News release

13 December 2017

‘Postcode lottery’ leaves thousands of abuse victims without protection

  • Nearly 212,000 concerns about adults being abused went uninvestigated across England in 2016/17 because of where the victim lived
  • Care Act 2014 being interpreted wildly differently by local authorities – leaving vulnerable adults at risk if they live in the ‘wrong’ area
  • Official statistics on adult protection reveal worrying lack of accountability


Huge differences in the way councils interpret England’s flagship adult protection law has created a ‘postcode lottery’ in which reports of abuse are more likely to be investigated in some areas than others, a charity has warned.

Action on Elder Abuse (AEA), the only UK-wide charity that exists specifically to combat abuse against older people, said local interpretation of the Care Act 2014 had led to massive differences in the number of people whose cases were investigated by local authority adult protection units.

In a new report, A Patchwork of Practice , the charity also highlights the gaps in official statistics which make it impossible to confirm how many reports of possible criminal abuse or neglect actually involved police intervention, despite the Care Act placing a duty on councils to involve other agencies.

Recently-published adult safeguarding statistics for England showed that more than 1,000 concerns per day were flagged with local authorities in 2016-17 – 364,605 in total. In the same year period, 109,145 people were the subject of inquiries – 63% of them aged over 65.

An inquiry is any action undertaken by a local authority under Section 42 of the Care Act, in response to indications of abuse or neglect of an adult with care and support needs who is at risk and unable to protect themselves. In 2016/17, 88% of inquiries were so-called ’Section 42 Inquiries’.

Among the key concerns highlighted in the report:

  • There were 211,750 abuse concerns across England that were not investigated under Section 42, but would have been if they had occurred in one of the top 10 performing local authorities. This represents 58% of all concerns raised.
  • There is enormous variation among councils when it comes to determining whether a concern merits a full investigation under Section 42 of the Care Act. As an illustration, in Warwickshire (lowest), 464 people per 100,000 aged 65+ were the subject of a Section 42 enquiry. But in Calderdale (highest), this rises to an astonishing 17,453 per 100,000.
  • Authorities are responding to vastly different types of abuse. For instance, in Trafford, 72% of inquiries concerned neglect, while in Wakefield physical abuse cases accounted for 54% of inquiries.
  • The locations where where abuse was investigated varies dramatically: in Hackney, 75% of abuse happens in people’s own homes, while in the East Riding of Yorkshire, 59% occurs in residential care homes.
  • The chance of risk to the person remaining even after adult protection intervention varied from a low of 0.2% in Waltham Forest to a staggering high of 67% in Oxfordshire.

The AEA report also highlights the lack of a legal deterrent to crimes against older people. The charity is campaigning for elder abuse to be classed as an ‘aggravated offence’ similar to hate crimes based on race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. This would require courts to impose tougher sentences on perpetrators, in recognition that victims are often targeted because of their perceived frailty or vulnerability.

Stephen McCarthy, Action on Elder Abuse’s Director for England, said:

“The Care Act should have been a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that older and other vulnerable people who were victims of abuse would have somewhere to turn to find safety.

“Instead, the official reporting statistics paint a picture of a ‘postcode lottery’ of disjointed, variable practice across England which suggests that whether or not you are kept safe from abuse can be almost entirely down to where in the country you happen to live.

“What criteria are different local authorities applying when deciding whether to pursue an investigation? Why should they even be allowed to have their own criteria that may differ from neighbouring areas? This is about accountability. The Safeguarding Adults Collection (SAC) report is the closest we come to any national accountability relating to adult protection and it falls far short of what is needed.

“Action on Elder Abuse exists to hold local authorities and government agencies to account and to demand improvements when countless thousands of older people are being let down by a system that still seems not to attach sufficient importance to keeping them safe.

“The Government and Directors of Adult Social Services need to take immediate responsibility for this situation and address these inadequacies as a matter of urgency. Too many people who are old, frail and in vulnerable situations appear to be left to fend for themselves in abusive or neglectful situations and this must stop. We expect better. The public expects better. At the moment, we appear to have an illusion of protection. This is plainly not good enough.”


Tuesday 10 October 2017

Adult social care is failing, but so is the inspection regime says charity

Latest CQC report shows an adult social care sector in crisis, and an inspection process that is having little effect.

The Care Quality Commission’s annual State of Care 2016-17 report, published today [Tuesday, 10th October 2017], shows that the national inspection system is failing to impact on failing care provision, according to charity Action on Elder Abuse.

Responding to the publication, the charity said the report showed that many thousands of older people were living in sub-standard care homes, many poorly-rated facilities were failing to improve, and some services previously judged as “good” had, on re-inspection, got worse.

This is a pattern repeated from last year, and there is no indication that it will be any different next year.

Stephen McCarthy, England Director at Action on Elder Abuse, said:

“This latest annual report from the CQC paints a deeply troubling picture of a sector slipping further into crisis, without any means of stopping it.

“Overall, more than one in five (22%) of adult social care services were not meeting public expectations, with thousands of our older people living in care circumstances that the law says are unacceptable. This was the situation last year and so it continues – showing widespread failure across the sector but also with regulation itself.

