Duty to make inquiries

Recommendation 14–2            Adult safeguarding agencies should have a statutory duty to make inquiries where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is an ‘at-risk adult’. The first step of an inquiry should be to contact the at-risk adult.

14.51  Adult safeguarding agencies should have a clear duty to inquire, when they have reasonable grounds to consider that an ‘at-risk adult’ is being abused. In nearly all cases, this should start with simply speaking with the adult thought to be at-risk of abuse.[48]

14.52  In the UK, where a local authority has ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ that an adult is at-risk, it ‘must make (or cause to be made) whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in the adult’s case … and, if so, what and by whom’.[49] Similarly, in Scotland, councils ‘must make inquiries about a person’s well-being, property or financial affairs if it knows or believes … that the person is an adult at risk, and … that it might need to intervene’.[50]

14.53  Safeguarding agencies should be able to investigate either upon receipt of a complaint or referral or on its own motion. This approach was supported by stakeholders who commented on the matter.[51] For example, the Law Council submitted that the power to investigate on the agency’s own motion was ‘critical to responding early where abuse is occurring or suspected, as abuse is often reported after it has been occurring for a long period of time’.[52] In relation to the abuse of people with impaired decision-making ability, the Victorian Law Reform Commission recommended that the Victorian Public Advocate be able to investigate following a complaint or on its own motion.[53]

14.54  If agencies investigate abuse without having received a complaint, this is likely to result in more cases of abuse being investigated, which in turn would require additional resources.[54]