Ministers cool on giving social workers powers of entry in abuse cases

Care services minister Norman Lamb says most people who would be subject to proposed power oppose it, while professionals support it.

Norman Lamb (Photo credit: Rex Features)
Norman Lamb (Photo credit: Rex Features)

Ministers appear unconvinced of the need to give social workers in England powers to enter people’s homes to investigate suspected abuse because the social care sector is divided over the issue.

Care services minister Norman Lamb said today that most people who may be subject to the power were opposed, while professionals were substantially in support of the change. The government is due to respond to a consultation on the proposal shortly; if it backs the new power it would be inserted into the Care and Support Bill, alongside a new duty on councils to carry out enquiries in cases of suspected abuse and neglect.

The bill, which would also consolidate existing adult care law into a single statute, has been published in draft form and is being considered by a committee of MPs. Giving evidence to the committee today, Lamb said: “Those people who would be subject to the power, the majority were opposed to it; for those who wanted to use the power, it was in the other direction…There was a split of opinion.”

Though some social workers have voiced concerns that the power would result in defensive practice and would be over-used, a strong majority of those surveyed by The College of Social Workers backed the reform.

Responding to Lamb, bill committee chair Paul Burstow pointed out that human rights watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission had concluded that the proposed power was a “necessary backstop“. Burstow, Lamb’s predecessor as care services minister, launched the consultation on the power last July.

If enacted, the power would be designed to be used as a last resort in cases where social workers suspected that a vulnerable adult was being abused, but could not gain access to the adult because a third-party, typically a family member, was barring entry to their home. It would most likely be granted by application to a magistrate.

In Scotland, social workers have powers to apply to a Sheriff for the right to enter people’s homes to conduct an assessment, remove an alleged victim of abuse from the property to safeguard them or ban an alleged perpetrator from the home for defined periods. The Welsh government is also legislating to give social workers powers of entry through its Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill.

If the power were not enacted in England, local authorities would still be able to apply to the High Court for an injunction to gain access to adults at risk; however, there are concerns that having to do this on a case-by-case basis could be prohibitively expensive.

More information

Key resources on the government’s reform of adult social care law

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