“How can we clam that inspection is effective when 23% of care services previously rated ‘good’ have, in this latest report, been given a lower rating on re-inspection? This was also the case last year and clearly shows that CQC’s decision to base the frequency of inspection on the quality of the rating given is fundamentally flawed, something they were warned about.

“The whole of adult social care is in crisis. This is self-evident to everyone except the Government who seem determined to ignore the plight of so many frail and vulnerable older people. But the current laws governing inspection and regulation are clearly not fit for purpose. They provide an illusion of protection, not the reality we all have a right to expect.”


Wednesday 13 September 2017


Almost 10% of older people say that they have been abused in nationwide poll

  • 3% of older people say that they have experienced elder abuse
  • This suggests that more than one million older people in the UK are being abused
  • Psychological, physical, sexual and financial among the types of abuse 

Older people across the UK are being abused on a massive scale, according to new research released by the charity Action on Elder Abuse.

The research showed that almost 10% of older people (aged 65+) say that they have experienced abuse of some kind, suggesting that one million older people in the UK could be victims.[1]

When friends and family aged under 65 were asked if they knew of an older person who had been abused, the figures rose to 25.9% (relatives) and 26.8% (non-relatives), suggesting the problem may be even greater than older people themselves feel able to acknowledge.

This research from Action on Elder Abuse supplements existing academic research into elder abuse. (NatCen, Kings College London, 2013)[2] regarding the scale of elder abuse, which estimated that the likely prevalence of elder abuse was 8.6% of the population, meaning 998,560 older people would be likely to be being abused annually. The definition included abuse perpetrated by neighbours and acquaintances (in addition to that by friends, family and carers).

Experience and perceptions of abuse by older people and under 65+s

Types of abuse experienced by over 65s[3]

Type of abuse

Percentage experienced

No. in population likely to be experiencing abuse

Psychological (e.g. threats, intimidation, mockery)



Physical Abuse (e.g. hitting, slapping, spitting)



Sexual Abuse (e.g. Rape, unwanted sexual touching)



Financial Abuse (e.g. The misuse of power of attorney, theft, fraud)



Neglect (e.g. failure to meet basic needs such as food, drink or personal care)



The survey also asked all respondents if they knew of any older friends/acquaintances/relatives who had experienced elder abuse and again, the findings suggested that the problem is widespread:

Perceptions of elder abuse by 16+ – friends/acquaintances

Type of crime


Knows an older person that has experienced financial abuse


Knows an older person who has experienced neglect


Knows of an older person who has experienced psychological abuse


Know an older person who has experienced physical abuse


Know an older person who has been sexually abused



Perceptions of elder abuse by 16+ – relatives

Type of crime


Knows an older person that has experienced financial abuse


Knows an older person who has experienced neglect


Knows of an older person who has experienced psychological abuse


Know an older person who has experienced physical abuse


Know an older person who has been sexually abused



Low prosecution levels for crimes against older people

Despite the likelihood that many older people are victims of targeted crime each year, an additional analysis by Action on Elder Abuse has shown that most of those who abuse older people are going unpunished, with just 0.7% (3,012) of cases resulting in a successful criminal conviction in 2015/16, meaning it is likely that 99% of those who commit crimes against older people are not punished.

For this reason, Action on Elder Abuse is campaigning for tougher penalties for those who abuse older people by making it an aggravating factor for sentencing.

A recent poll of 3,000 people carried out by the charity revealed there was popular support for this measure: Nearly 96% of respondents in the UK-wide survey backed calls for tougher penalties for those who commit crimes against older people. In addition:

  • 96% think there should be tougher sentences for those who commit crimes against older people
  • 95% think older people are specifically targeted for abuse due to their perceived physical frailty or mental vulnerability.
  • Just 1 in 12 people thinks the government does enough to support older victims of crime


Action on Elder Abuse’s Chief Executive, Gary FitzGerald, said:

“This poll confirms that elder abuse in the UK is a major issue, and requires radical action if we are to prevent thousands of our loved ones from continuing to suffer appalling treatment. The criminal justice system is failing to deter abusers, too many care providers provide neglectful care, and the adult protection process often fails to protect. Governments cannot continue to claim they are doing enough.

 “It is particularly worth noting that relatives and friends are observing much more elder abuse than older people themselves are actually acknowledging. This is likely to be because victims are afraid to speak out, are dependent on their abusers, or have just accepted that they can do nothing about it. And a significant number of older victims lack the capacity to recognise what is being done to them.

“What is clear is that the abuse of older people is a massive problem in the UK and at the moment, there just isn’t enough of a deterrent. Those who commit crimes against older people are highly unlikely to be prosecuted and, even if they are, the sentences they receive are often appallingly flimsy.

“This is why we want crimes against older people to be prosecuted in a similar way to hate crimes – as an aggravated offence - in recognition both of the fact that older people are specifically targeted because of their vulnerability and they often suffer more in the aftermath of these crimes. Indeed, sometimes even relatively ‘minor’ crimes against older people can trigger terminal decline.

“We can all agree that the abuse of older people has no place in a civilised society. Governments must stop claiming they are doing enough, because what they are doing is failing.

“Elder abuse is a crime, let’s make it one!”

View Action on Elder Abuse’s petition on here

[1] Figure calculated using ONS population data


[3] Sample size of 1,000 over 65s