The welfare of people who cannot make decisions for themselves is being put into jeopardy by cutbacks delaying the granting of Ward of Court status, it has been claimed.
A Ward of Court application is made on behalf of vulnerable people who have become unable to manage their own affairs.
Once someone is made a Ward of Court, the President of the High Court becomes responsible for their welfare and assets.
Among those who fall into this area are people with dementia, whose assets have to be protected — particularly if they want to make an application under the Fair Deal nursing-home scheme.
Ward of Court applications can also be made in the case of someone with an acquired brain injury.
However, solicitors have recently been told that they will have to wait more than eight months to complete the process.
“In 2011, the timescale from submitting the initial Petitioner’s Application to the court, dealing with the court queries, to getting the Ward of Court order was around four months,” said Rush, Co Dublin solicitor Dermot McNamara, who works in the area.
“We now have an application with the court for some eight months, but the Wards of Court Office says it cannot give us an indication when it might be heard as it has many applications waiting to be listed and is very short-staffed.
“If Ward of Court status cannot be granted in a reasonable period of time and a person needs nursing-home care, then no decisions can be made and the whole process grinds to a halt.”
Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland has urged people to consider making decisions for future health and care earlier.
“In many cases, people may have already entered into a nursing home when their capacity changes and this will affect their ability to make decisions,” said Mr Daly.
A spokesman for the courts service confirmed that the time taken to process applications had increased.
“The average time is now about seven months,” said the spokesman.
“Staffing resources within the Wards of Court office have been reduced as a result of the public service moratorium.
“However, more staff have recently been allocated to the Wards of Court Office. The increase in the length of waiting time has already stopped, and, we hope, will reduce in the coming months.”
Applications for wardship have also increased.
“Over a three-year period, the numbers of wardship applications increased by 36pc and the number of Power of Attorney cases by 35pc.
“Why this has happened we cannot be certain, although it may reflect an ageing population and the
resultant frailties which arise,” the spokesman said.
In 2012 there were 279 applications for adult wardship and 489 enduring Power of Attorney registrations.
But three years later, that had increased to 382 applications for wardship and 660 applications for enduring power of attorney registrations.
New laws are on the way, however. The Assisted Decision Making Capacity Act 2015 creates a new legal framework for dealing with persons who lack capacity.