A proposal to extend the powers of social workers in England to enter the homes of vulnerable adults where they suspect abuse has divided opinion across the sector.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has backed the plan, introduced in Scotland last year, while Action on Elder Abuse said the rights of entry should be extended, but only with adequate checks and balances.
Disability campaigners at Mind and Radar warned against new powers. Mind cited research showing such a plan would undermine the independence of people with mental health problems and breach their right to privacy.
The Department of Health will examine the arguments, put forward in a consultation on the review of the 2000 No Secrets guidance, which closed on 31 January.
Currently, social workers can only forcibly enter a private home if they can persuade a police officer that an adult is being harmed – then accompany them “to save life or limb”.
Action on Elder Abuse said placing adult protection committees on a statutory footing and extending rights of entry would allow “intelligent action in support of an adult at risk of abuse, where they cannot take action in their own defence”.
In its response to the consultation, AEA said health and social care workers should only be able to enter someone’s home with a police officer, after securing a warrant from a magistrate. It said the following conditions needed to be met:-
- Reasonable cause that an adult was being, or at risk of being, seriously harmed.
- That an assessment was required to verify this.
- That there was a reasonable belief that the adult was being unduly pressurised to refuse consent to an assessment.
- That there were no steps that could reasonably be taken with the adult’s consent which would protect them.
The DH consultation invited comment on whether only police should be given rights of entry, or if they should be extended to social workers and other professionals as well.
A Mind survey of people with mental health problems, Keeping Safe from Abuse, showed 46% did not want police to be able to enter their home without permission.
Caroline Ellis, deputy chief executive of Radar, a network of 800 disability organisations, criticised the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007. This allows council officers to visit properties, view medical and financial records, and issue banning orders, which remove people at risk of abuse to other premises for up to six months.
Ellis said it created a “range of oppressive, illiberal interventions”.
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