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Legislation relating to safeguarding adults

Overview for social care

This introduction to legislation relating to safeguarding adults has been developed to assist in promoting dignity in social care.

The Care Act 2014

The Care Act 2014 places a general duty on local authorities to promote the wellbeing of individuals when carrying out care and support functions.

Safeguarding adults comes under the Care Act 2014. For more information, please view our Safeguarding resources.

The definition of wellbeing includes:

  • personal dignity including treating individuals with respect
  • physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • protection from abuse and neglect
  • control by the individual over day-to-day life
  • participation in work, education, training or recreation
  • social and economic wellbeing
  • domestic, family and personal relationships
  • suitability of living accommodation
  • the individual’s contribution to society

(Department of Health, 2014)

Sexual Offences Act 2003

In the past there have been difficulties in bringing prosecutions against individuals who committed sexual offences against people with mental disorders. The Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 modernised the law by prohibiting any sexual activity between a care worker and a person with a mental disorder while the relationship of care continues.

A ‘relationship of care’ exists where one person has a mental disorder and another person provides care. It applies to people working both on a paid and an unpaid basis and includes:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • care workers in homes
  • workers providing services in clinics or hospitals
  • volunteers.

The offences in the Act relating to care workers apply whether or not the victim appears to consent, and whether or not they have the legal capacity to consent.

This does not prevent care workers from providing intimate personal care so long as the behaviour is not intended to be sexual. The Act is not intended to interfere with the right of people with a mental disorder who have the capacity to consent to engage in sexual activity with anyone who is not in a caring relationship with them.

The SOA also attempts to make the prosecution of rape easier by clarifying the meaning of consent. Section 74 of the Act provides that someone consents to a sexual act if, and only if, he or she agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Protection of Freedoms Bill

This Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (SVGA) 2006 was passed to help avoid harm, or risk of harm, by preventing people who are deemed unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults from gaining access to them through their work. The Independent Safeguarding Authority was established as a result of this Act. On 1 December 2012 the Criminal Records Bureau and Independent Safeguarding Authority merged to become the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Organisations with responsibility for providing services or personnel to vulnerable groups have a legal obligation to refer relevant information to the service.

The Protection of Freedoms Bill (Chapter 1 of Part 5) amends the SGVA 2006, retaining the national barring function whilst abolishing registration and monitoring requirements. For further information see the Protection of Freedoms Bill Home Office Fact Sheet.

Ill treatment or wilful neglect

It is an offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 for an individual who has the care of another individual by virtue of being a care worker to ill-treat or wilfully to neglect that individual.

Under S44 of the Mental Capacity Act, ill-treatment and wilful neglect is a criminal offence for anyone, including those with powers of attorney and court appointed deputies, who has care of a person who lacks capacity

Ill treatment and wilful neglect are different. Ill treatment must be deliberate, is an offence irrespective of whether it causes harm, and involves an appreciation by the perpetrator that they were inexcusably ill-treating the person. Ill treatment includes acts such as hitting, administering sedatives to keep people quiet, pulling hair, rough treatment, verbal abuse or humiliation.

Wilful neglect is a failure to act rather than a deliberate act to commit harm. Managers with responsibility for ensuring good care can be held accountable but currently there is no offence of corporate neglect.

Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998

An important part of providing care is ensuring a working environment that encourages people to challenge practices in their own workplace. The law offers some protection from victimisation to people who blow the whistle under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998. The parameters of ‘protected disclosure’ are set out in the Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996. The person making the disclosure should not commit an offence in doing so (e.g. breach the Official Secrets Act 1989) and must reasonably believe one or more of the following:

  • that a criminal offence has been committed, is being committed or is likely to be committed
  • that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation to which he or she is subject
  • that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur
  • that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered
  • that the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged
  • that information tending to show any matter falling within any one of the preceding paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be deliberately concealed. (ERA1996).