Skip to content

Safeguarding adults: sharing information

Published: January 2015 | Last updated: January 2019

This guide is part of a range of products to support implementation of the adult safeguarding aspects of the Care Act 2014. Sharing the right information, at the right time, with the right people, is fundamental to good practice in safeguarding adults but has been highlighted as a difficult area of practice.

Key messages

  • Adults have a general right to independence, choice and self-determination including control over information about themselves. In the context of adult safeguarding these rights can be overridden in certain circumstances.
  • Emergency or life-threatening situations may warrant the sharing of relevant information with the relevant emergency services without consent.
  • The law does not prevent the sharing of sensitive, personal information within organisations. If the information is confidential, but there is a safeguarding concern, sharing it may be justified.
  • The law does not prevent the sharing of sensitive, personal information between organisations where the public interest served outweighs the public interest served by protecting confidentiality – for example, where a serious crime may be prevented.
  • Information can be shared lawfully within the parameters of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • There should be a local agreement or protocol in place setting out the processes and principles for sharing information between organisations.
  • An individual employee cannot give a personal assurance of confidentiality.
  • Frontline staff and volunteers should always report safeguarding concerns in line with their organisation’s policy – this is usually to their line manager in the first instance except in emergency situations.
  • It is good practice to try to gain the person’s consent to share information.
  • As long as it does not increase risk, practitioners should inform the person if they need to share their information without consent.
  • Organisational policies should have clear routes for escalation where a member of staff feels a manager has not responded appropriately to a safeguarding concern.
  • All organisations must have a whistleblowing policy.
  • The management interests of an organisation should not override the need to share information to safeguard adults at risk of abuse.
  • All staff, in all partner agencies, should understand the importance of sharing safeguarding information and the potential risks of not sharing it.
  • All staff should understand who safeguarding applies to and how to report a concern.
  • The six safeguarding principles should underpin all safeguarding practice, including information-sharing.


This guide is part of a range of products to support implementation of the adult safeguarding aspects of the Care Act 2014. Sharing the right information, at the right time, with the right people, is fundamental to good practice in safeguarding adults but has been highlighted as a difficult area of practice.

Frontline staff and volunteers should always report safeguarding concerns in line with their organisation’s policy. Policies should be clear about how confidential information should be shared between departments in the same organisation. Effectiveness should be monitored and any internal communication problems resolved.

This guide focuses on the sharing of sensitive or personal information between the local authority and its safeguarding partners (including GPs and health, the police, service providers, housing, regulators and the Office of the Public Guardian) for safeguarding purposes. This may include information about individuals who are at risk of abuse or neglect, service providers or those who may pose a risk to others. It aims to enable partners to share information appropriately and lawfully in order to improve the speed and quality of safeguarding responses.

The Care Act emphasises the need to empower people, to balance choice and control for individuals against preventing harm and reducing risk, and to respond proportionately to safeguarding concerns. The Act deals with the role of the safeguarding adults board (SAB) in sharing strategic information to improve local safeguarding practice. Section 45 ‘the supply of information’ covers the responsibility of others to comply with any request for information from the safeguarding adults board for the purposes of progressing an enquiry.

Sharing information between organisations as part of day-to-day safeguarding practice is not covered in the Care Act because it is already covered in the common law duty of confidentiality, the Data Protection Act 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act. The Mental Capacity Act is also relevant as all those coming into contact with adults with care and support needs should be able to assess whether someone has the mental capacity to make a decision concerning risk, safety or sharing information. This guide summarises key parts of these laws to help increase understanding of the basic principles in relation to safeguarding practice and, in particular, the sharing of safeguarding information.

This guide will be useful to frontline workers and managers from a range of sectors who work with people with care and support needs.

Why do we need to share adult safeguarding information?

Organisations need to share safeguarding information with the right people at the right time to:

  • prevent death or serious harm
  • coordinate effective and efficient responses
  • enable early interventions to prevent the escalation of risk
  • prevent abuse and harm that may increase the need for care and support
  • maintain and improve good practice in safeguarding adults
  • reveal patterns of abuse that were previously undetected and that could identify others at risk of abuse
  • identify low-level concerns that may reveal people at risk of abuse
  • help people to access the right kind of support to reduce risk and promote wellbeing
  • help identify people who may pose a risk to others and, where possible, work to reduce offending behaviour
  • reduce organisational risk and protect reputation.

Barriers and solutions

Failures in communication and joint working

Adult serious case reviews (now called Safeguarding Adults Reviews) frequently highlight failures between safeguarding partners (local authorities, GPs and health, the police, housing, care providers) to communicate and work jointly. Such failures can lead to serious abuse and harm and in some cases, even death.

