The Emergency COVID-19 Bill will be easing legislative and regulatory requirements in a number of areas in order to free up resources for essential staff to deal with the pandemic.  Whilst these emergency measures are justified, there will no doubt be some unintended consequences which put extra pressures on housing providers’ who have responsibilities for safeguarding children and adults with care and support needs.

Key measures within this bill which relate to safeguarding are:

  • Changes to the Care Act 2014 in England and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to enable local authorities to prioritise the services they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met, even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments.  During a pandemic, a lot of people who work in health and social care could be off sick or may need to care for loved ones.  This could mean that local authorities, which are responsible for social care, may not be able to do all the things they are usually required to do.
  • Paperwork and administrative requirements will be reduced to help doctors discharge patients more quickly when clinically appropriate, to free up hospital space for those who are very ill and enable clinicians to focus on delivering care.
  • Allowing recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work without any negative repercussions to their pensions.
  • NHS staff will also be covered by a state-backed insurance scheme to ensure they can care for patients if, for example, they are moving outside their day-to-day duties while making use of their skills and training.
  • Volunteers will have extra employment safeguards, allowing them to pause their main jobs for up to 4 weeks while they help care for patients in the health and care system, and will receive a flat rate of compensation to mitigate lost earnings and expenses.  This could benefit more than 3 million people who already volunteer in health and care settings and bolster the NHS’s capacity to respond to the virus.

Our advice to clients…

We are working in an unprecedented time and therefore the sector will need to adapt its approaches to ensure that core services are provided and tenants are safe in their homes.  Safeguarding children and adults is everyone’s business and the Care Act 2014 places duties on housing providers to protect them from abuse and neglect by working in partnership with statutory agencies.  Some of the measures within the emergency bill, most notably the changes to the Care Act stated above in relation to delaying assessments and at worse not meeting everyone’s needs, is certainly an area of concern.

Housing professionals will need to be extra vigilant in spotting signs of neglect and/or abuse and carefully consider ways to protect vulnerable adults and children. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, some housing providers had highlighted concerns about social care resources at the point of assessment, and with the new measures in place this may pose some further challenges.

At this time, it is important to work collaboratively and compassionately with our counterparts in the Police, NHS and Social Care, and have understanding of the severe pressures that we will all be working under.  However, what is paramount is that vulnerable adults and children must be protected from abuse and neglect, and this must remain a priority.

Whilst we will witness incredible acts of kindness and community spirit during these difficult times, there will be a minority of people that will exploit vulnerable adults and children and there is a greater risk that this will go unchecked.

Top tips to consider:

  • Have a robust designated safeguarding officer procedure within the organisation.  This will ensure that officers have someone with extra knowledge that they can highlight their concerns with
  • Once you suspect abuse/neglect, get consent from the adult where possible to make a safeguarding referral
  • After speaking with a designated safeguarding officer, if you feel abuse/neglect is taking place – make a safeguarding referral
  • Provide key safeguarding information on your website about what indicators to look out for – this may help neighbours raise concerns and/or look out for one another
  • Phone, email, text (communicate) with your most vulnerable tenants and families to reassure them that you are there to assist where you can
  • Keep in contact with your local MASH (multi agency safeguarding hub) to check on local resources and concerns
  • Record your work – visits, phone conversations, emails, reports. This will help evidence your compliance with regulation and legislation and help you to assess what else needs to be done
  • Be patient with your key stakeholders, but don’t be afraid to challenge if you feel that an adult or child is at risk of abuse or neglect and you are concerned that nothing is being done – we all have a responsibility!

For more information and helpful tips and advice contact Chris Grose.