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Publication, Part of

Safeguarding Adults, England, 2021-22

Official statistics

Data Quality Statement


This chapter constitutes a background data quality report. For more specific information about the quality of the latest year’s data see the Data Quality Key Information section in the Introduction and Key Points chapter.

This data quality statement will provide users with an evidence-based assessment of the quality of the data used in the Safeguarding Adults Collection experimental statistics, reporting against the nine European Statistical System (ESS) quality dimensions and principles appropriate to this output.

In doing so, this meets our obligation to comply with the  UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) Code of Practice for Official Statistics, particularly Principle Q3.1 which states that ”Statistics should be produced to a level of quality that meets users’ needs. The strengths and limitations of the statistics and data should be considered in relation to different uses, and clearly explained alongside the statistics.”


The degree to which a statistical product meets user needs in terms of content and coverage

The purpose of the Safeguarding Adults publication is to inform government in their role to monitor the impact of social care policy and practice. In particular it may help support the Department of Health and Social Care develop adult safeguarding policy. The data can be used to estimate the amount and type of safeguarding activity taking place. This can help to inform assessments of how policy reforms might impact on the volume and nature of safeguarding work carried out by local social services, the police, the NHS and other agencies. The data also help to inform speeches and briefings for ministers and senior officials.

It is also used by local government to assess activity, and Safeguarding Adult Boards, and their independent Chairs, to build a picture of safeguarding activity in each local area as part of their remit to provide assurance that safeguarding arrangements are in place. Local authorities have informed us of a number of ways they have found safeguarding data useful to them:

  • measuring/monitoring local performance
  • sharing best practice
  • policy development
  • service development, planning and improvement
  • management information, local reporting, accountability
  • informing business cases
  • identifying any immediate priorities/areas for concern

The information can also used by others such as researchers and journalists looking at local authority performance, charitable organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and Mind, and by service users and the public to hold local authorities and the government to account.

Accuracy and reliability

The difference between an estimated value and the true value.

NHS Digital process all submissions following the mandated submission deadline and produce an automated data quality summary report for each submitting local authority. The data quality summary report examines variance in volume of activity in comparison to the previous year volumes, and the completeness and validity of the data submitted. It includes a number of data integrity validations, primarily ensuring that different tables had the same total values where relevant. There was also the facility for submitters to record observations and explanations regarding their data. This leads to clarification being sought and double checking carried out by local authority officials, where figures are deemed to be outliers; potential errors and misunderstandings are known to have been eliminated.

Local authorities then had an opportunity to amend and resubmit their data and add any supporting commentary if they wished to before the second and final deadline. Senior sign-off is required before local authorities can make their final submission to indicate the data has been subject to full quality assurance.

NHS Digital works with local authorities to resolve any residual issues, to ensure that the data submitted reflects as accurate a picture of safeguarding activity in the year as possible. In some instances, this was not possible before the final data submission deadline; any data issues that were unresolved are noted in the data quality key information.

The finalised data were subject to the same data quality analysis and the results are shown the data tables of this publication. It is hoped that this analysis will provide users of the report with a clearer sense of the quality controls applied to the underlying data both at a national level and at individual local authority level.

There is a hierarchical governance structure overseeing the data collection: a SAC Working Group investigates data quality issues and advise on how to manage these. This in turn reports to the Data Delivery Action Group, and then to the Data and Outcomes Board for senior stakeholder approval.


The collection was sent to all 152 local authorities and responses were mandatory, regardless of whether safeguarding cases had been handled in the reporting year by the authority. Returns were received from 151 of the 152 local authorities. Nil returns were acceptable and are valid, though none were received; all local authorities that submitted a data return, reported some safeguarding activity.

Hackney were not able provide any data for 2020-21 and 2021-22 due to a serious cyber-attack. The Key Measures and all other data at national  and regional levels has been estimated. Please see the Data Quality Key Information section for more details

In the SAC data tables provided by local authorities, all data relating to individuals involved in safeguarding concerns and “Other” safeguarding enquiries are submitted on a voluntary basis, (except for table SG1f). Furthermore (in table SG1e) there are 18 reported health conditions (RHC) for which collection and submission remain voluntary for Section 42 enquiries.