How to improve communication and joint working

  • Improve links between public protection forums: safeguarding boards, (children and adults), multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs)*, multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPAs)**, health and wellbeing boards and community safety partnerships.
  • Develop joint approaches to resolve disputes where it is not obvious who should respond to a concern (eg. for an individual who appears vulnerable but does not have care and support needs, for people who refuse support and for those who self-neglect.)
  • Where appropriate, include partner agencies in enquiries, safeguarding meetings and investigations.
  • Keep referring agencies informed of progress and outcomes and where appropriate, include them in enquiries and safeguarding meetings.
  • Monitor information-sharing practice between your organisation and its safeguarding partners.

* MARAC: A multi-agency risk assessment conference is a means of coordinating risk based responses to domestic abuse. [2]
** MAPPA: multi-agency public protection arrangements assess and manage the risks posed by sexual and violent offenders. [13]

Joint training and policy development
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of multi-agency procedures.
  • Agree common language, terms and definitions.
  • Bring together people from different organisations to develop shared perceptions of risk.
  • Improve understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of safeguarding partners to reduce negative attitudes.
  • Ensure all staff understand the basic principles of confidentiality, data protection, human rights and mental capacity in relation to information-sharing.

View SCIE’s Social Care TV film, Lessons from the murder of Steven Hoskin.

False perceptions about needing evidence or consent to share safeguarding information

Some frontline staff and managers can be over-cautious about sharing personal information, particularly if it is against the wishes of the individual concerned. They may also be mistaken about needing hard evidence or consent to share information. The risk of sharing information is often perceived as higher than it actually is. It is important that staff consider the risks of not sharing safeguarding information when making decisions.

How to address false perceptions

  • Raise awareness about responsibilities to share information (profession- or work role-specific guidance may help).
  • Encourage consideration of the risks of not sharing information.
  • Brief staff and volunteers on the basic principles of confidentiality and data protection.
  • Improve understanding of the Mental Capacity Act.
  • Provide a contact number for staff and volunteers to raise concerns.
  • Be clear in procedures about when to raise a safeguarding concern.
  • Assure staff and volunteers that they do not necessarily need to have evidence to raise a concern.

Complex networks between safeguarding partner agencies

The local authority has the lead responsibility for safeguarding adults with care and support needs, and the police and the NHS also have clear safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014. Clinical commissioning groups and the police will often have different geographical boundaries and different IT systems. Housing and social care service providers will also provide services across boundaries. This makes sharing information complex in practice.

The Care Act 2014 (Section 6) places duties on the local authority and its partners to cooperate in the exercise of their functions relevant to care and support including those to protect adults. The safeguarding adults board should ensure that it ‘has the involvement of all partners necessary to effectively carry out its duties’. [7]

Addressing problems caused by complex networks:

  • Agree clear communication channels at the safeguarding adults board and set them out in the strategic plan.
  • Develop partnership working between neighbouring local authorities.
  • Set up forums for partners that feed into the safeguarding adults board (e.g. people with care and support needs, carers, housing, service providers and regulators).
  • Develop shared databases that can identify people who may be at risk of abuse.
  • Be clear about responsibilities for self-funders and people for whom services are provided outside their local area.

Sharing information to prevent abuse and neglect

Sharing information between organisations about known or suspected risks may help to prevent abuse taking place. The safeguarding adults board has a key role to play in sharing information and intelligence on both local and national threats and risks. The board’s annual report must provide information about any safeguarding adults reviews (SARs). This can include learning to inform future prevention strategies.

Some areas have developed multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs) where key agencies are co-located to enable ‘real-time information-sharing, decision-making and communication’. [8]

Early evidence [8] suggests that multi-agency safeguarding hubs may improve:

  • identification of risk leading to early intervention and better preventative action
  • case management, preventing things getting lost in the system
  • understanding and scrutiny between professional roles
  • efficiency through better resource allocation and a reduction in duplication.

There may be benefits to other approaches that reflect local needs and resources. These include virtual links between organisations as opposed to co-location and establishing a single point of reporting. Whatever model suits the locality can be used – the emphasis is on improving the quality and speed of responses to safeguarding concerns through better information-sharing.

What if a person does not want you to share their information?

Frontline workers and volunteers should always share safeguarding concerns in line with their organisation’s policy, usually with their line manager or safeguarding lead in the first instance, except in emergency situations. As long as it does not increase the risk to the individual, the member of staff should explain their responsibility to share the concern with their manager.

Managers will need to make decisions about sharing information with external agencies, including the police and local authority. Individuals may not give their consent to the sharing of safeguarding information for a number of reasons. For example, they may be frightened of reprisals, they may fear losing control, they may not trust social services or other partners or they may fear that their relationship with the abuser will be damaged. Reassurance and appropriate support along with gentle persuasion may help to change their view on whether it is best to share information.

