United Kingdom? The legislation landscape

01 December 2019, Matt Cooper

In June 2019, we ran our second member-wide survey. One of the many reasons we run this survey is to find the areas where our member organisations are wanting the most help and support. The answer to ‘What would you like to see more of in our communications’ was updates on legislation. So to respond to that call, we thought we’d begin by looking the existing legislative landscape across the UK and what that means for you where you are.

The variations in how different parts of the United Kingdom function have been around for a long time, leading to significant differences in law, guidance and terminology across the four nations. These include changes in laws and policies in relation to safeguarding children and adults across the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Changes in legislation and practice can often leave churches feeling confused about what they should and should not be doing with regards to safeguarding.

Legal History

Parliament defines devolution as ‘the decentralisation of governmental power.’ Examples of devolution are the powers granted to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and to the Greater London and Local Authorities. There are some things that are not devolved, such as the constitution and international relations. Examples of things that are devolved are health care, social care and education. Devolution entered a new phase in 1997 when referendums were held in Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland holding one in 1998. In addition, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and debate surrounding it resulted in more powers being offered to the Scottish Parliament.

"Charities registered in England or Wales need to comply with the safeguarding requirements of the Charity Commission. Organisations such as churches applying to register with the Charity Commission who work with vulnerable beneficiaries will need a safeguarding policy."

Legal Frameworks


The legal framework for England includes the Children Acts 1989 and 2004, and, for vulnerable adults, the Care Act 2014. In 1991, following the implementation of the Children Act 1989, the Government issued ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’, describing the responsibilities of agencies working with children to ensure that they are kept safe. The guidance is for statutory agencies and voluntary organisations, including churches and faith-based organisations. The document covers all the expectations of government in relation to safeguarding children in England. A number of revisions of Working Together have been produced, the most recent version being published in July 2018.

Charities registered in England or Wales need to comply with the safeguarding requirements of the Charity Commission. Organisations such as churches applying to register with the Charity Commission who work with vulnerable beneficiaries will need a safeguarding policy. The organisation’s policy must be submitted along with evidence that all those working with children or vulnerable adults have been safely recruited and undertaken a Disclosure and Barring Service check where eligibility is met.


Following devolution in 1997 and the increase in law-making powers in 2014, part 3 of the Children Act 1989 was replaced by part 6 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Furthermore, a set of guidance and codes of practice were issued under Section 145 of the act.

The Act brought Adult Safeguarding onto an equal statutory footing with Safeguarding Children. This was achieved through establishing a statutory duty to report concerns about both children and adults, and strengthening the response of statutory authorities to adults at risk. The processes for statutory agencies to respond to concerns about children remained unchanged.

The Act also imposes a duty on relevant partners to report to a local authority if an adult suspected of being an adult at risk is living in or moving to another area. The 2014 Act also introduces a statutory duty to local authorities to make enquiries to enable it to decide what action should be taken and, if so, what and by whom. The response of Local Authorities has been further strengthened through the creation of Adult Protection and Support Orders. The purposes of an APSO are to enable an authorised officer to speak in private with a person suspected of being an adult at risk, to ascertain whether that person is making decisions freely, and assess whether the person is an adult at risk and what, if any, action should be taken.

In addition, the ‘Duty to Promote the Third Sector’ section of the Act introduces a duty on local authorities to promote the development, in their area, of not-for-private-profit organisations. These include social enterprises, co-operative organisations, co-operative arrangements, user-led services and the third sector. Churches now have increased opportunity to work in partnership with statutory agencies to identify and meet people’s well-being needs.


The legal framework for Scotland includes the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, and, for adults at risk, the Adult Support and Protection Act 2007. The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2014, revised from first publication in 2010, sets out the responsibilities of all agencies working with children and covers the expectations of government in relation to keeping children safe in Scotland. This document was accompanied by a number of additional publications, such as the National Risk Framework for Assessment of Children and Young People.

Any registered charity in Scotland needs to abide by the child protection and adult protection requirements of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). They work with the Care Inspectorate which is an independent body responsible for the scrutiny and improvement of care, social work and child protection services in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

Safeguarding within the Northern Irish church context has grown and developed at a rapid pace over the last 20 years, creating a landscape that many may not fully understand. There are three documents that are essential reading. For ministry relating to children and young people, Co-operating to Safeguard Children and Young People in Northern Ireland 2017 and Safeguarding for Northern Ireland (SBNI) Procedures Manual (Nov 2017) are key. For ministries working with adults at risk of harm, Adult Safeguarding: Prevention and Protection in Partnership 2015, is the primary source of good safeguarding practice. 

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) was established in 2012 to ensure that safeguarding children happens in an inclusive, co-ordinated and consistent manner. Importantly for churches, the SBNI has a faith-based sub group that understands the context and culture in which safeguarding operates in churches.

One area where churches often struggle is with AccessNI disclosures. Certain activities are considered ‘regulated activity’ and require staff members or volunteers to have an enhanced disclosure prior to working with vulnerable groups. It is illegal to have a person working with vulnerable people in regulated activity who is on the barred list. It is also possible to apply for a basic level check from AccessNI as part of a safer recruitment process for people in non-regulated activity posts. This is a relatively new level of check and many organisations find the check beneficial in providing consistency and transparency throughout their recruitment process. 

Having an active, up-to date safeguarding policy is imperative. The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) expect churches to have a policy in place. Churches are required to report any serious safeguarding incidents to CCNI as soon as possible after they have been disclosed. Trustees are required via their Annual Monitoring Return to demonstrate that they are satisfied with the safeguarding policies and procedures and to confirm that serious incidents have been reported.

Following the changes

Whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the ways in which churches and organisations arrange themselves vary. However, it is important for places of worship to work to a safeguarding policy so they are able to respond appropriately whatever the situation.

It can be helpful for churches to be aware of changes in legislations and definitions depending on their country, and as a result of devolution, so they can update their safeguarding policy if needed. Our commitment is to keep members up to date and informed about all changes in legislation so make sure you register your details with us or follow us on social for the latest information.

Member organisations can access our complete online safeguarding manual at thirtyoneeight.org/gethelp.