Protection of adults at risk of harm

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

If a local authority knows or suspects that an 'adult at risk' is being harmed, it must decide whether action is needed to protect the adult’s well-being, property or financial affairs.

Who is an adult at risk of harm

An 'adult at risk' is someone aged 16 or over who:

  • can't look after their own well-being, property, rights or other interests

  • is at risk of harm from themselves or someone else

  • is disabled, or has a mental disorder, illness or physical or mental infirmity that means they are more vulnerable to being harmed than other adults.

Being disabled or having a condition does not automatically mean that an adult is at risk. A person can be disabled but able to look after their own well-being. Their circumstances as a whole should be considered and all 3 elements of the definition must be met in order for them to be classed as an adult at risk.

What is 'harm'

The term harm covers all harmful behaviour, for example:

  • physical harm

  • psychological harm causing fear, alarm or distress

  • behaviour which adversely affects property, rights or interests (for example, theft, fraud, embezzlement or extortion)

  • self-harm

  • neglect.

What can be done to protect an adult at risk of harm

If you are being harmed or you are concerned that someone else is at risk of harm, you should report your concerns to the local authority social work department or the police. Any report, including anonymous referrals, should be taken seriously by the local authority.

The local authority must make enquiries and has a number of powers to help protect an adult at risk of harm, like:

Any intervention in an adult’s affairs must provide benefit to them and should restrict their freedom as little as possible. The local authority must consider the wishes and views of the adult at risk and efforts must be made to help them communicate their views.

Visits, interviews and medical examinations

The local authority can enter any place where it knows or suspects that an adult is at risk of harm, in order to establish whether any further action is needed to protect the adult. This will usually be the place where the adult lives, for example, their own home or the home of relatives or friends.

However, it can also include a place where the adult is living temporarily or spends part of their time, for example, a day centre or a place of education.

If the local authority is refused entry, it can apply for a warrant of entry, which then allows a police constable to use reasonable force to ensure entry to the premises.

The local authority can interview any adult, in private, at the place of visit, in order to establish the source, nature and level of any risk to the adult and also to establish whether further action is needed to protect them. An adult has a right not to answer any questions and they must be told this before the interview begins.

A health professional can carry out a private medical examination of the adult at risk at the place being visited. However, a medical examination can only be carried out with the agreement of the adult. The adult must be told that they have the right to refuse to be examined before the examination is carried out.

Examination of records

A local authority can require anyone holding health, financial or any other records relating to an adult thought to be at risk, to produce them for inspection.

After the local authority has conducted initial inquiries, it can then decide, what action, if any, is needed to protect the adult at risk from harm. This may include:

  • ensuring access to suitable advice and support

  • providing practical care and support services for the adult at risk and/or their carer

  • an order or appointment of a proxy to help the person manage their affairs.

If a criminal offence has been committed against the adult at risk, this should be reported immediately to the police.

Protection orders

The local authority can protect an adult at risk of harm by applying to the court for a protection order. There are 3 types of protection orders:

  • assessment orders

  • removal orders

  • banning orders.

A protection order should be made with the consent of the adult. If the adult is under pressure to give consent to a course of action, such as when they are being harmed by someone that they trust, the court can overrule the need for consent.

Assessment order

An assessment order allows the local authority to take an adult for a private interview or medical examination. This will only be necessary where the place being visited is not available or suitable for these purposes.

It is not possible to appeal against an assessment order, but the adult can choose to leave at any time during the interview or examination.

Removal order

A removal order allows the local authority to remove an adult at risk to a specified place, where there is a likelihood of serious harm if they are not removed. The order is effective for a maximum of 7 days.

There is no appeal allowed against the granting or failure to grant a removal order. However, it may be possible to have it varied or recalled if there is a change in facts or circumstances.

Banning order

A banning order bans the subject of the order from a specified place for up to 6 months. This order can only be granted where the adult at risk is likely to be seriously harmed and it is considered that banning the other person from a specified place will protect the adult at risk more than removing them from that place.

Any decision to grant, or refuse to grant, a banning order can be appealed and if you want to do this you must seek legal advice.

Code of practice

The Scottish government has produced a code of practice for the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007. The code provides guidance for councils and other professionals about how to protect adults at risk of harm.

Further help

Hourglass Scotland

Hourglass Scotland (previously Action on Elder Abuse) runs a telephone helpline to give confidential advice and information to older people who are being physically, mentally or financially abused. A relative or friend of the person being abused can contact the helpline on their behalf. The helpline can be used by older people who live at home, in care homes or who are in hospital.

Hourglass Scotland

PO Box 29244


KY12 2EG

Tel: 07496 323801 or 07496 663815 (general enquiries)

Helpline: 0808 808 8141 (press 2 for Scotland) - open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm



The Care Inspectorate

The Care Inspectorate is an independent body that is responsible for regulating all care homes in Scotland and it can receive complaints and general enquiries.

The Care Inspectorate

Compass House

11 Riverside Drive



Tel: 0345 600 9527 (Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm)



Age Scotland

The Age Scotland Helpline is a free, confidential service that can help older people in Scotland with a wide variety of issues. 

Age Scotland

Causewayside House

160 Causewayside



Age Scotland does not provide advice at its office. People who want advice should contact the Helpline.

Age Scotland Helpline: 0800 12 44 222 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm)

Email: Contact form available on the website

Twitter: @agescotland


Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance can provide information about advocacy services across Scotland. Advocacy services can help people by supporting them to express their own views about problems they are having. Advocates can help people to gain access to information and support them to explore and understand the options available to them.

Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)

18 York Place



Tel: 0131 524 1975



Victim Support Scotland

Victim Support Scotland is the lead voluntary organisation in Scotland helping people affected by crime. It gives emotional support, practical help and essential information to victims, witnesses and others affected by crime. The service is free, confidential and is provided by volunteers.

Victim Support Scotland

15/23 Hardwell Close



Tel: 0131 668 4486

Scottish Helpline: 0800 160 1985 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm)

UK Supportline: 0808 168 9111 (Weeknights 8pm to 8am; Weekends Saturday 5pm to Monday 8am)