If a person refuses intervention to support them with a safeguarding concern, or requests that information about them is not shared with other safeguarding partners, their wishes should be respected. However, there are a number of circumstances where the practitioner can reasonably override such a decision, including:

  • the person lacks the mental capacity to make that decision – this must be properly explored and recorded in line with the Mental Capacity Act
  • other people are, or may be, at risk, including children
  • sharing the information could prevent a crime
  • the alleged abuser has care and support needs and may also be at risk 
  • a serious crime has been committed
  • staff are implicated
  • the person has the mental capacity to make that decision but they may be under duress or being coerced
  • the risk is unreasonably high and meets the criteria for a multi-agency risk assessment conference referral
  • a court order or other legal authority has requested the information.

If none of the above apply and the decision is not to share safeguarding information with other safeguarding partners, or not to intervene to safeguard the person:

  • support the person to weigh up the risks and benefits of different options
  • ensure they are aware of the level of risk and possible outcomes
  • offer to arrange for them to have an advocate or peer supporter
  • offer support for them to build confidence and self-esteem if necessary
  • agree on and record the level of risk the person is taking
  • record the reasons for not intervening or sharing information
  • regularly review the situation
  • try to build trust and use gentle persuasion to enable the person to better protect themselves.

If it is necessary to share information outside the organisation:

  • explore the reasons for the person’s objections – what are they worried about?
  • explain the concern and why you think it is important to share the information
  • tell the person who you would like to share the information with and why
  • explain the benefits, to them or others, of sharing information – could they access better help and support?
  • discuss the consequences of not sharing the information – could someone come to harm?
  • reassure them that the information will not be shared with anyone who does not need to know
  • reassure them that they are not alone and that support is available to them.

If the person cannot be persuaded to give their consent then, unless it is considered dangerous to do so, it should be explained to them that the information will be shared without consent. The reasons should be given and recorded. The safeguarding principle of proportionality should underpin decisions about sharing information without consent, and decisions should be on a case-by-case basis.

If it is not clear that information should be shared outside the organisation, a conversation can be had with safeguarding partners in the police or local authority without disclosing the identity of the person in the first instance. They can then advise on whether full disclosure is necessary without the consent of the person concerned.

It is very important that the risk of sharing information is also considered. In some cases, such as domestic violence or hate crime, it is possible that sharing information could increase the risk to the individual. Safeguarding partners need to work jointly to provide advice, support and protection to the individual in order to minimise the possibility of worsening the relationship or triggering retribution from the abuser.

SafeLives (previously CAADA) provide resources for identifying the risk victims face including a Dash risk checklist, which is a risk assessment tool for practitioners who work with adult victims of domestic abuse. It offers a consistent approach to identifying those who are at high risk of harm and whose cases should be referred to a MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference) meeting in order to manage their risk. If you are concerned about risk to a child or children, you should make a referral to ensure that a full assessment of their safety and welfare is made.

Sharing information with carers, family or friends

It is good practice, unless there are clear reasons for not doing so, to work with the carers, family and friends of an individual to help them to get the care and support they need. Sharing information with these people should always be with the consent of the individual. If the person lacks the mental capacity to make a decisions about sharing information with key people, then the Mental Capacity Act should be followed to ensure each decision to share information is in the person’s best interests. Decisions and reasoning should always be recorded.

What if a safeguarding partner is reluctant to share information?

There are only a limited number of circumstances where it would be acceptable not to share information pertinent to safeguarding with relevant safeguarding partners. These would be where the person involved has the mental capacity to make the decision and does not want their information shared and:

  • nobody else is at risk
  • no serious crime has been or may be committed
  • the alleged abuser has no care and support needs 
  • no staff are implicated
  • no coercion or duress is suspected
  • the public interest served by disclosure does not outweigh the public interest served by protecting confidentiality
  • the risk is not high enough to warrant a multi-agency risk assessment conference referral
  • no other legal authority has requested the information.

Safeguarding adults boards should set out a clear policy for dealing with conflict on information-sharing. If there is continued reluctance from one partner to share information on a safeguarding concern the matter should be referred to the board. It can then consider whether the concern warrants a request, under Clause 45 of the Care Act, for the ‘supply of information’. Then the reluctant party would only have grounds for refusal if it would be ‘incompatible with their own duties or have an adverse effect on the exercise of their functions’. [7]

Powers or obligations to share information

Referring to the Disclosure and Barring Service

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (2006) places specific duties on those providing regulated activities. An employer must refer to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) anyone who has been dismissed or removed from their role because they are thought to have harmed, or pose a risk of harm to, a child or adult with care and support needs. This applies even if they have left their job and regardless of whether they have been convicted of a related crime.

A Disclosure and Barring Service has a factsheet on Local authority: Referral duty and power

Professional codes of practice

Many professionals, including those in health and social care, are registered with a body and governed by a code of practice or conduct. These codes often require those professionals to report any safeguarding concerns in line with legislation.

