (5th edition)


The SRA has published advocacy guides on:

Professional Ethics Helpline

The SRA provides advice for solicitors on the SRA Standards and Regulations. The helpline is open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Call: 0370 606 2577

Reporting another professional

The SRA provides guidance on reporting misconduct as well as guidance on confidentiality of client information.

Other resources

Enabling access to your services for vulnerable clients

Charities and other organisations provide online guidance for professionals on helping particular groups of clients.

Action on Hearing Loss

Advocates Gateway

Age UK

Alzheimer's Society

Business Disability Forum

Changing Faces

Disability Rights UK

General Medical Council – learning disability resources

Headway – the brain injury association

Legal Services Consumer Panel



National Autistic Society



Mental Capacity Act practice and procedure

Mental Capacity Act 2005 Code of Practice

Social Care Institute for Excellence - MCA Directory

Court of Protection Handbook guidance

British Medical Association MCA toolkit

39 Essex Chambers mental capacity newsletter


Office of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee

We thank Jo Honigmann (Just Equality), Penny Letts and our Mental Health and Disability and Wills and Equity committee in developing this guidance.

We would also like thank Nadine Tilbury and Beth Tarleton at the Norah Fry Research Centre (Bristol University) for their assistance in providing a case study about clients with learning disability.

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