Timeliness and punctuality

Timeliness describes the time between the date of publication and the date to which the data refer. Punctuality describes the time between the actual publication and the planned publication of a statistic.

This report contains data for the financial year and covers the period 1 April to 31 March. The publication is released several months after the final submission deadline when local authorities provide the data to NHS Digital, following data processing, analysis and validation.

The release is in line with updated pre-announced publication dates.

Accessibility and clarity

Accessibility describes the ease with which users can access data.

This publication is available from the NHS Digital website and consists of data tables (including statistics by local authority) in Microsoft Excel format, reference documents in html format and a web-based Power BI comparator tool.

The publication includes many of the Government Statistical Service recommendations on improving accessibility of spreadsheets for users with disabilities. This guidance aims to help producers of government statistics and analysis meet the UK accessibility regulations for public sector websites.

Reuse of our data is subject to conditions outlined here:

Clarity describes the quality and sufficiency of metadata, illustrations and accompanying advice

A list of the data items collected together with their definitions can be found in the guidance notes for the data collection here and in the adult social care data dictionary.

The documents under the SAC section can be used to identify what data have been collected from local authorities and to understand the terminology used within the SAC reporting products.

Background information and context around Safeguarding Adults legislation and the data collection is also presented as part of the publication.

Coherence and comparability

Coherence is the degree to which data derived from different sources or methods, but that refers to the same topic, is similar

There are no other nationally published sources of data on adult safeguarding activity with which these data could be compared.

Data is sourced from each local authority in England and compiled at national level by NHS Digital. There is no standard system used to record SAC within local authorities and there are gaps in our understanding as to how this impacts on coherence and comparability. However, the metadata defined by NHS Digital and used by local authorities to extract the data from their systems and provide to NHS Digital is well defined and accessible to all. A SAC Working Group, including those who use local administrative systems in their data to day work, exists to provide advice and clarification to NHS Digital on such matters. 

Comparability is the degree to which data can be compared over time and domain, for example, geographic level

The SAC is an updated version of the Safeguarding Adults Return (SAR) which collected safeguarding data for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 reporting periods. Changes were made to bring the collection in line with the Care Act (2014). Some of the categories collected have remained the same but there are also some significant differences.

The main change is in how cases opened in the reporting year are categorised. Previous reports have used individuals “Known” and “Unknown” to the local authority, but this distinction was removed in the SAC. Previous reports recorded details of individuals with Safeguarding Referrals, but the SAC now records individuals with Safeguarding Enquiries. While these will be largely equivalent they may not be directly comparable, and care will need to be taken when comparing to data prior to 2015-16. Since 2015-16 the publication has utilised the Care Act 2014 definitions to classify individuals involved under Section 42 of the Act.

There have also been some changes since 2015-16 in terms of the voluntary/mandatory nature of providing some data items. These are detailed in the guidance notes for each annual SAC collection.

Publications from previous years can be found at:

As mentioned above, Hackney council were not able to make a submission for the 2021-22 or 2020-1 SAC. The 2019-20 SAC data return was used when calculating the England, Regional and Council type averages.

Survey of local practice

There is a degree of variation between local authorities in reporting certain measures of the SAC. In many instances this variation will result from differing interpretations of the Care Act by local authorities, rather than from poor data quality per se. In order to better understand local practice across England, NHS Digital undertook a voluntary survey of local authorities following closure of the submission window to understand how they defined and recording aspects of adult safeguarding within their SAC submission. Responses can be used to inform analysis of the data and have been published verbatim. Users are encouraged to use these responses to aid interpretation of the data submitted by local authorities and any differences between local authorities.

The data and survey responses indicate care must be taken when comparing the following areas:

Safeguarding concerns: The data identifies a wide variety in the numbers of concerns submitted by local authorities, and in particular the ‘conversion rate’ of concerns to enquiries. Discussions with local authorities have identified that differing approaches to how concerns are addressed by the ‘front door’ services will vary from council. In some local authorities concerns are filtered out before they reach the safeguarding team and are not included in the submitted data. Where they exist, Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASHs) may have an impact on the numbers of concerns that are reported in the SAC. Care must be taken in inferring differences in safeguarding practice through the conversion rates.

