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Mandatory Reporting: An update

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was published in October 2022. As part of its final report, one of the centrepiece recommendations of the Inquiry’s work was the introduction of a statutory requirement for mandatory reporting of abuse.

Current position

In England, there is currently no statutory obligation requiring individuals or institutions to report child sexual abuse. The guidance available states that anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare “should make a referral to local authority children’s social care”. This referral should be made immediately if there is a concern that the child is experiencing significant harm or is likely to do so. However, it only creates an expectation that individuals will make a report – it does not impose a legal requirement to do so.

The recommendation

IICSA formally recommended that the Government introduce laws requiring certain people to report child sexual abuse and that these people be known as “mandated reporters”. These individuals would be placed under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse where they:

  • Receive a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator; or
  • Witness a child being sexually abused; or
  • Observe recognised indicators of child sexual abuse.

The following persons should be designated mandated reporters:

  • Any person working in regulated activity in relation to children (under the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, as amended);
  • Any person working in a position of trust (as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as amended); and
  • Police officers.

For the purposes of mandatory reporting, “child sexual abuse” should be interpreted as any act that would be an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 where the alleged victim is a child under the age of 18. However, the IICSA report considers that in some limited circumstances, a different approach may sometimes be necessary. It proposes that where the child is aged between 13 and under 16 years old, a report need not be made where the mandated reporter reasonably believes that:

  • The relationship between the parties is consensual and not exploitative or coercive; and
  • The child has not been harmed and is not at risk of being harmed; and
  • There is no material difference in capacity or maturity between the parties engaged in the sexual activity concerned, and there is a difference in age of no more than three years.

The reason for this is that consensual sexual activity between teenagers is unlikely to be prosecuted unless there are aggravating features such as an element of abuse or exploitation. As it would not be considered to be in the public interest to prosecute children and young people in a consensual relationship, it would, therefore, not be in the public interest to criminalise mandated reporters for failure to report consensual teenage sexual activity.

Where the child is under the age of 13, a report must always be made. In addition, irrespective of the age of the child, where the alleged perpetrator is in a position of trust as defined by the 2003 Act, a report must be made.

The response

In April 2023 the Home Secretary announced that the Government would seek to deliver a mandatory reporting regime, which would be informed by a full public consultation. It also accepted that implementing a new mandatory reporting duty could improve the protection and safeguarding of children as well as holding to account those who fail in their responsibilities.

Call for Evidence

A call for evidence on the potential implementation of such a duty began on 22 May 2023 and concluded on 14 August 2023. Views were sought from persons working in regulated activity, volunteers undertaking regulated activity, anyone working with children in any capacity, people working in positions of trust, police officers, local authorities, NHS trusts, those working in education settings as well as members of the public, on how implementing the duty was likely to impact children and organisations, as well as workforces and volunteers, and how different aspects could be implemented, for example, if the duty should relate to child sexual abuse only or be extended to cover other forms of abuse and neglect. It received over one thousand responses.

Present position

The Government has now collated the views produced via the call for evidence and is launching a consultation to set out proposals for delivering a mandatory reporting duty and test the remaining undecided policy questions. It then intends to issue a single response to address both exercises. This current consultation is shorter than the call for evidence, opening on 2 November 2023 to run to 30 November 2023. The Government has indicated that responses will be produced within 12 weeks, which would be mid to late February 2024.

Outcome of the call for evidence

It is understood that the call for evidence demonstrated several areas of general agreement, such as who should be considered to be a mandated reporter and the potential benefits of the creation of such a duty in order to improve the child protection system. There was also agreement on the critical importance of ensuring the new duty contains appropriate protection for individuals who make their reports in good faith.

However, there were points which generated mixed opinions. While it was agreed there should be protections for reports made in good faith, views were split on whether or not failing in the duty to report should be a criminal offence, with many saying different forms of punishment should be available based on the context and severity of failures. It appears that views were also split on what should be reported. Many consider that the duty to report should only apply when they are directly told of sexual abuse by a child or perpetrator or witness it themselves, whereas other respondents felt that being required to report when recognised indicators were observed would highlight the importance of early identification preventing more severe harm.

The call for evidence has also identified a range of issues that require further consideration before the duty is implemented, including reporting processes, training and guidance. In addition, a consultation impact assessment has been prepared – this indicates that certain groups are likely to be particularly affected by the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty as it may lead to additional costs for businesses, charities, the voluntary sector, and the public sector. Most of these costs are expected to impact the public sector, driven by an increase in the cost of police investigations into child sexual abuse. Costs to police are estimated between £15.8 million and £84.9 million with a central estimate of £48.7 million over ten years. Other affected groups are likely to include the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecuting additional offences, and victim organisations to cover additional victims who need to access support services.

The Consultation

The Government is seeking further views on:

  • How the Government should define who is subject to the duty: IICSA recommended that the duty applies to persons engaging in regulated activity, persons occupying positions of trust, and police officers. It is thought that while this is to be the foundation for who is subject to the duty, the Government is proposing to create a bespoke list of additional roles that would also be subject to the duty, rather than relying on the positions of trust legislation.
  • What protections should be in place for reporters: It is proposed that there will be specific protections for individuals when reports are made in good faith, as well as protection against repercussions on the basis of having made a report or having raised that a report has not been made.
  • Limited circumstances in which the reporting duty may not apply: IICSA suggested that where there is a consensual relationship between young people this would not be considered child sexual abuse in the absence of coercion or significant differences in age or maturity, and an exception should be made under the duty in such circumstances. However, as the Inquiry did not set out any further exceptions which should apply to the reporting duty, the Government is seeking views on whether there are other circumstances in which a report may not need to be made.
  • Whether the duty should apply to known or suspected incidents: IICSA recommended that the duty applies where a reporter is told about abuse, witnesses abuse or recognises signs which may indicate abuse is taking place. The current view appears to be that the duty should be limited to disclosures and incidents the reporter has personally witnessed. This means that breaching the duty will involve deliberate inaction, rather than a subjective assessment of indicators.
  • What sanctions should apply in respect of the duty: IICSA recommended that failure to report disclosures or witnessed incidents should be a criminal offence. A number of respondents to the call for evidence suggested that sanctions for breaching the duty should be determined and imposed by professional regulators for those in regulated professions. All mandated reporters, whether professionally regulated or not, should be referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for discretionary barring consideration. The Government is seeking views on whether non-criminal sanctions might provide more proportionate penalties which take into account the different levels of responsibility and experience applicable to the wide range of people who undertake regulated activities in relation to children, including volunteers. The Government is, however, considering a separate criminal offence reserved for anyone who deliberately obstructs an individual from carrying out the duty by destroying or concealing evidence or applying pressure on an individual to prevent them from reporting.


The Government has received much criticism on the basis that it is now over a year since the final report was published and not one of the main recommendations has been implemented, despite the amount of money spent on an inquiry that lasted eight years. However, it does appear that while progress may be slow, the Government remains committed to this recommendation and the implementation of a mandatory duty to report child sexual abuse.


Author: Lauranne Nolan – Associate & Safeguarding lead