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Adult support and protection

Guidance for professionals

Protecting adults

'Adult protection' is a general term covering the laws, policies and procedures that inform the responses from public bodies including local councils, health boards, the police and the Care Inspectorate.

These organisations are responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of people suspected of being 'at risk.'

Inevitably, whilst the specific legal responsibilities may seem clear enough, they are open to interpretation. Responses for individual situations are not always obvious and rarely straightforward. Furthermore, adult protection is not just about protecting adults from harm. It is also about:

  • providing support that will enable people to continue to make choices and live an independent life; and
  • educating the wider public to recognise what constitutes harm and, where necessary, take the appropriate action.

If you work with adults at risk of harm, we hope that this information will help you to:

  • raise awareness about the need to protect adults who may be at risk of harm
  • understand your legal responsibilities
  • identify situations where you could help to prevent an adult from being harmed in the future
  • print and pass on information to people who may not be able to access the website themselves
  • keep abreast of relevant news and events
  • access information about the North Lanarkshire Adult Protection Committee.

However, those working in this field must remain aware that their powers and duties now form part of a legal framework under which they must operate.

The specific legal responsibilities include:

Duty to report

Where a member of one of the public bodies listed above knows or believes that an adult is at risk of harm and that action could be taken to protect them from that harm, the facts and circumstances of the case must be reported to the council. The consent of the adult is not required.

Duty to inquire

The council must make inquiries to establish whether action is required where it is known or believed that an adult is at risk of harm.

Duty to cooperate

The public bodies listed above must cooperate with each other where it is likely to enable or assist the council making inquiries.

Duty to share information

Under section 10 of the 2007 Act, a council officer is entitled to access any health, financial or other records relating to the adult. This means that any person holding such records is required by law to give the council access to them.

Preventing harm

'Prevention is better than cure' - Desiderius Erasmus

Although there will be some occasions where the crime of harming an adult is conscious and premeditated, there will be other occasions where harm is the end result of a number of factors that have built over a period of time. Levels of harm may also escalate when not identified and dealt with quickly.

For these reasons, as professionals we must:

  • be aware of and ready to identify factors that could ultimately lead to an incidence of harm
  • help to raise awareness of what constitutes harm so that individual cases are identified and reported sooner

In community, medical and academic fields, protection is defined in three stages:

  1. primary prevention
  2. identification and intervention
  3. support and ongoing protection following an abusive incident

It is clearly in everyone's interests to place level one, empowering the adult and providing high standards of care and support, as the primary adult protection goal for all relevant agencies and individuals.

Support for carers

Carers are often in a prime position to spot an incidence of or potential for adult harm. They are also an easy target for blame either directly or indirectly when an adult has been harmed. Indeed, when the 2007 Act was passed a number of bodies expressed concern that it could end up criminalising or demonising stressed carers.

Carers are effectively on the front line. We should be working with them at every turn to raise awareness about the issues surrounding adult protection and what can be done to prevent harm from occurring. As part of this, we have a responsibility to feed into the process of ensuring that carers know where to turn for support. They need support on a number of levels because:

  • Taking on a caring role can mean facing a life of poverty, isolation, frustration, ill health and depression.
  • Many carers give up an income, future employment prospects and pension rights to become a carer.
  • Many carers also work outside the home and are trying to juggle jobs with their responsibilities as carers.
  • The majority of carers struggle alone and do not know that help is available to them.
  • Carers say that access to information, financial support and breaks in caring are vital in helping them manage the impact of caring on their lives.

Fortunately, there are a number of organisations with support networks and advice to offer. In addition to making carers aware of these, an assessment of needs can be carried out - find out more information is available to carers


Where a report of possible harm has been made, the adult in question may require an advocate to help support them through the investigation.

Find out more about advocacy in North Lanarkshire.

Working with young people

The Adult Support and Protection legislation defines an adult as being someone who is 16 or older. Any young person who has had their 16th birthday, is being harmed and is considered to be 'at risk' as defined in the adult protection legislation is covered by this law. They may also still be covered by children's legislation, including the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, or the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

It is essential that any public body employee who is involved in ensuring the welfare of a young person is aware and has knowledge of the Adult Support and Protection legislation. This includes an awareness of the various duties, including the duty to report a concern to North Lanarkshire Council. Council officers will have the authority to seek cooperation across all public bodies and, where appropriate, to make use of a range of protective orders.

Information sharing

Existing law allows information to be disclosed without consent:

  • where required by law (either a court order or statute), or
  • where such disclosure is in the public interest.

Where a council officer obtains information because disclosure is in the public interest, the disclosure must be proportionate to the level of harm that the officer is investigating.

Crime detection and prosecution, as well as prevention, may provide legitimate grounds for disclosure.

Under Section 10 of the Adult Protection legislation, a 'council officer' (the social worker carrying out an adult protection investigation) may require any person holding health, financial or other records relating to an adult known or believed to be at risk, to make those records availability or provide copies. This will enable the council to decide whether it needs to do anything to protect the adult at risk from harm.

In accordance with the principles set out in the legislation, the adult's consent should be obtained prior to any information being obtained. Where such consent cannot be obtained, the adult should, if possible, be informed about the information sharing.

Whilst confidentiality is important, it is not an absolute right. Co-operation in sharing information is essential to enable full inquiries and investigations. However, information should only be shared with those who need to know and only if it is relevant to the particular concern identified.

Page last updated:
14 Feb 2024

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