Enquiry ‘threshold’: The point at which initial investigations following a concern then become an enquiry varies according to explanations provided by data providers. Some apply a higher threshold than others, and this should be acknowledged when comparing volumes of safeguarding enquiries between local authorities.

Section 42 and Other enquiries: The methodology by which local authorities determine whether enquiries are undertaken under Section 42 of the Care Act or not varies, as can be seen from the counts of Other queries submitted in the SAC. Therefore, care should be taken when comparing data in these chapters as there will not be a complete picture of safeguarding in those authorities with high numbers proportions of Other enquiries. It should be noted that the distinction between Section 42 and Other enquiries only exists within the SAC; within the survey and 43.6% of completed responses stated that the distinction between Section 42 and Other was not used for local reporting purposes.

Trade-offs between output quality components

Trade-offs are the extent to which different aspects of quality are balanced against each other

In order to balance aspects of data quality two data submission periods are made available for local authorities. Data Quality reports and support were made available to those local authorities who submitted by the first deadline, in order to give data providers the opportunity to address any issues found. Local authorities were able to make updates to their data during this validation period. After the second submission period the dataset is then finalised. Any issues remaining are noted in the data quality information published, but no attempt is made to amend the data. Two local authorities did not make a submission by the first deadline and so did not receive a data quality report.

Assessment of user needs and perceptions

The processes for finding out about users and uses, and their views on the statistical products

The content of the Safeguarding Adults Collection was determined as a result of a review of the NHS Digital adult social care data collections which began in 2010. The review considered changes in the delivery of social care and looked into what information should be provided to monitor the most important current and future priorities. With the approval of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and other key stakeholder organisation, including the Association of the Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), changes were made to the Safeguarding data collection, as described in the consultation report.

A Working Group exists with the aim of developing the Safeguarding Adults Collection to reflect the requirements of users and policy. The group includes representatives from NHS Digital, ADASS, Department of Health, Care Quality Commission and local authorities.

Following closure of the data submission window, data providers had the opportunity to complete an online user survey to provide feedback on all Adult Social Care data collections and reporting processes hosted by NHS Digital for 2018-19

We are always interested in knowing if the Safeguarding Adults Collection is meeting your needs and, if not, what improvements we could make for the future. If you would like to make any comments, please contact us as below:

Email: [email protected]  

Telephone Enquiries: 0300 303 5678

Performance, cost and respondent burden

The SAC collection is mandated for all local authorities. The data collection process used in this publication is subject to assurance by the Data Alliance Partnership Board.  This is to ensure that data collections do not duplicate other collections, minimise the cost to all parties and have a specific use for the data collected.

The burden of the SAC collection has been assessed and approved, the burden of any changes to the collection are similarly assessed, to ensure that they do not create undue burden for local authorities.

Confidentiality, transparency and security

All statistics are subject to a standard NHS Digital risk assessment prior to issue. The risk assessment considers the sensitivity of the data and whether any of the reporting products may disclose information about specific individuals. Methods of disclosure control are discussed and the most appropriate methods implemented. As a result of this process, all statistics associated with this data collection have been rounded to the nearest multiple of five, and values less than five have been suppressed in tables where necessary. All percentages are rounded to the nearest 0.1 per cent.

NHS Digital aims to be transparent in all its activities. A description of the collection process and any issues with the quality of the SAC data are documented in the publication.

SAC data are submitted to NHS Digital through a secure electronic file transfer system called SDCS. The submitted files are transferred from SDCS and stored on a secure network with restricted access folders. Only a limited number of analysts are granted access to the SAC folders.

Please see links below for more information about related NHS Digital policies:

Statistical Governance Policy [Archive Content]

Freedom of Information Process

Data Access Request Service

Privacy and data protection


Last edited: 13 June 2023 8:37 am