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Government rejects power of entry for social workers in safeguarding cases

Older woman

Decision comes despite overwhelming support from social workers for power to enter homes where abuse is suspected but a third party is barring entry, and puts England at odds with practice in Scotland and proposals in Wales.

Social workers will not have the power to enter people’s homes if they suspect abuse of a vulnerable adult but where a third-party – often a family member – is barring entry.

The government announced today that it had rejected the idea after a “mixed response” to last year’s consultation on the idea. The announcement coincides with the publication of the Care Bill, its legislation to overhaul adult social care law, which would put adult safeguarding on a statutory footing and place an explicit duty on councils to enquire into cases where they suspect an adult with care and support needs is at risk of abuse or neglect.

The decision not to back this duty up with a power of entry came despite overwhelming support from social workers, particularly those working in adult safeguarding, as revealed by a survey by the College of Social Work.

It also puts England at odds with practice in Scotland, where such a power exists alongside stronger powers to remove victims of abuse from their homes and bar alleged perpetrators from homes, and with proposals in Wales to grant social workers a power of entry.

The power, which would have only been used with the authority of a magistrate or judge, was suggested as a way of dealing with cases where social workers cannot contact or assess risks to a vulnerable adult whom they suspect is being abused because the abuser is preventing access.

Many safeguarding practitioners believe there is a gap in the current law, preventing them from protecting adults in these situations. There does appear to be scope under common law for councils to apply to the High Court for the right to intervene where a vulnerable adult is believed to be at risk, but is being subject to coercion or undue influence by a third party. But critics believe this would be a costly and cumbersome route for authorities to take in individual cases.

However, the British Association of Social Workers also identified opposition from some social workers, who feared that a power of entry may be misused and promote risk-averse practice, rather than encourage practitioners to build relationships with service users at risks to help them protect themselves.

The government’s summary of consultation responses said half of respondents had backed power of entry, with 40% opposed. However, among social care organisations and safeguarding professionals, there was overwhelming support: 90% of health organisations supported the power, as did 72% of local authority and safeguarding adults board respondents and 60% of police respondents.

By contrast, just 18% of individual respondents were in favour, and 77% opposed. The Department of Health said many of these respondents had raised concerns about such a power being misused. It said it was clear that “some people perceive themselves as at greater risk of unwanted intervention by social workers than abuse in their home”.

The DH also said that many respondents, whether in favour or not, had pointed out that the power would have only been used in a small number of cases. This, and the opposition of members of the public, meant there was “not a compelling case to legislate for power of entry”.

Blog updated 10am 13 May 2013

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Photo credit: Action Press/Rex Features

Mithran Samuel

About Mithran Samuel

Mithran Samuel is adults' editor at Community Care.

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