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Publication, Part of

Safeguarding Adults, England, 2021-22

Official statistics

Supporting Information

This section provides further information about the Safeguarding Adults process and the categories of safeguarding activity captured in the SAC.


The Care Act 2014 came into effect on 1 April 2015. It reformed the way the adult social care system works in England, including how care is delivered. The changes included a range of new obligations for local authorities around the provision of information and advice, the integration of care and support with health-related services and eligibility assessments. It also strengthened the rights and recognition of carers in the social care system, and (relevant for this collection) provided a legal basis for safeguarding adults from abuse or neglect.

 Safeguarding Adults is a statutory duty of the Care Act, and must be seen within the context of broader Care Act reforms, which introduced a duty to promote wellbeing and to ‘adopt a flexible approach that allows for a focus on which aspects of wellbeing matter most to the individual concerned’. Application of the six statutory safeguarding principle and Making Safeguarding Personal supports practice capable of achieving a wide range of responses tailored to meet the needs of the individual.

Under the criteria set out in Section 42 part 1 of the Act:

Where a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that an adult in its area (whether or not ordinarily resident there):

(a) has needs for care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs) and

(b) is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect and

(c) as a result of those needs is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it,

then the local authority must, as set out in Section 42 part 2 of the Act, make (or cause to be made) whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in the adult’s case and, if so, what and by whom.

The SAC has been in place since 2015-16 and 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 was in how cases opened in the reporting year are categorised. Previous reports used individuals “Known” and “Unknown” to the local authority, but this distinction has been removed. 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 recent publications with data prior to the 2015-16 reporting period contained in the two SAR reports.

The data collection has evolved since then in fairly minor ways, with any changes being signed-off by the appropriate governance boards. The approval process involves the SAC Working Group (comprising a cohort of local authority safeguarding leads and performance leads to advise on the data collection), the Adult Social Care Data Delivery Action Group (a national group overseeing adult social care data collections, publications and the working groups, and which consists of NHS Digital, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Local Government Association, Care Quality Commission and Department of Health and Social Care) and the Adult Social Care Data and Outcomes Board (a strategic national group setting the priorities for adult social care national data collections, publications and associated developments).

Any changes to the collection have been communicated to local authorities via a Data Provision Notice and are also detailed in the annual ‘September Letter’ and the associated social care collection materials.

Safeguarding Concerns

For the purposes of the SAC a safeguarding concern is a sign of suspected abuse or neglect that is reported to the local authority or identified by the local authority.

The SAC captures information about concerns that were raised during the reporting year, that is, the date the concern was raised with the local authority falls within the reporting year, regardless of the date the incident took place.

Safeguarding concerns can include cases of domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, and modern slavery and self-neglect. Paragraph 14.17 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance (DHSC, 2018) outlines other aspects of abuse and neglect.

Some concerns will trigger a Section 42 enquiry, or an Other enquiry as described below. Others will require responses outside of formal safeguarding processes and are therefore not reported in the SAC.

An initiative led by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), aims to achieve greater understanding and clarity across sectors of what constitutes a safeguarding concern so that people get a response that is right for them. This may have an impact on the data that is collected in the SAC and therefore the associated guidance will be revised for future years.  

The Section 42 duty and Safeguarding Adults Enquiries

Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 (S42) is the legislation under which local authorities operate when a safeguarding concern is raised. It ensures support to keep people safe who may be at risk of or experiencing abuse/neglect.

LGA and ADASS have developed a framework to support local authorities in making decisions on the duty to carry out Safeguarding Adults enquiries. As previously mentioned in Data Quality key information, this framework was developed in response to the range of different practices around safeguarding, in part evidenced through the large variations seen in the SAC and the responses to the Survey of Local Practice 2018

The framework clarifies that the S42 duty on the local authority exists from the point at which a concern is received. This does not mean that all activity from that point will be reported under the duty to make enquiries as a safeguarding enquiry in the SAC. This is because the S42 duty is carried out under two parts of the Care Act 2014,  S42(1) and S42(2), and it may turn out that the S42(2) duty is not triggered because the concern does not meet the S42(1) criteria. This is explained in more detail below.

