Last reviewed 5 October 2021

NHS Digital’s annual safeguarding adults data have shown that councils received more adult safeguarding referrals but investigated fewer cases overall in 2020 to 2021.

The Safeguarding Adults Collection (SAC) from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 showed that, of the referrals received, councils investigated more adult safeguarding cases involving self-neglect and domestic abuse but carried out fewer enquiries overall.

An enquiry is triggered under section 42 of the Care Act 2014 when a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect an adult with care and support needs is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect and is unable to protect themselves because of their needs.

The official figures revealed that the number of concerns reported to local authorities rose by 5% to 498,260 but the number of enquiries fell by 5% to 168,960, with a 6% drop in statutory investigations under section 42.

The number of completed section 42 enquiries fell or was stable in most categories of risk, with neglect and acts of omission remaining the most common form, accounting for 61,190 cases, down from 65,590 in 2019 to 2020.

However, the number of completed domestic abuse enquiries rose by 28%, from 10,825 to 13,880, with a 26% rise in those concerning self-neglect, from 10,245 to 12,920.

There was also a jump in cases concerning sexual exploitation, though from a low base.

British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England Professional Officer for Adults Liz Howard said the rise in domestic abuse cases reflected a national picture during the Covid-19 pandemic, as incidents spiked under lockdown. She added: “The increase in self-neglect could be linked to delays in accessing support because of fears of contracting Covid-19.”

She said it was impossible to attribute the rise in the overall number of referrals to a single factor, but said it was clear that there was a greater awareness of people’s welfare, particularly of elderly, vulnerable and solitary adults, during the pandemic, which could be leading to more referrals to professional services.

The fall in enquiries was “likely to be linked to changes in local working arrangements and processes during the pandemic” and related to differences in practices and application of statutory duties across local authorities, she added.

The NHS Digital figures are available here.