Care workers or care assistants are not registered but there is a voluntary code of conduct published by Skills for Care. The code states that as a healthcare support worker or adult social care worker in England, you must:

  • report any actions or omissions by yourself or colleagues that you feel may compromise the safety or care of people who use health and care services and, if necessary use whistleblowing procedures to report any suspected wrongdoing.
  • challenge and report dangerous, abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour or practice.
  • report things that you feel are not right, are illegal, or if anyone at work is neglecting their duties. This includes when someone’s health and safety is in danger, damage to the environment, a criminal offence, that the company is not obeying the law (like not having the right insurance), or covering up wrongdoing.

Social workers are registered by Social Work England. The professional standards require social workers to:

…respect and promote the human rights, views, wishes and feelings of the people [they] work with, balancing rights and risks and enabling access to advice, advocacy, support and services.

…report allegations of harm and challenge and report exploitation and any dangerous, abusive or discriminatory behaviour or practice.

Duty of candour

Regulations under the Care Act place a duty of candour on all service providers registered with the Care Quality Commission from April 2015. The duty:

  • aims to ensure transparency and honesty when things go wrong
  • requires providers to tell the person concerned when something has gone wrong as soon as possible and provide support to them
  • includes giving an apology and keeping the person informed about any further enquiries.


Those commissioning services should consider whether contracts should place an obligation on service providers to share safeguarding information. Any specifications would need to be in line with policy, regulation and the law.

SCIE resources on Adult Safeguarding: Commissioning

Sharing information on prisoners

The statutory guidance to the Care Act requires local authorities to share information about people with care and support needs in, or in transition from or to, prison or custodial settings. This includes ‘the sharing of information about risk to the prisoner and others where this is relevant’. [7]

Sharing information on those who may pose a risk to others

The police can keep records on any person known to be a target or perpetrator of abuse and share such information with safeguarding partners for the purposes of protection ‘under Section 115 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, provided that criteria outlined in the legislation are met’. All police forces now have IT systems in place to help identify repeat and vulnerable victims of antisocial behaviour.

The statutory guidance to the Care Act states that safeguarding adults boards should have a ‘framework and process for any organisation under the umbrella of the SAB to respond to allegations and issues of concern that are raised about a person who may have harmed or who may pose a risk to adults’. The control of information in respect of individual cases must be in accordance with accepted Data Protection and Confidentiality requirements’.

What does the law say about sharing information?

Information-sharing is related to a number of different pieces of legislation:

Six safeguarding principles

People being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent.

It is better to take action before harm occurs.

The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.

Support and representation for those in greatest need.

Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.

Accountability and transparency in safeguarding practice.

Seven golden rules for information-sharing

  1. Remember that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is not a barrier to sharing information but provides a framework to ensure that personal information about living persons is shared appropriately.
  2. Be open and honest with the person (and/or their family where appropriate) from the outset about why, what, how and with whom information will, or could be, shared, and seek their agreement, unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
  3. Seek advice if you are in any doubt, without disclosing the identity of the person where possible.
  4. Share with consent where appropriate and, where possible, respect the wishes of those who do not consent to share confidential information. You may still share information without consent if, in your judgement, that lack of consent can be overridden in the public interest. You will need to base your judgement on the facts of the case.
  5. Consider safety and wellbeing: base your information-sharing decisions on considerations of the safety and wellbeing of the person and others who may be affected by their actions. 
  6. Necessary, proportionate, relevant, accurate, timely and secure: ensure that the information you share is necessary for the purpose for which you are sharing it, is shared only with those people who need to have it, is accurate and up to date, is shared in a timely fashion, and is shared securely.
  7. Keep a record of your decision and the reasons for it – whether it is to share information or not. If you decide to share, then record what you have shared, with whom and for what purpose.



2 – SafeLives (previously CAADA) Information about MARACs.

3 – North Yorkshire Safeguarding Adults Board (2012a) ‘Serious case review in respect of “Robert”‘.

4 – North Yorkshire Safeguarding Adults Board (2013b) ‘Annual report 2012/13’.

5 – Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC) (2009) ‘IPCC report into the contact between Fiona Pilkington and Leicestershire Constabulary 2004-2007‘.

6 – Home Office and ACPO (2012) ‘Focus on the victim: summary report on the ASB call handling trials’.

7 – Department of Health (2014) ‘Care and support statutory guidance‘.

8 – Home Office (2014) ‘Multi-agency working and information sharing project: final report‘.

2 – Department of Constitutional Affairs (2007) ‘Mental Capacity Act code of practice‘.

13 – Ministry of Justice, HM Prison Service and National Offender Management Service (2014) Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA)

Safeguarding adults: sharing information