How social workers can help housing staff understand safeguarding

Social housing staff lack training in how to prevent, detect and report abuse of adults at risk, despite serious case reviews showing the significance of the sector to adult safeguarding, warns Imogen Parry.

Social housing providers currently have weak legislative and regulatory responsibilities towards adult safeguarding. As a result, there is considerable variation in the extent to which council and housing association staff are trained to prevent, detect and report abuse. 

Due to requirements under the Supporting People programme, the main adult safeguarding training and policy focus within housing for the past ten years has been on staff working in sheltered and supported housing. Yet many adults at risk live in general needs housing; demographic trends and current housing policy strongly suggest that this will only increase. Also, several recent adult serious case reviews indicate that housing agencies could or should have played a bigger and more effective role in adult safeguarding. Therefore it is vital that all social housing providers engage fully, both strategically and operationally, with the adult safeguarding agenda.

Barriers to joint working

There are a number of barriers to successful partnership working between housing staff and statutory safeguarding authorities, particularly adult social care. These barriers can include a lack of reporting of safeguarding incidents by housing staff due to:

  • poor understanding of safeguarding and hate crime;
  • unsatisfactory previous responses;
  • fear of over-reaction;
  • misunderstanding that consent always has to be given by the alleged victim.

There can also be problems for housing staff with safeguarding referrals made to adult social care due to:

  • threshold and definition issues;
  • poor assessments of mental capacity and risk;
  • failures of diagnosis;
  • inadequate information sharing;
  • exclusion from strategy meetings;
  • negative attitudes towards housing staff.

What social workers should do

To help address these barriers, adult social care staff are encouraged to meet with housing managers and their frontline staff to jointly identify current barriers to joint working, considering the possibilities listed above, and agree on joint policy and practice solutions to address them. Joint work could be undertaken to develop policies and procedures to help address persistent service refusers and those hard to engage, both recurring themes in serious case reviews.

An under-recognised yet contentious barrier, is that some safeguarding leads expect all concerns and allegations of abuse to be referred into safeguarding procedures. Conversely, many housing staff are (incorrectly) of the opinion that tenants’ permission must always be given before a referral can be made into safeguarding.

When victim consent can be overriden

My view is that individuals’ rights to choose not to have a referral made into safeguarding procedures need to be respected, unless one or more of the following criteria are met:

  • the level of risk to the individual is deemed to be unacceptably high;
  • it is in the public interest to refer, for example, if other people are at risk, the alleged perpetrator is a vulnerable adult and may be at risk as well, the victim lacks capacity, a serious crime has been committed or staff are implicated in the crime.

Readers may not agree with me! Therefore this may indicate a hidden difference of opinion between housing and adult social care staff that needs addressing locally.

As well as addressing referral issues jointly, social care staff  are encouraged to discuss with local housing providers the circumstances in which they would they request housing to conduct their own safeguarding investigations, a situation likely to increase, given adult social care resource constraints. Training and support to housing staff will need to be given.

Joint training using serious case reviews

A powerful way of enhancing mutual understanding of each others’ roles is through joint training and multi-agency conferences, using real case studies derived from housing-related serious case reviews.

At a strategic level, housing agencies may have valuable tenant profile information that could be used to help tackle hate crime, map ‘hot-spots’ and help put a focus on vulnerable groups for preventive work. Senior adult social care staff need to ensure housing representation on safeguarding adults boards (SABs), multi-agency public protection panel arrangements (MAPPAs),  multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs)  and other inter-agency groups, including those for low-level concerns and hate crime. Housing representation on these bodies can be sought via local strategic housing partnership groups but need to ensure that housing associations are included.

Strengthening legislation

It is encouraging to see recommendations to strengthen the role of housing in safeguarding in the report of the joint committee on the draft Care and Support Bill, particularly the proposal that there is housing representation on safeguarding adults boards. (paragraph 163).

But in the meantime, there is plenty that adult social care staff can do, with their housing colleagues, to disseminate lessons from serious case reviews and to improve safeguarding outcomes for service users living in social housing.

Imogen Parry works as a safeguarding adults trainer for the housing sector and is currently studying for an MA in Safeguarding Adults: Law, Policy and Practice at Keele University. Her dissertation is on ‘Adult Serious Case Reviews: lessons for housing providers’. This article draws on some early findings and on her recent article: Imogen Parry,  (2013), ‘Adult safeguarding and the role of housing’, the Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 15 Issue:1.  Pp 15-25. 

For more information on this research, Imogen can be contacted at


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