How to help social housing staff spot abuse

  • Housing staff are particularly well-placed to identify vulnerable individuals who may be at risk of abuse or neglect
  • Staff may need support to be able to spot the signs of abuse and understand how to raise concerns
  • We discuss how registered providers of social housing can approach safeguarding

As a registered provider (RP) of social housing, you have an important role in helping to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse and neglect.

While you may not have the same statutory safeguarding responsibilities as local authorities, your staff and contractors are well placed to identify vulnerable individuals and highlight potential safeguarding concerns.

It is important to recognise, however, that your staff may need support and guidance in order to understand their role in safeguarding.

Here, we discuss some of the key challenges they are likely to face and how you can support them.

Identifying signs of abuse and neglect

Abuse and neglect are not always easy to detect. They can take many forms, from physical to psychological to financial, and staff may not always be sure what constitutes abuse. Furthermore, some forms of abuse may be harder to identify or determine, due to their nature and the circumstances in which they present themselves.

In addition, victims of abuse and/or neglect may not always make a disclosure to others about what is happening to them. There can be a variety of reasons for this: they may be living with their abuser and/or living in fear of raising an alert due to potential repercussions; they may not recognise that what is happening to them constitutes abuse or neglect; or they may not be able to communicate their concerns, due to their age, a physical or sensory impairment, mental health condition or learning disability.

Your frontline housing staff and their supervisors should be given training and guidance to help them identify different categories of abuse and neglect. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) has compiled a list that describes many categories of abuse.

Understanding who could be at risk

Identifying tenants who might be particularly vulnerable is as important as being able to identify the different forms abuse and neglect could take.

For safeguarding purposes, a vulnerable person is either:

  • A child (anyone under the age of 18), OR
  • An adult at risk – somebody who is 18 or over (16 or over in Scotland), who is in need of care and support (regardless of whether or not they are actually receiving it), and who is unable to protect themselves against abuse or neglect because of their care and support needs.

“Other factors, such as drug or alcohol dependency, social isolation, or an abusive or coercive partner or relative, could increase a person’s risk of becoming vulnerable,” says Marie Williams, Safeguarding Risk Consultant.

Guidance from the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services states that housing providers should have appropriate policies and procedures in place to help prevent, detect and deal with abuse. Their guidance adds: “These policies should apply to all tenants at risk of abuse, not just those living in certain accommodation such as sheltered, extra care or supported housing.”

Williams says: “As a housing provider, you need firstly to be able to identify what abuse is, and secondly, be able to identify if that abuse is happening to a ‘vulnerable person’.

“Both stages will require different levels of action and intervention by housing staff.”

Recording safeguarding information

“You should ensure that your staff have received guidance on how to record information that could suggest an individual may be at risk of abuse or neglect,” continues Williams. “They then need to be able to effectively record their decision-making and rationale regarding what actions they have taken to safeguard that individual, should they be a ‘vulnerable person’.

“You should also ensure that you have a database for collating this information and robust IT policies and procedures to keep it safe and secure.”

In addition, you should also consider creating a system for tenant risk-profiling; for example, a checklist which can be applied to all tenants, that will help you identify individuals with multiple risk factors, such as those with care and support needs or those who may be at risk of domestic abuse, who could then be given proactive support.

Sharing information with other agencies

Safeguarding reviews frequently identify failures in partnership working between the various agencies with safeguarding responsibilities, including a failure to share information.

It is important that RPs work closely with local authorities and other agencies, such as the police and health care providers, in order to develop a shared understanding of the risk. You should be able to identify when it is appropriate to pass on relevant information or make a referral to the appropriate agency.

“The role that housing staff play in the safeguarding process is often seriously underestimated,” says Williams. “By the nature of their job, housing staff get access ‘behind closed doors’ that often other agencies do not.

“Your housing association may therefore hold the important piece of a safeguarding jigsaw without even realising it.”

You should ensure that your staff understand their responsibilities with regard to sharing information. They must have a basic understanding of confidentiality and the Data Protection Act, including when it may be permissible and appropriate to disclose personal information without an individual’s consent.

Williams says: “To put it simply, if you can justify that the sharing of information is required in the interests of protecting a child or adult at risk, you can share whatever is necessary, without consent. Data protection should not be used as an excuse not to share this information.”

Working with tenants to root out abuse

RPs should also recognise that tenants have an important role in helping to protect themselves and each other from harm.

A tenant, for example, may be the first to notice a change in their neighbour’s behaviour, or if their physical or mental well-being has deteriorated. They may also notice if unfamiliar visitors have been entering or leaving their property.

You should educate tenants and readily provide them with information about what abuse is, as well as the possible indicators of it. You should also signpost and provide details of where they can find further information and support, as well as how they can report a concern.

Williams says: “Often tenants are worried about the implications for them if they raise a concern about a neighbour, so it is important to remind them that a report can also be made anonymously too.”