Missing Adults – the law

There is always a reason why an adult will go missing. Many are vulnerable and at risk, whilst others just need to ‘drop out’ for a while, in circumstances that pose no danger to themselves or others. Approximately 90,000 adults are reported missing to the police each year, but exactly what powers do police have when a missing adult does not want to be found and return to their family or friends? The simple truth is that legal powers relating to missing adults are extremely limited.

Finally, whilst this article may present a fairly negative approach to missing adults, that is not our intention. We simply wanted to highlight some of the limitations that police have when investigating missing adults, and also the rights to privacy that the missing person has. Generally, the police will work around these limitations to achieve a safe outcome for the missing person. We do not wish anyone reading this to be deterred from reporting someone missing if they have disappeared and there are concerns around their safety. If this is the case then they should be reported to police. With that in mind we wanted to finish with a common myth with regards to missing adults. This is that when reporting an adult missing, the informant should wait 24 hours before doing so, just in case they come back. This is not the case and if there are concerns for the safety and welfare of the person, then they should be reported missing immediately.

Thanks for reading

Share This Story


  1. Anon 19/04/2022 at 4:19 am - Reply

    under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, officers can force entry to save life or limb if they have reasonable grounds to suspect (not believe, as stated in the article) that someone inside is at serious risk of harm

    • Safeguarding Hub 08/06/2022 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Saving life or limb requires belief that an immediate risk of serious or life threatening harm, or serious damage to/threat of damage to property, exists – see the case of Friswell v Chief Constable of Essex Police (2004). In this case, it was held that the nature of the power under section17(1)(e) was one which required circumstances giving rise to an immediate and present threat or danger before the power of entry to private premises could be lawfully exercised.

  2. PeopleShouldn'tBeAllowedToFileMissingPersonReports 15/12/2022 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    The current situation must change immediately people shouldn’t be allowed to file missing person reports I will explain why the so called “missing people” don’t belong to you they are their own person they make their own decisions they go wherever they want whenever they want you have no right to try and find them if they left without saying anything then they simply don’t want you so they left you have no right to look for them it doesn’t matter what you or anyone else thinks about what they are doing it’s their decision you must respect it I’m sick of nothing being done about this missing person reports must be banned police shouldn’t be allowed to look for someone and the term missing person implies you own them which you don’t no one owns anyone everyone does their own thing and you are only together if both people consent you cannot assume consent you don’t know until you ask and enough of the mental capacity rubbish it’s simple everyone makes their own decisions for themselves you don’t intervene they don’t care about your opinion on their choice you respect their decision and you have no right to post information or photos about them online you don’t have permission you don’t decide that they will be on the internet for anyone to look at and screenshot you don’t do that without permission you don’t assume it’s ok with them it’s not why is nothing being done about the current mess of missing person reports they must go it’s time action was taken against this horrible sickening system.

  3. sheila 27/02/2023 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    This information was mostly helpful. However, it is of my opinion that the law should be changed for adults when they go missing, as we all know that there are a lot of vulnerable adults out there.

    Another point is when the Police say that they have located the person, what does that actually mean? Located is a very open ended word and does not help the loved ones or put their minds at ease, it merely leads to more anxiety for the family and friends.

Leave A Comment

Get Involved!

Share Your own Safeguarding News and Research to reach a wider Audience

From Our Blog


Understand the impact and risks associated with cyber-bullying, learn how to identify indicators and read tips on prevention.

Modern Slavery – an introduction

Modern slavery is prevalent in the UK. Safeguarding Hub examines what modern slavery is and looks at the various types, from organ harvesting to sexual exploitation.

Breast Flattening – a guide

Breast ironing is an age-old tradition, practiced in certain parts of Africa. The pounding and massaging of a girl’s breasts to delay breast development. In the UK it is child abuse. Read our guide to find out more.

The Safeguarding Hub

Share Your Safeguarding News And Research To Reach A Wider Audience