What is independent advocacy?
Advocacy services help people – especially the most vulnerable – to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. The health and care system can seem complex and confusing and saying what you want can be stressful, especially if you need on-going support from the services involved.
An advocate can:
- help you express your opinions
- provide information
- help you understand and explore your choices
- offer practical help, such as writing letters and attending meetings
- make sure the correct procedures are followed.
An independent advocate may be helpful if there is any disagreement between you, your health or social care professionals or even family members about a decision that needs to be made.
An independent advocate should represent your wishes without judging or giving a personal opinion. You might not get the outcome you want but an advocate can make sure your voice is heard.
When you might need an advocate
You might want to have an advocate with you or to speak on your behalf in the following situations:
- during assessments, such as hospital discharge or needs assessments
- when planning or reviewing your care and support
- if there are changes to your services
- if there is an investigation into possible abuse
- when making complaints.
Types of advocacy
There are different types of advocacy, ranging from self-advocacy - where you receive training to help you put your own views across - to professional advocacy. Some independent advocates are trained specifically to communicate and work with people with dementia and other mental health problems. An advocacy service may be run by volunteers.
An advocacy service should be separate from the NHS or social services. For more information, see our factsheet: Independent Advocacy in England.
How it works
It’s up to you how you work with an advocate. You are in charge and they need your permission to advocate your views. Usually:
- you meet with your advocate
- they listen to your concerns
- they work with you to find out what outcome you want to achieve or how you want to resolve a situation
- they should keep you informed of any developments.
Your advocate should listen to the views of others (your GP, carers, social worker, family) but their role is to help you put your views across.
What an advocate shouldn’t do
An advocate should be on your side and they shouldn’t:
- judge you
- make a decision for you
- persuade you to do what other people want
- advise or counsel you
- speak for you when you want to speak for yourself.
Your rights to advocacy
Local councils must involve people in decisions about their care and support. No matter how complex your needs, they are required by law to help you:
- express your feelings and wishes
- weigh up your options
- make your own decisions.
All local councils must commission advocacy services and in certain situations you are legally entitled to an advocate. This is called statutory advocacy and there are three types:
- Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs) - if you are being assessed or receiving treatment for a mental health condition under the Mental Health Act 1983.
- Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCAs) - if you lack capacity to make certain decisions and there is no-one else (such as a family member or friend) who can support or represent you
- Care and Support Advocates (Care Act) - if you have ‘substantial difficulty’ in being involved in assessments and decisions about your care and don’t have an ‘appropriate adult’ to support you.
Mental capacity means having the ability to understand, retain and use information in order to make and express decisions about your life. Mental capacity can fluctuate and it must never be assumed that someone lacks mental capacity because that could mean depriving them of their rights.
How to find an advocate
Your local council should be able to provide information about advocacy services in your area. You may also want to contact an organisation that deals with your specific needs.
OPAAL is a national organisation supporting independent advocacy services for older people. Your local Healthwatch may be able to help you with complaints advocacy or put you in touch with local services. And the mental health charity Mind can put you in touch with local advocacy services.