30 January 2019

The Vulnerable Adults Act 2018 (“Act”) has come into operation on 19 December 2018, allowing government social services to intervene, assist and protect vulnerable adults (“VAs”) when social work-based family and community interventions are inadequate. It complements other existing laws that protect vulnerable individuals, such as the Mental Capacity Act and the Women’s Charter.

Scope of the Act and guiding principles underlying intervention

VAs refer to individuals who are 18 years of age or older who, because of mental or physical infirmity, disability or incapacity, are incapable of protecting themselves from abuse, neglect or self-neglect.

The Act sets out five key principles that guide how a duty should be performed or a power exercised under the Act:

  • The duty is being performed or the power is being exercised for the purpose of protecting the VA from abuse, neglect and self-neglect. 
  • A VA, where not lacking mental capacity, is generally best placed to decide how he or she wishes to live and whether or not to accept any assistance. 
  • If a VA lacks mental capacity, the VA’s views (whether past or present), wishes, feelings, values and beliefs, where reasonably ascertainable, must be considered. 
  • Regard must be had as to whether the purpose for which the duty is being performed or the power is being exercised can be achieved in a way that is less restrictive of the VA’s rights and freedom of action. 
  • The welfare and best interests of the VA must be the first and paramount consideration.

Key provisions of the Act

  • Empowering State intervention: Under the Act, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (“MSF”) is empowered to: (a) enter the homes of suspected VAs and assess if they are suffering from or at risk of abuse, neglect or self-neglect; (b) obtain information and records of suspected VAs who are believed to have experienced, be experiencing, or be at risk of, abuse, neglect or self-neglect; and (c) temporarily remove VAs and place them in designated facilities which provide care and protection. 
  • Court orders to protect VAs: MSF may apply for court orders to place VAs in alternative care options, restrain abusers from causing further harm and exclude abusers from the VA’s living environment. 
  • Powers for MSF to investigate offences: MSF officers are empowered to investigate offences under the Act, including entering, inspecting and searching premises, inspecting and seizing documents, and requiring persons to assist in investigations. 
  • Protection for whistle-blowers: To encourage persons to provide information to the authorities about the alleged abuse, neglect or self-neglect of VAs, those who report such information to the authorities will be afforded protection. 
  • Enhanced penalties for offences committed against VAs: The penalties for the relevant offences under the Penal Code and Protection from Harassment Act committed against VAs have been enhanced. The Women’s Charter has also been amended to increase the penalties for contravening a protection order that relates to a VA.


MSF had conducted a public consultation from 27 July 2016 to 23 August 2016 seeking feedback on a draft Vulnerable Adults Bill. The Vulnerable Adults Bill was introduced in Parliament on 20 March 2018 and passed on 18 May 2018.   

Reference materials 

The Vulnerable Adults Act 2018 can be accessed from the Singapore Statutes Online website sso.agc.gov.sg.


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