Mental capacity and personal finances: a qualitative study of assessment and support

This research focuses on what happens when older adults experience difficulties in managing their money because of a lack of mental capacity. We investigated how social care practitioners, older adults, and their families attempt to address these difficulties, and how people can be supported.

British coins, notes and a pen and a calculator.

‘Financial capacity’ is the mental capacity to manage money. It is one of the most important skills a person needs to be an independent member of society. It is particularly important for older adults, who in addition to managing day-to-day finances, are required to make major financial decisions associated with later life. However, financial capacity is highly sensitive to changes in cognitive abilities, and these changes are stigmatised and often hidden by families. People with diminished financial capacity are also more vulnerable to financial abuse. 

In England and Wales, the dominant legal framework to guide financial capacity assessment and support is the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It is not clear how appropriate the Act is for assessments of financial capacity, what methods are used to assess financial capacity, nor how professionals support someone with diminished financial capacity. The importance of discussing personal finances is becoming increasingly recognised and publicised in society, but very little is known about how older adults and their families discuss personal finances and attempt to mitigate any challenges relating to financial capacity.

We worked with a range of key organisations in Greater Manchester. As a very diverse region, the lessons we have learned in Greater Manchester will be relevant across the country.

Aims and objectives

  • To review the information available to guide social care professionals in supporting older adults to manage their finances.
  • To review the information available to older people and their families who are looking for help.
  • To interview social care professionals about their experiences of supporting older adults who need help managing their finances.
  • To interview older adults and family members about their experiences and perspectives of this issue.

Key findings

  • Judgements about someone’s capacity to manage money tend to be made informally and generally. There is a lack of formal, detailed assessment of specific aspects of money management in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act.
  • Knowledge about legal issues and procedures regarding mental capacity and money management is highly variable, among professionals and the public. There is a lack of training for professionals in applying the Mental Capacity Act in the context of financial decision-making and in how to provide appropriate and timely support for people with day-to-day money management.
  • Professionals often feel uncomfortable in raising the topic of money management and in providing support to older people. There is a lack of clear roles and responsibilities around assessment and support.
  • Managing money is extremely personal and emotional, both for older people who may be experiencing difficulties and for people who are attempting to provide support. There is limited recognition of this in the available information resources, which focus more on procedures such as how to set up Lasting Power of Attorney.


There is a need for a dedicated strategy for the topic of mental capacity and personal finances within the social sector. This should contain greater clarity around roles, responsibilities and support, and training about mental capacity in the context of managing money that is realistic, context-specific and embedded as core training. Development of training and support approaches would benefit from a multi-agency approach and co-production with older adults and unpaid carers.

Project team

Dr Alex Hall, Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Manchester.

Dr Christina Straub, Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Manchester.

Professor Debora Price, School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester.

Professor Nicola Glover-Thomas, School of Law, The University of Manchester.


Funder: National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Funding period: April 2021 - January 2023.

Associated publications and resources

Managing money in later life: mental capacity assessment and support (PDFs):