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Adult support and protection

About protecting adults

The Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 is a piece of law to try to protect people from being harmed. This is because some people may find it more difficult to stop harm from happening to them. The Act calls people in this situation 'adults at risk'.

The Act defines adults at risk as people aged 16 years or over who:

  • are unable to safeguard themselves, their property (their home, the things they own), their rights or other interests;
  • are at risk of harm; and
  • because they are affected by a disability, mental disorder, illness or physical or mental infirmity, are more vulnerable to being harmed than others who are not so affected.

What is harm?

Harm can take a wide range of forms. It can be intentional - often called abuse. However, harm is often unintentional - and can happen through accident, lack of knowledge, skill or understanding.

Harm can be caused through what is done, or not done- so, where care and support are not provided when they are needed, it can cause harm.

Physical harm

Slapping, punching, biting, hitting, shaking and kicking are all forms of physical harm, as are poor medications management, and concerns regarding falls and frailty.

Psychological harm

Psychological harm includes being humiliated, intimidated, shouted at, threatened, bullied or constantly criticised. It can also mean being controlled by someone, ignored or left alone. Psychological harm is often an outcome where an adult is at risk of other types of harm. The psychological impact of harm can last longer than the physical or financial impact.


Neglect involves denying medical or physical care, access to a doctor or other services. It could be denying someone medication, food or heating, privacy or dignity. It can also mean self-neglect. Sometimes carers struggle to maintain a level of care that results in unintentional neglect.

Signs of harm

Possible signs of harm are:

Physical harm

  • unexplained or unusual injuries
  • a delay in seeking treatment for injuries or illness
  • a sudden increase in confusion
  • unexplained deterioration of health or appearance

Psychological harm

  • people being anxious or afraid
  • misuse of medication, that is, not giving medicines properly
  • unexplained changes of behaviour, becoming anxious or withdrawn, fear of another person
  • pressure by family or professionals to have someone moved into, or taken out of, care
  • hostile or unkind behaviour by a person

Financial harm

  • unexplained debt, not paying bills for services
  • another person using the adult's possessions, bank account or property without his or her informed consent


  • not having their basic needs met, such as adequate food or heating
  • not being provided with adequate information about their rights or entitlements, or being misinformed
  • the adult at risk not receiving appropriate care, which would protect them from harm

Sexual harm

  • prejudicial actions or remarks to the adult at risk about age, gender, disability, race, colour, sexual or religious orientation
  • unexplained changes of behaviour, becoming anxious or withdrawn, fear of another person. 

Where harm can happen

Because harm can often be linked to someone’s care needs and their inability to protect themselves, harm often happens in a place where a person should feel safest. Harm can happen anywhere including the family home, a hospital ward, care home, day centre, work or a public place.

Who can cause harm

Anyone can cause an adult to be at risk of harm. Because of the nature of harm, it is not unusual for this to be someone an adult knows well. 

This includes:

  • someone who the adult works with
  • a relative or friend
  • someone supporting the adult, either as a paid or unpaid carer or support
  • the adult themselves

After harm is reported

Councils have a duty under the Act to make enquiries into an adult's wellbeing, property or financial affairs, where they know or believe an adult may be at risk of harm.

Reports that an adult may be at risk can come from the community (friend, relative, neighbour, carer) or from another public body such as the police or the NHS. In either case, the relevant social work department is legally required to look into it.

If you phone in to report a concern, your identity will be kept confidential unless you have given permission for it to be passed on.

A person's rights

The Act is about achieving a balance between respecting people's rights and taking action where necessary to support and protect them.

The Act exists to provide the necessary support to help individuals live their lives as they wish. If the local council is worried about someone, they can visit and speak to the person they are worried about. The council cannot take any action without the consent of the person.

The council must also take account of:

  • the wishes and feelings of the adult at risk (past and present); and
  • the views of others, such as the adult's nearest relative or others with an interest in the person's well-being.

An individual thought to be at risk of harm has the right, as long as there are not concerns that they are under undue pressure, to choose to be part of any adult protection investigation. They can choose not to be interviewed or answer questions.

They also have a right to advocacy support.


Page last updated:
14 Feb 2024

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