Action on Elder Abuse: ‘Adult protection needs legal backing’

South Tyneside Council’s failure to handle two older people’s complaints of bullying by their sheltered housing warden illustrates the need to put adult protection on a statutory footing.

The was the message from Action on Elder Abuse chief executive Gary FitzGerald after local government ombudsman Anne Seex last week found the council had caused the two “significant injustice” .


Seex found that an adult protection referral concerning one of the residents – Mr P – took over seven months to investigate and ended without a formal outcome despite the council’s policy stating it should take 15 days and the outcome should be recorded.

There was “no corrective action” when it became clear that neither the substance nor the timescale for the investigation was going to be fulfilled, Seex added.

No Secrets

FitzGerald said that were adult protection investigations governed by legislation – rather than the technically voluntary No Secrets guidance – there would have been less scope for South Tyneside to “make a complete shambles of adult protection procedures”.

He said: “If we weren’t dealing with guidance here I don’t believe the local authority would have acted in such a fashion. It’s a good example of why we need a legislative framework.”

Legislation could specify a duty on councils to investigate cases of suspected harm and on other agencies to co-operate in investigations – as specified by the Children Act 1989 in the case of child protection.


FitzGerald’s intervention comes with the Department of Health due to produce a consultation paper next month on reviewing No Secrets, which will examine the pros and cons of legislation.

Besides adult protection charities such as Action on Elder Abuse, legislation on adult protection is also backed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, who want it to provide councils with the power to enter domestic properties and ensure information is shared between agencies.

• For more on the case for adult protection legislation, see

• Community Care and Adass are holding a conference on safeguarding vulnerable adults on 19 September. More from

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