Section 42 Enquiries

The S42(1) criteria state that where there is reasonable cause to suspect:

(a) the adult has needs for care AND support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs)


(b) the adult is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect


(c) as a result of those needs is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.

Then, where ALL the S42(1) criteria are met, the enquiry and decision on what action to take (including taking no action) will follow under the duty to make enquiries described in S42(2) and should be reported as a Section 42 Enquiry in the SAC.

Information gathering is done under the duty described in S42(1). The S42(2) safeguarding enquiry that is triggered when the S42(1) criteria are met is set out in the Care Act as follows:

‘The local authority must make (or cause to be made) whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in the adult’s case (whether under this Part or otherwise) and, if so, what and by whom’ (Care Act, 2014, S42(2)). An enquiry could range from a conversation with the adult to a more formal multi-agency plan or course of action.

The duty to make enquiries under S42(2) is not a prescriptive process in the way it was before the Care Act (2014) but consists of activity to inform decision-making and the actions to be taken.

Other Safeguarding Adults Enquiries

Those enquiries where an adult does not meet all of the S42(1) criteria but the local authority considers it necessary and proportionate to have a safeguarding enquiry should be reported as an Other Safeguarding Enquiry in the SAC.

Whilst each local authority has the jurisdiction to decide what safeguarding activity they undertake for adults who do not meet the S42(1) criteria, some examples could include safeguarding to promote an individual’s well-being as related to the areas in Section 1 of the Care Act, or for activity in respect of carers who do not qualify for S42.

Type of risk

The SAC captures a breakdown of the types of risk for S42 enquiries that concluded during the year. It should be noted that of the eleven risk types, four (modern slavery, self-neglect, sexual exploitation and domestic abuse) were submitted on a voluntary basis prior to 2017-18. As not all local authorities submitted voluntary data (less than two-thirds of local authorities submitted data for these four risk types in 2016-17) care should be taken when comparing activity for these risk types with previous years.

Risk Assessments and Outcomes

As part of an enquiry an assessment of the risk to the individual is made and whether any action needs to be taken as a result. Where a risk is identified the outcome is recorded at the conclusion of the enquiry. This publication reports on the risk assessments and outcomes of enquiries that concluded during the year.

Mental Capacity

This publication looks at the mental capacity of individuals involved in concluded enquiries. Mental capacity in regard to safeguarding is assessed as the person’s ability to contribute to making decisions about their protection, including their participation in the safeguarding enquiry, as well as their mental capacity at the time of the incident causing a safeguarding concern and enquiry.

Making Safeguarding Personal

Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP) is about having conversations with people on how to respond in safeguarding situations in a way that enhances involvement, choice and control as well as improving quality of life, wellbeing and safety. The Care Act advocates a person-centred rather than process-driven approach and many local authorities have already adopted this way of working. There is no set approach; a local authority should consider each case on its own merits, consider what the person wants to achieve, and how the action which the local authority is taking may affect the individual.

Submission of data in the SAC for Making Safeguarding Personal remains voluntary.

Safeguarding Adult Reviews

A Safeguarding Adults Review (SAR) is a process for all partner agencies to identify the lessons that can be learned from particularly complex or serious safeguarding adult cases, where an adult in vulnerable circumstances has died or been seriously injured and abuse or neglect has been suspected. A Safeguarding Adults Board (SAB) would usually make the decision to instigate a SAR and a report will be produced to document the findings and recommendations.

The aim of the process is to promote effective learning and improvement to prevent future deaths or serious harm occurring again, rather than allocating blame to individuals or organisations. This may be where a case can provide useful insights into the way organisations are working together to prevent and reduce abuse and neglect of adults. SARs may also be used to explore examples of good practice where this is likely to identify lessons that can be applied to future cases.

The Safeguarding Adults Process

Last edited: 13 June 2023 8:37 am