What is safeguarding adults?


People with care and support needs, such as older people or people with disabilities, are more likely to be abused or neglected. They may be seen as an easy target and may be less likely to identify abuse themselves or to report it. People with communication difficulties can be particularly at risk because they may not be able to alert others. Sometimes people may not even be aware that they are being abused, and this is especially likely if they have a cognitive impairment. Abusers may try to prevent access to the person they abuse.

The formal adult safeguarding process is set out within the Care Act 2014, the statutory guidance to which defines adult safeguarding as:

Protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs in deciding on any action. This must recognise that adults sometimes have complex interpersonal relationships and may be ambivalent, unclear or unrealistic about their personal circumstances.

A local authority must act when it has ‘reasonable cause to suspect that an adult in its area (whether or not ordinarily resident there):

  • has needs for care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs),
  • is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect, and
  • as a result of those needs is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.’ (Care Act 2014, section 42)

Types of Abuse

The main types of abuse are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Modern slavery
  • Discriminatory abuse
  • Organisational or institutional abuse
  • Neglect or acts of omission
  • Self-neglect

Further information on each of these can be found on specific web pages.

The Six Principles of Safeguarding Adults

These six principles, which are embedded in the Care Act, apply to all health and care settings.

  1. Empowerment People being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent
  2. Prevention It is better to take action before harm occurs.
  3. Proportionality The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.
  4. Protection Support and representation for those in greatest need.
  5. Partnership Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.
  6. Accountability Accountability and transparency in safeguarding practice.