What to expect from a police welfare check

Graphic shows a police car arriving at a house at night time, representing a police welfare check

What is a police welfare check, and what will happen if the police turn up to check on your safety? We spoke to the experts at Your Police to get all the key information you need to know, to help put your minds at ease.

What is a welfare check?

Let’s explain what we mean when talk about welfare checks by police. If a member of the public or an organisation such as The Mix are worried about you and the police receive a report where there is a genuine, immediate, and justifiable concern for your welfare or wellbeing, police can go to your home or a public place to check you are safe and well. Sometimes this is called a ‘safe and well’ rather than a welfare check. Don’t worry, this is very different to being arrested or getting a police caution or warning.

Do I need to answer the door? Do they have the right to make a forceful entrance?

You don’t have to answer the door; the police can’t force entry into your home, but they can use power of entry in cases of emergency. This is when there’s an immediate risk of ‘life or limb,’ which means risk of death or serious injury under S.17 of the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

If the concern relates to your mental health, but you aren’t at ‘life or limb’ risk and you haven’t given consent to police officers entering your home, they may request a warrant to enter your home under S.135 of Mental Health Act.

What’s the process of the welfare check?

When someone asks police to do a welfare check, the person who takes the call will ask the person worried about you to explain why they are worried and what the risk of harm might be. They will want to know – who, what, where, when, and if any actions have already been taken to check you are safe or to find out where you are.

Police will consider a welfare check if:

  • There is an immediate, real, and substantial risk to the life and/ or a risk of serious injury to you or any other person.
  • There’s a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being or is about to be committed.
  • There’s a reasonable belief that a child is suffering or is at risk of suffering immediate and significant harm as set out in Section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989.
  • There are criminal offences involved; in this case, they can consider criminal law or Breach of the Peace powers, which gives police powers to intervene and/or arrest when an individual causes harm.

When police officers are carrying out a mental health welfare check, they might:

  • Confirm that you are safe and well, leave you where you are and update the concerned person who requested the welfare check.
  • Consider appropriate support options, like a medical assessment, a voluntary referral to the hospital, or to their GP for a follow up.

What if I’m having a mental health crisis?

If you’re having a mental health crisis, the welfare check by police will involve them staying with you and contacting a crisis team service or an approved mental health professional for a medical assessment under the Mental Health Act 1983.

If you’re at home, officers can’t force entry for this purpose and require a warrant under section 135(2) Mental Health Act 1983 if you haven’t given consent.

Will I have to go somewhere? If so, where?

This will depend on how safe and well you are. If you appear to be in a mental health crisis, police have reasonable cause to believe you have a mental health disorder, are being neglected or ill-treated or are unable to look after yourself, then police can call an ambulance, contact a crisis team service or an approved mental health professional for a mental health assessment under S.135 Mental Health Act 1983; this usually takes place in a hospital but can be done at home if this is appropriate.

If you’re not at home and in a public place, police can get you to a place of safety under S.136 Mental Health Act 1983. A place of safety is a locally agreed place where the police may take you for a mental assessment, which may be a hospital, care home, your house or someone else’s house.

The police can keep you at the place of safety for up to 24 hours, or another 12 hours if it wasn’t possible to carry out a mental assessment in this time. The time begins to run from whenever you arrived at the place of safety or when the police arrived if you were not taken anywhere.

If the welfare check results in a Police Protection Order, then a young person may be removed from their home without a court order to a temporary place of safety. This may be in accommodation provided by the local authority, with a relative or carer or if necessary, hospital.

Police stations must never be used as a place of safety for anyone under the age of 18 (PACE Code C).

What questions are police going to ask & what information is going to be shared?

Welfare checks by police will involve an officer asking you questions to check you are ok in that moment. If you have been threatened or hurt by anyone, you should consider telling them, so that they can help you stay safe.

If it’s mental health related, police officers aren’t trained to carry out a visual examination or to ask clinical questions, so will only be able to ask you questions that help them to seek medical advice and support.

They may need to share information between agencies and professionals, so they can reduce the likelihood of harm and get you the right care. But, they still have to respect confidentiality as much as possible and comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, which means they must try to get your consent to share information where possible and should only share information to benefit your wellbeing or safety. Information may need to be shared without consent when there is a high level of risk.

How can I tell my parents/guardian what’s happening?

If you are not found safe and well, the police will tell your parents or guardians as soon as possible. In some cases, they might try to contact your parent/guardians to help them find out if you are ok.

What are my rights? Am I more likely to have a bad experience if I’m from a minority community?

The recent Baroness Casey Review has shown serious problems of institutional racism, homophobia and misogyny within the police, so some people may feel mistrustful and fearful of welfare checks by police officers. It’s important to remember that you have rights. Read The Mix’s guide to knowing your rights when interacting with the police. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly you could:

Make a complaint to the police by complaining directly to your local police force (you can do this online via their website) or you can complain to the place of safety, like the hospital.

If you think the police did not follow the legal requirements of an S.135 or S136, you could seek legal advice for an unlawful detention claim. Reach out to The Mix’s team if you’re struggling after an encounter with the police.

Can someone come with me? Can I request a trusted adult or interpreter?

If you’re held by the police and are under 18, you have the right to be accompanied by an appropriate adult. They should be an adult who is independent of the police, such as a member of your family.

Police have approved interpreters that they can contact if they believe this is necessary.

Do the police turn up in uniform?

It’s more likely than not, that a police officer will be in uniform. This is because they might need to use powers such as being able to detain you if necessary. They also need to be clearly identifiable as a police officer to you, and other professionals/members of the public wanting to check if you’re ok. A police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform, but if they’re not wearing uniform, they must show you their warrant card.

Will my parents/guardians be in trouble?

Not unless there is a justifiable reason, for example, they have committed a crime.

What happens to me if my abuser finds out about the welfare check?

If you believe you are unsafe or at risk of abuse, you should contact 999 and report it. You can also contact Childline for free on 0800 1111 (it won’t show up on your phone bill), who are there to support you and get you the help you need to feel safe.

What if I leave home?

If you go missing and return home or leave your home (and are living in a safe environment), the police might want to do a welfare check to see if you are ok.

Once the check is done, and the police confirm that you are safe and well, and change your missing status to ‘found,’ they will tell the person who reported you missing that you have been found safe and well but won’t say where you are unless you have asked them to, or you are unsafe.

How do I get support after the welfare check?

If the police have come to your home or somewhere else to check on your safety, this can feel very overwhelming, and you might be experiencing anxiety or sadness. It’s important to know that you’ve done nothing wrong – if the police have come to check on your wellbeing, it’s because they want to keep you safe, and you won’t be in trouble with them.

If you have been through a welfare check and need some support, or just want to chat about what happened, The Mix is here to listen and help you process it. You can get in touch with our support team wherever and whenever you need to, and you can chat things through with other young people on our online community.

Next Steps


Updated on 09-Aug-2023

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