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The Care Act 2014: How much responsibility will be placed on social housing providers to protect vulnerable adults?

Social housing providers often face difficulties when faced with tenants who need care and support. Landlords have to ensure that tenants are complying with tenancy terms and do need to take appropriate action when faced with tenancy breaches. But in situations when breaches are caused by tenants who clearly need a level of care and support, persuading partner agencies to assist can be difficult.

There could, however, be hope on the horizon. This year the Care Act 2014 was introduced, with the relevant provisions becoming operational from April 2015. This new legislation is set to have a significant impact on the role of social landlords, local authorities and housing support providers in relation to the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. Social housing providers will be required to focus on the principles of prevention, early intervention, and accountability in relation to the protection of vulnerable individuals in their care.

The basic requirement is placed on a local authority to promote 'well-being'. 'Well-being' is defined as covering everything from personal dignity to social and economic well-being. This definition specifically includes looking at the suitability of living accommodation for an individual who is in need of assistance. There is then specific provision made for co-operation between private registered providers and local authorities, and internally in a local authority between its own housing department and those departments with care and support functions. Every council will have to have a 'safeguarding adults board.'

Previous reform in relation safeguarding and the protection of vulnerable adults has been policy-led, underpinned by legislation, but with no substantive legal framework in place. The Care Act is aimed at establishing a number of principles and duties to assist those with a care need.

Statutory guidance was published by the Department of Heath in June 2014 to assist with the ‘on the ground' implementation of the Act. This guidance states that housing and housing support providers will need to ensure that they have clear operational policies and procedures in adult safeguarding, and that all staff are trained in recognising the symptoms of neglect and abuse and are able to respond to adult safeguarding concerns. Although many social housing providers have policies and procedures in place, such policies are often overlooked and implementation is not monitored and reviewed.

The Care Act is clear that the provision of suitable accommodation can be a fundamental part of the care and support given to vulnerable adults - something those who are involved in housing would agree with. However, the test will be to see how the Act works in practice. Even with a robust statutory framework, if the funding and resources are not put in place to support the implementation of the Act, the Act may not lead to any improvement in practice.