1.5 What constitutes abuse and neglect

This section considers the different types and patterns of abuse and neglect and the different circumstances in which they may take place. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but an illustrative guide as to the sort of behaviour which could give rise to a safeguarding concern. This chapter also contains a number of illustrative case studies showing the action that was taken to help the adult stay or become safe.

Local authorities should not limit their view of what constitutes abuse or neglect, as they can take many forms and the circumstances of the individual case should always be considered; although the criteria at paragraph 14.2 will need to be met before the issue is considered as a safeguarding concern. Exploitation, in particular, is a common theme in the following list of the types of abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse including:

  • assault
  • hitting
  • slapping
  • pushing
  • misuse of medication
  • restraint
  • inappropriate physical sanctions


Domestic violence including:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional abuse
  • 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
  • sexual assault
  • 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
  • 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
  • the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits


Modern slavery encompasses:

  • slavery
  • human trafficking
  • forced labour and domestic servitude.
  • traffickers and slave masters using whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment

Read Modern slavery: how the UK is leading the fight for further information.

Find more information about Modern Slavery at

Discriminatory abuse including forms of

  • harassment
  • slurs or similar treatment:
  • because of race
  • gender and gender identity
  • age
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • religion

Read Discrimination: your rights for further information.


Organisational abuse

Including neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home, for example, or in relation to care provided in one’s own home. This may range from one off incidents to on-going 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



This covers a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding. It should be noted that self-neglect may not prompt a section 42 enquiry. An assessment should be made on a case by case basis. A decision on whether a response is required under safeguarding will depend on the adult’s ability to protect themselves by controlling their own behaviour. There may come a point when they are no longer able to do this, without external support.


Incidents of abuse may be one-off or multiple, and affect one person or more. Professionals and others should look beyond single incidents or individuals to identify patterns of harm, just as the CCG, as the regulator of service quality, does when it looks at the quality of care in health and care services. Repeated instances of poor care may be an indication of more serious problems and of what we now describe as organisational abuse. In order to see these patterns it is important that information is recorded and appropriately shared.

Patterns of abuse vary and include:

  • serial abuse, in which the perpetrator seeks out and ‘grooms’ individuals. Sexual abuse sometimes falls into this pattern as do some forms of financial abuse
  • long-term abuse, in the context of an ongoing family relationship such as domestic violence between spouses or generations or persistent psychological abuse
  • opportunistic abuse, such as theft occurring because money or jewellery has been left lying around


Domestic abuse

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

A new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate and familial relationships was introduced into the Serious Crime Act 2015. The offence will impose a maximum 5 years imprisonment, a fine or both.

The offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together, or family members, sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you, providing better protection to victims experiencing continuous abuse and allowing for earlier identification, intervention and prevention.

The offence criminalising coercive or controlling behaviour was commenced on 29 December 2015. Read the accompanying statutory guidance for further information.


Financial abuse

Financial abuse is the main form of abuse investigated by the Office of the Public Guardian both amongst adults and children at risk. Financial recorded abuse can occur in isolation, but as research has shown, where there are other forms of abuse, there is likely to be financial abuse occurring. Although this is not always the case, everyone should also be aware of this possibility.

Potential indicators of financial abuse include:

  • change in living conditions
  • lack of heating, clothing or food
  • inability to pay bills/unexplained shortage of money
  • unexplained withdrawals from an account
  • unexplained loss/misplacement of financial documents
  • the recent addition of authorised signers on a client or donor’s signature card
  • sudden or unexpected changes in a will or other financial documents

This is not an exhaustive list, nor do these examples prove that there is actual abuse occurring. However, they do indicate that a closer look and possible investigation may be needed. Read report on The Financial Abuse of Older People


Case study 

Mrs B is an 88 year old woman with dementia who was admitted to a care home from hospital following a fall. Mrs B appointed her only daughter G, to act for her under a Lasting Power of Attorney in relation to her property and financial affairs.

Mrs B’s former home was sold and she became liable to pay the full fees of her care home. Mrs B’s daughter failed to pay the fees and arrears built up, until the home made a referral to the local authority, which in turn alerted the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

The OPG carried out an investigation and discovered that G was not providing her mother with any money for clothing or toiletries, which were being provided by the home from its own stocks. A visit and discussion with Mrs B revealed that she was unable to participate in any activities or outings arranged by the home, which she dearly wished to do. Her room was bare of any personal effects and she had limited stocks of underwear and nightwear. 

The Police were alerted and interviewed G, who admitted using the proceeds of the mother’s house for her own benefit. The OPG applied to the Court of Protection for suspension of the power of attorney and the appointment of a deputy, who was able to seek recovery of funds and ensure Mrs B’s needs were met.



The above case study highlights the need for local authorities not to underestimate the potential impact of financial abuse. It could significantly threaten an adult’s health and wellbeing. Most financial abuse is also capable of amounting to theft or fraud and would be a matter for the police to investigate. It may also require attention and collaboration from a wider group of organisations, including shops and financial institutions such as banks. 

Internet scams, postal scams and doorstep crime are more often than not, targeted at adults at risk and all are forms of financial abuse. These scams are becoming ever more sophisticated and elaborate. For example:

  • internet scammers can build very convincing websites
  • people can be referred to a website to check the caller’s legitimacy but this may be a copy of a legitimate website
  • postal scams are massed-produced letters which are made to look like personal letters or important documents
  • doorstep criminals call unannounced at the adult’s home under the guise of legitimate business and offering to fix an often non-existent problem with their property. sometimes they pose as police officers or someone in a position of authority. 

In all cases this is financial abuse and the adult at risk can be persuaded to part with large sums of money and in some cases their life savings. These instances should always be reported to the local police service and local authority Trading Standards Services for investigation. The SAB will need to consider how to involve local Trading Standards in its work.

These scams and crimes can seriously affect the health, including mental health, of an adult at risk. Agencies working together cab better protect adults at risk. Failure to do so can result in an increased cost to the state, especially if the adult at risk loses their income and independence.

Where the abuse is perpetrated by someone who has the authority to manage an adult’s money, the relevant body should be informed - for example, the Office of the Public Guardian for deputies or attorneys (see para 14.61) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in relation to appointees.

If anyone has concerns that a DWP appointee is acting incorrectly, they should contact the DWP immediately. Note that the DWP can get things done more quickly if it also has a National Insurance number in addition to a name and address. However, people should not delay acting because they do not know an adult’s National Insurance number. The important thing is to alert DWP to their concerns. If DWP knows that the person is also known to the local authority, then it should also inform the relevant authority.

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This page is correct as printed on Monday 19th of March 2018 03:03:43 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.