Health and social care rights

Explains your rights to social care, and how this differs from healthcare. Includes information on eligibility, needs assessments, financial assessments, and how local authorities may meet your needs. Applies to England and Wales.

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What is safeguarding in social care?

What is safeguarding?

Safeguarding means protecting your right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. Local authorities have duties under the law towards people who are experiencing abuse or neglect (or are at risk of either).

Who do the safeguarding duties apply to?

Local authorities have safeguarding duties towards you if you are an adult and:

  • you have needs for care and support (even if the local authority is not meeting your needs)
  • you are experiencing, or are at risk of, abuse or neglect
  • as a result of your needs, you are unable to protect yourself against abuse or neglect, or the risk of it.

In these pages we refer to someone to whom the local authority owes safeguarding duties as 'a person at risk'.

Note: Local authorities do also have safeguarding duties towards children, but the information in these pages only covers adults.

What do abuse and neglect mean?

Abuse can mean:

  • physical abuse
  • domestic abuse (including psychological and emotional abuse)
  • psychological abuse (including humiliating you, isolating you, bullying you – either in person or online)
  • financial abuse (having your money or possessions stolen or misused or coercing you into a financial arrangement)
  • sexual abuse
  • discriminatory abuse.

Neglect can mean:

  • ignoring medical, physical or emotional care needs
  • failing to provide you with access to health, care and support or educational services
  • withholding necessities of life, such as food, medication and heating
  • self-neglect (this can cover a wide range of behaviour such as neglecting your personal hygiene, health or surroundings, and can include behaviours such as hoarding).

What safeguarding duties does the local authority have?

If the local authority has good reason to believe you're a person at risk (meaning safeguarding duties apply), and you are in its area, then it must make an enquiry so it can decide what action should be taken.

What is an enquiry?

An enquiry might just be a conversation with you, or it may be a more formal multi-agency investigation. It depends on the circumstances.

The aim of an enquiry is to:

  • find out the facts
  • see what your views are
  • assess whether you need protection, support and redress (such as compensation if you have lost money)
  • protect you from the abuse and neglect, taking into account your wishes
  • make decisions about follow-up action
  • help you come to terms with what has happened and move towards recovery.

You should be fully involved in the enquiry. If you have difficulty in being involved, then the local authority should appoint an advocate for you.

What happens after an enquiry?

Once the enquiry has happened, and the local authority knows what your wishes are, there are a number of things that could happen:

  • There could be no further action.
  • Staff could be disciplined (for example if you had been abused or neglected by a care worker).
  • If the enquiry reveals that a criminal offence has been committed against you, then the local authority will pass over the enquiry to the police.
  • The local authority could prepare a safeguarding plan which might set out:
    • what future steps should be taken
    • what further support, treatment or information you may need
    • what further risk prevention strategies should be undertaken.

What is a 'safeguarding adults board'?

All local authorities must have a safeguarding adults board. Its purpose is to:

  • help and protect adults at risk in their areas
  • conduct safeguarding adult reviews when there are concerns about how the authorities have responded, or it is suspected that an adult has suffered severe abuse or neglect or has died as a result of abuse or neglect.

The board is made up of:

Other people, such as GPs or members of user, advocacy or carers groups can also be invited to attend some meetings.


This information was published in February 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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