Adults at risk of harm

A guide to identifying and helping adults at risk of harm

Who does the Act say is an "adult at risk" of harm?

"Adults at risk" are adults who —

  1. are unable to safeguard their own well-being, property, rights or other interests,
  2. are at risk of harm, and
  3. because they are affected by disability, mental disorder, illness or physical or mental infirmity, are more vulnerable to being harmed than adults who are not so affected.

An adult is at risk of harm for the purposes of the Act if—

  1. another person's conduct is causing (or is likely to cause) the adult to be harmed, or
  2. the adult is engaging (or is likely to engage) in conduct which causes (or is likely to cause) self-harm.

What is harm?

Harm is defined as all harmful conduct. Some examples of this include:

Physical: hitting, slapping, pushing, shaking, locking them in a room.

Psychological: threats of harm, being left alone, humiliation, intimidation, causing distress, verbal abuse, bullying, blaming, constant criticism, controlling, depriving contact with others.

Neglect: failure to provide medical or physical care, access to a doctor or other services, or denying someone medication, food or heating, privacy or dignity, self neglect.

Financial: stealing, fraud, pressure to hand over or sign over property or money, misuse of property or welfare benefits, or stopping someone getting their money or possessions.

Sexual: any sexual activity that a person doesn’t understand or want. Sexual exploitation is a particular form of harm that can affect children, young people and vulnerable adults. View further information on sexual exploitation and how to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults.

Who can cause harm? Anyone

It could be a:

  • member of staff in any setting;
  • carer;
  • partner, child or relative;
  • friend or neighbour;
  • volunteer; or
  • stranger.

Where can harm happen? Anywhere

It can happen in the family home, hospital ward, care home, day services, social clubs, day centres, at work and in public places.

Who would act?

Councils, health, police staff and other public agencies, must now work together to protect "adults at risk".

Councils have a duty to make inquiries where harm is known or suspected.

Council Officers who are specially trained Social Workers with a duty to:

  • visit and interview people,
  • ensure the safety of the adult,
  • consider whether there is any need for advocacy and other services, such as help in the home or community for the adult or for their family or carers.

What should I do?

If the person is in immediate danger, dial 999 and ask for the appropriate emergency service.

If you are worried that you or someone you know is being harmed or may be suffering from neglect, contact your local social work services and speak with the Duty Social Worker, or you could speak to a health professional. They will all take your concerns seriously. Local social work teams are listed below:

Social Work/Community Care Teams

Opening Times:
Mon - Thur: 8.45am - 4.45pm
Fri: 8.45am - 4.00pm.

Community Care Teams

Adult Mental Health Team, Ailsa Hospital 01292 513144
Learning Disability Team, Arrol Park, Ayr 01292 614914
Ayr Hospital Social Work Team 01292 624639
Ayr North Community Care Team 01292 281993
Ayr South Community Care Team 01292 281993
Maybole/Girvan Community Care Team 01655 883293
Prestwick Community Care Team 01292 470099
Sensory Impairment/Physical Disability Team 01292 616261
Troon Community Care Team 01292 319272

Out with these times, you can telephone the Ayrshire Wide Social Work Out of Hours Response Service on 0800 328 7758

You may also wish to raise your concerns with Police Scotland – telephone 999 in a case of emergency or 101 for any other, non-urgent, concerns.

South Ayrshire Council General Enquiries/Customer Services

Telephone: 0300 123 0900

Partner organisations and service providers - making an Adult Protection referral

If you want to report or make a referral for someone who may be at risk of harm or has been harmed, please complete the Adult Protection Referral Form and e-mail it to This is the quickest and easiest way to pass on your concerns and you can be confident that they will be dealt with in a timely manner.

Your information is important

If you have concerns that a person may have been harmed, or is at risk of being harmed, it’s important that you pass on these concerns to someone who can take appropriate action. In most cases, this will be a social worker, a health professional, or a police officer. You should not delay passing on your concerns, even if you’re not sure how significant your information might be – your information might be the missing piece of a jigsaw that fits in with other information/concerns to provide a complete picture. Remember too that a person who has caused harm to one individual may also be causing harm to others, so passing on your concerns may help more than you might think.

Any information you give will be treated with care. If you do not give your name, enquiries can still be made into the person's care and welfare.