Law Reform Commission proposes new safeguarding body with power to go into homes to protect at-risk adults

Abuse and coercive control/exploitation of at-risk adults should be criminalised, says commission report

A major report on adult safeguarding has recommended new laws and a radical regulatory framework to protect at-risk adults, including a social work-led body being given powers to enter a person’s home and remove them to a safe location.

The Law Reform Commission recommends the creation of four criminal offences of intentional or reckless abuse, neglect or ill-treatment of a relevant person; exposure of a relevant person to a risk of serious harm or sexual abuse; coercive control; and coercive exploitation of a relevant person.

Coercive exploitation would criminalise behaviours such as “cuckooing” where an at-risk adult is befriended and their home is taken over by a person to conduct illegal activities or engage in anti-social behaviour, it says in a report, entitled A Regulatory Framework for Adult Safeguarding, published on Wednesday.

The commission recommends statutory protection for all persons who, in good faith, report concerns about at-risk adults being harmed and the introduction of a duty on people working in certain occupations and professions to report harm.


It proposes imposing obligations on regulated financial service providers to prevent and address financial abuse of at-risk customers. Providers who suspect abuse should have statutory power to temporarily suspend a financial transaction and those who act in good faith to prevent financial abuse of at-risk customers should be immune from liability, the report recommends. Adult safeguarding training should be a legal requirement for staff at financial service providers, credit unions and post offices, it says.

The commission’s report follows an extensive consultation process, research and analysis of existing domestic law and policy

The proposed safeguarding framework would impose duties on service providers including nursing homes, residential and day services for adults with disabilities, accommodation providers for homeless people and those in the international protection process, and substance misuse centres.

Other proposals include amending the Domestic Violence Act to allow barring and safety orders to be made against people caring for an at-risk adult on a contractual basis, or co-habiting with an at-risk adult on a non-contractual basis. Outside the domestic abuse context, it recommends courts should be able to make no-contact orders to protect at-risk adults from specific individuals in appropriate cases.

The safeguarding body should have a statutory function to promote the health, safety and welfare of at-risk adults, the commission says. It also recommends expansion of the remit of existing regulators, such as the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) and Mental Health Commission.

The current limited ability of statutory bodies to intervene where an at-risk adult is at risk of abuse or neglect was highlighted, it noted, in several incidents over the past 20 years, including failures of care at the Áras Attracta unit for intellectually disabled adults in Swinford, Co Mayo, and the ‘Grace’ case which concerned allegations regarding the treatment over years of an intellectually disabled woman and others in a foster home in the southeast.

The commission’s report follows an extensive consultation process, research and analysis of existing domestic law and policy, and a review of adult safeguarding legislative frameworks in other jurisdictions.

It recommends the safeguarding body should not have regulatory functions, but should provide social work-led multidisciplinary safeguarding responses to prevent harm; empower at-risk adults and, where necessary, protect them from harm. It should have statutory powers to receive reports of harm of at-risk adults and to respond appropriately to safeguard those, it says.

When necessary to assess health, safety or welfare of at-risk adults, it should have statutory power to enter relevant facilities, it says. In particularly serious cases, it should have power to obtain a court warrant to enter a premises, including a person’s home, and to get an order to remove an at-risk adult and take them to a specified safe place. These powers should be a “last resort” and subject to “strict thresholds and safeguards”.

Statutory adult safeguarding reviews should, the commission says, be carried out where serious abuse or neglect of an at-risk adult is known or suspected, or where abuse or neglect is known or suspected to be a factor in the death of an at-risk adult.

Such reviews should focus on preventing further incidents rather than apportioning blame and will remove the need for other review mechanisms, such as commissions of investigation, and ensure consistency in approach, it adds.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times