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Mental health

Free NHS aftercare

If the person you're looking after has been compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital, they're eligible for free aftercare when they leave hospital. Aftercare means they won't receive a financial assessment for any social or health services provided to them.

This right to free services was established in section 117 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It applies in the following situations:

  • When someone has been compulsorily detained in hospital under section 3 of the Mental Health Act.
  • When someone has been sentenced by a criminal court to detention in a psychiatric hospital.
  • When someone has been transferred to psychiatric hospital from prison.

It doesn't apply to people who have been detained in hospital for assessment under section 2 of the Mental Health Act, or people who have been detained in an emergency under section 4 of the Mental Health Act.

Section 117 doesn't apply to people who have been voluntary patients in psychiatric hospital. However, it may apply if someone who was previously compulsorily detained in hospital under section 3 agrees to stay there on a voluntary basis. The purpose of providing free aftercare is to try to prevent someone's condition deteriorating so that they need to be readmitted to hospital.

How to get access to section 117 services

Someone who's eligible for section 117 services will be assessed before they're discharged from hospital. They will receive a care plan stating the services that will be provided.

What are section 117 services?

Services under section 117 can include almost anything that helps someone live in the community. They may include, for example, help with accommodation, social care support, day centre facilities or recreational activities. Section 117 doesn't refer to any specific services, so it may be possible to argue that it covers the services that the person you're looking after requires.

The section 117 care plan will make arrangements for housing needs, particularly if someone is going to be homeless when they're discharged from hospital or can't return to their own home for some reason. The accommodation provided may be in supported housing, such as a hostel.

Termination of section 117 services

If social services or the relevant healthcare organisation believes that someone no longer needs aftercare, section 117 services may be withdrawn. However, the organisation must do a reassessment of need before they can come to that conclusion.

The relevant organisation has to provide reasons for any decision that section 117 services are no longer needed. People with significant mental health problems may be able to argue that they're at risk of needing readmission to hospital. In such a case, section 117 will continue to apply indefinitely.

If section 117 no longer applies, it doesn't necessarily mean that the services will be withdrawn. A financial assessment will be carried out to decide whether the person receiving the services has to make a financial contribution.

Disputes about section 117 services

You or the person you're looking after may believe that you're being incorrectly charged for services that should be provided free under section 117.

This is a complex area. If you feel that this may apply to you or the person you're looking after, it's best to get legal advice. For sources of advice, see External links.


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

goldoid said on 18 December 2012

In response to CJUK's comment, the article is very clear about Section 3 being needed. I apologise if it has been updated since CJUK posted his comment, which might cause confusion.

With regards to being regraded as informal, surely this is preferable to being on a section 3? Why would anyone want to be on a Section 3. If the only reason is to get S117, then you should be aware that all disabled people can apply for a Personal Budget, and people who are on S117 are less likely to get a Personal Budget (in fact I think if you're not on a S117 and you are disabled you are guaranteed a Personal Budget, but I'm not sure about that).

I have no doubt that the doctors and staff had their best intentions when regrading people to informal, and if I was regraded to informal I would be thanking them.

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CJUK said on 17 August 2010

Dear NHS Choices

It is stated above that if a person is detained under the MHA they are entitled to free after care unde Section 117 of the Act for as long as it is needed. THIS IS NOT TRUE.

This only applies if detention is under Section 3 of the Act.

Most initial detentions are under Section 2 which leads to Section 3 if the doctor wants you to stay longer than the legal limit of 28 days allowed under S2. The patient under Section 3 would then be entitled to free aftercare under S117 of the Act.

Unfortunately once detained under Section 2 and sedated, as is the norm, the doctor can simply regrade him to INFORMAL and any chance of FREE Care under S117 is lost.

The statisics for 2000 to 2008 show that over 124,000 patients were regraded from S2 to Informal, usually within the first 2 weeks. Every single patient lost all rights to free aftercare no matter how long they were in hospital, even though they were under the same conditions as before the regrade.


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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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