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Adults at risk of abuse or neglect

What to do and who to contact if you or someone you know is vulnerable and being abused’

Safeguarding: Adults at risk of harm

Adults at risk of harm are sometimes referred to as a "vulnerable adults". 

They’re adults who are (or may be) in need of community care services - because of disability, age or illness - and are unable (or may be) unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves against significant harm or exploitation. This includes people who are temporarily in this position as well as those to whom it applies, long-term.

We recognise that some people are less able to protect themselves from abuse than most and so are inherently more at risk. And we recognise that these people are still at risk even if we can’t identify an actual abuser.

What is abuse and safeguarding?

Abuse is an action that harms another person. We recognise the following as types of abuse (as set out in The Care Act 2014):

  • Physical abuse: including assault, hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication, restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions
  • Domestic violence: including psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse and so called ‘honour’ based violence
  • Sexual abuse: including rape, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, inappropriate looking or touching, sexual teasing or innuendo, sexual photography, subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts, indecent exposure and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting
  • Psychological abuse: including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, cyber bullying, isolation or unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks.
  • Financial or material abuse: including theft, fraud, internet scamming, coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements - including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits
  • Modern slavery: encompassing slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment
  • Discriminatory abuse: including forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment; because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion
  • Organisational abuse: including neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting (such as a hospital or care home) or in relation to care provided in one’s own home. This may range from one-off incidents to ongoing ill-treatment. It can be through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices within an organisation
  • Neglect and acts of omission: including ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs; failure to provide access to appropriate health care and support or educational services; the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
  • Self-neglect: this covers a wide range of behaviour such as neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.

Who needs safeguarding?

We believe people have the right to live their lives free from violence and abuse.  Unfortunately, some groups of adults experience more abuse and neglect than the general population.

People who need safeguarding are individuals who require care and support (whether or not the council is meeting any of those needs) and someone who is;

  • is experiencing - or is at risk of - abuse or neglect
  • and, as a result of their care and support needs, is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.

Examples of vulnerable adults might include:

  • people with learning disabilities
  • people with physical disabilities
  • people with sensory impairments
  • older people
  • people with mental health problems.

Abuse might only happen once or it may happen many times over a period of time. Reoccurring cases of poor care might be an indicator of a more serious problem – for example organisational abuse. Whatever the case, it needs to be reported.

Everyone has a responsibility to look out for people who are vulnerable to abuse and to notify agencies if they know or think that abuse is taking place.

Download a copy of the preventing abuse brochure in English Chinese or  Bengali for more information. 

Where does abuse happen?

Abuse can happen anytime and anywhere. This includes:

  • in somebody's own home
  • in someone else’s home
  • at a day centre
  • in care homes
  • in hospital
  • at work
  • at college
  • in a public place

Who might be an abuser?

An abuser is often a person who has a level of power over the person being abused (often they're well known to the person being abused). They could be a:

  • partner, relative or family member
  • neighbour
  • friend and/or another service user
  • carer
  • staff member
  • volunteer
  • stranger

Who should you contact if you are worried?

If you think you or someone you know is being abused or neglected you should call the Adult Social Care Assessment & Intervention Team on 020 7364 5005.

You can follow this up with an Safeguarding Alert Form if you like but it's not necessary. Email the form to adultcare@towerhamlets.gov.uk and we'll get back to you promptly.

Alternatively, you can visit your local library, Idea Store, One Stop Shop or leisure centre where staff can help you to report abuse.

But if you think a crime has been committed - and it’s an emergency situation - you should call 999. For non-emergencies call 101.

What to do if you witness abuse

If you see abuse happening or if you're concerned abuse may happen, try to do the following:

  • make sure that the person is safe
  • listen calmly to the person
  • talk reassuringly to the person
  • explain that, with their consent, they can get help and support
  • try to make an accurate report using the person's own words
  • describe the circumstances in which it occurred
  • keep the person informed of all follow-on proceedings
  • but in an emergency always call 999

What we'll do in response

We will:

  • take all concerns we receive seriously
  • take appropriate action regarding any imminent risk
  • try to talk to the adult at risk as soon as possible about what they want to happen and what support they may want to help keep them safe. If the person refuses help but others believe they may be at risk, we'll need to take appropriate action. But we will always keep the person at risk informed.
  • talk to the police if it's a criminal matter
  • talk to those involved and find out what happened
  • talk to other professionals who may need to be involved
  • gather relevant information to decide whether we need to take further action under Adult Safeguarding Procedures 

More detail is below:

  • We will ask you some questions to help us decide how we can help.  Once we have this information, we will look into your concerns and decide on our next actions.
  • We will ask you for permission before taking action. If you cannot make this decision yourself, we will speak to the person who contacted us on your behalf and we will consider applying for an independent advocate to support and help you understand the process.
  • We will ask you what you would like to happen. We may need to speak to other people to get or share more information, but we will ask your permission to do this.  If a crime has occurred we may want to speak to the police.
  • We may hold a meeting to decide who will be involved in the enquiry and to agree who will do what.  You or your carer may take part in this meeting.
  • We will draw up a safeguarding plan to look at what is causing the abuse or neglect and find ways to reduce or remove the risk of the abuse or neglect happening.
  • When we finish the enquiry, you may get a safeguarding plan telling you how we will continue to monitor the risks.
  • You can speak with us about the enquiry if there is anything you do not understand or are unsure about.
  • After the enquiry we will make sure that you know what we have done, and ask for your opinion on what we have done.

Further information