Tania Barton

Department: Law/Socio-legal studies
Discipline: School of Law
Research Centre/Unit: SCuLE

Project Summary

Working PhD title: On being a consumer with dementia: a socio-legal study

Considering the consequences for those affected when a person with dementia enters into a contract as a consumer

This socio-legal qualitative research investigates the ways in which persons with dementia transact as consumers with businesses, and what legal consequences may arise for all parties affected. In doing so, this study seeks to investigate whether there is currently any protection for persons with dementia who are still legally capable but, in practice, experience difficulties in fully understanding complex contracts offered to customers by businesses. 

Relevant academic literature is reviewed in a scoping exercise to gain a clear picture of the concepts of capacity and decision-making in a contractual setting. Many of the cited papers originate from academic research in medicine, psychology, social policy, as well as law. 

A doctrinal review of relevant laws includes contract law, capacity law, consumer rights, and human rights in the context of non-discrimination laws. In addition, new data is sought through semi-structured interviews with all stakeholders, including persons with dementia, their family members and carers, charities, businesses and the legal profession. In doing so, the aim is to gain crucial insight into the problems that arise for consumers with dementia with a view to inform better proposal for reform

This research is new, original and important to gain insight into this new problem of protecting persons with dementia in their capacity as consumers. This topic has been under-researched and the scoping review has demonstrated a clear gap in knowledge in relation to persons with dementia and consumer matters. The new data will provide additional evidence of the issues for people with dementia when making decisions. It will provide new and original evidence of the issues for consumers with dementia. 

Looking at the interviews so far conducted, emerging themes center around:

  • how the contract is initiated, 
  • how persons with dementia represent themselves, 
  • how persons with dementia deal with on-going obligations, and 
  • how a contract may be terminated without penalties. 

The preliminary results show that 

  • family members can be identified as both barriers to and/or facilitators of contractual decision-making,
  • people with dementia and carers are concerned that the Mental Capacity Act allows for ‘unwise’ decisions to stand in a commercial setting, 
  • protection of people with dementia could be enhanced by the development of legislation designed to help people with dementia to retract from ‘unwise’ agreements, where it would be reasonable to do so, and
  • further protection may involve, in addition to the current cooling-down phase, a “pre-contractual reflection phase” during which a contract initiated by the business cannot be entered into, allowing for further reflection by the consumer. 

Supervisory Team

Dr. Severine Saintier, Law

Dr. Iain Lang, Medicine and Health

Prof. Rebecca Probert, Law