Duty of Care


This short unit for both the Level 2 Diploma in Care and Level 3 Diploma in Adult Care discusses duty of care and how it affects your role, balancing duty of care with an individual’s rights and handling complaints.

NOTE: The assessment criteria for the Duty of Care in Care Settings unit for the Level 3 Diploma in Adult Care may differ slightly from below but the information given here is comprehensive enough to achieve all learning outcomes.


Study Guide

1.1 Define the term ‘duty of care’

Duty of care is the moral or legal obligation to ensure the safety of others.

This means always acting withing your levels of competence, not doing anything (or neglecting to do something) that may harm an individual and always acting in the best interests of the individuals you care for.

1.2 Describe how duty of care relates to duty of candour

Duty of candour is one of the Care Quality Commission’s fundamental principles.

It means that care providers must be open and transparent about the care and treatment they provide to individuals and if something goes wrong, they apologise, explain what happened and provide support to rectify it or reduce the impact of it.

The difference between duty of care and duty of candour is that duty of care is the obligation to act in the best interests of the individual and duty of candour is the obligation to keep the individual fully informed about the care, even when things go wrong.

The relationship is that they are both duties or obligations to ensure the best possible outcomes for the individuals that you care for.

1.3 Describe how the duty of care affects own work role

Duty of care affects your own work role in several ways.

Firstly, it is your legal duty to look out for the welfare of the individuals that you care for and you could be breaking the law even if you do nothing.

Therefore, any unsafe practices you encounter should be reported immediately to the relevant person(s), following your organisation’s agreed ways of working. In most cases, this will probably be your line manager.

This could be broken equipment, suspicions of abuse, bullying or food hygiene.

You should not take on any tasks that you are not qualified or competent to undertake. This could result in an individual being harmed accidentally. Similarly, you should always follow company policies and procedures and use equipment in the correct way.

You should also ensure that you are always able to justify your actions, inactions and behaviour.

2.1 Describe dilemmas that may arise between the duty of care and an individual’s rights

You may sometimes find yourself in a situation where there is a dilemma between duty of care and an individual’s rights.

For example, you may care for an individual that is clinically obese and if they continue to overeat, it will kill them. You want to look after the best interests of the individual by getting them to reduce their food intake (duty of care) but the individual can choose to eat whatever they want (individual rights).

Or you may support an individual that likes to set fires and has a history of arson. You want to help protect them from the risks (fire-related injuries or death to themselves or others and possibility of prison) but cannot take away their right to make their own choices.

In most cases, individual rights overrides your duty of care. You cannot forcibly stop someone doing something even if it means their welfare is compromised.

Exceptions to this rule include if an individual has had a mental capacity assessment (MCA) and has been deemed to not have the capacity to make a decision themselves, has a deprivation of liberty safeguard (DOLS). In these cases, you may have legal grounds to put duty of care above individual rights.

2.2 Explain where to get additional support and advice about how to resolve such dilemmas

When you encounter dilemmas between duty of care and individual rights, you should obtain additional advice and support from your manager who will often have more experience than you in such matters.

You can also get expert advice from other professionals, such as doctors, social workers, psychologists etc.

3.1 Describe the process to follow when responding to complaints

Your organisation should have a complaints procedure, which you will need to be aware of.

If somebody approaches you to make a complaint you should know what to do, treat it seriously and endeavour to assist them with the procedure. An advocate may also help them with this. In some cases, you may need to remind an individual of their right to complain.

Complaints are very useful for identifying failings in an organisation and should be treated positively and investigated speedily, keeping the complainant informed and involved (if they wish) throughout the process.

3.2 Identify the main points of agreed procedures for handling complaints

The main points of agreed procedures for handling complaints are:

  • treat all complaints positively and seriously
  • make it as easy as possible for individuals to complain
  • if necessary, provide support for an individual to make a complaint
  • handle complaints quickly and effectively
  • keep the complainant informed and involved
  • report the complaint to your manager