Responsibilities of an RPR – the right role for you?
I recently received a telephone call from an 80 year old lady who was the ‘Relevant Persons Representative’ (RPR) for her daughter. She had no idea of what that role entailed or how she had come to be appointed. I would guess that most people have no idea what an RPR does.
When a person is placed in a hospital or care home in circumstances which amount to a deprivation of their liberty, and they cannot consent to their placement for the purpose of receiving care and treatment, depriving them of their liberty is unlawful unless it is authorised. The local authority can authorise a hospital or care home to deprive a person of their liberty, but only once a number of assessments have been completed.
One of the assessments is known as a “best interest assessment”. The assessor will consult with people including family members such as their spouse, parents or children. Anybody who is then made the subject of a standard authorisation is entitled to an RPR; the assessor will recommend somebody for that role. If there are no suitable family members who can take on the role they will be assigned an independent paid RPR.
One of the fundamental roles of an RPR is to assist that person to bring a challenge against their placement if the patient (P) is objecting to remaining there. Case law is clear that a challenge should be brought if P has consistently expressed a wish to leave and it is irrespective of whether P’s expressed wishes have merit.
This can sometimes be a difficult concept for family members to grapple with, especially if that relative believes that the placement is necessary to prevent a loved one from suffering harm. People are usually placed in care homes or hospital because they are unable to meet their own care needs, but often they will not have an understanding or do not accept they need support and will express a wish to go home because they think they can look after themselves.
Assisting a relative to challenge a placement may feel morally wrong if you think they are in the best place to receive the care they need.
In the example above, I had to advise the lady that if she was not prepared to instruct a solicitor on her daughter’s behalf to challenge the placement then she should contact the local authority to relinquish her role as RPR. Best interest assessors should make it clear to a relative what their role would be if they were appointed RPR and the situation above demonstrates bad practice.
Should family members always decline the role of the RPR? Not necessarily. One key benefit is that an RPR is entitled to non means tested legal aid and separate representation from the person deprived of their liberty. You can then instruct a solicitor to issue a challenge to the authorisation and can continue to be represented in court proceedings – even if your view is that P should remain where they are (your role is simply to bring the matter before the court). If you were not appointed (or relinquish your role) and an independent RPR assists P to bring a challenge to court, then you may be made a party to the proceedings but you would not be entitled to non means tested legal aid. Legal aid may be available, but only if you are in receipt of certain benefits, on low income and have very little capital and equity in your own home.
Helen Dandridge is a solicitor within Ridley & Hall’s Court of Protection department. She specialises in health and welfare cases and has experience of representing family members and P. If you need further advice please contact her on 01484 538421.