The Royal British Legion (RBL) are the country’s largest armed forces charity, with 180,000 members, 110,000 volunteers and a network of partners and charitable enterprises. They support ex and serving military personnel, providing expert advice and guidance, recovery and rehabilitation support and help to transition to civilian life.

The Royal British Legion help a variety of people who have been affected by war and military service. These include:

  • Military veterans: for most service charities, a veteran is determined by having completed one days paid service in any UK armed force
  • Serving personnel from Navy, Army, RAF and Royal Marines, including reservists of those forces
  • Families and dependants: spouses/partners, children.

The RBL operate 6 care homes around the UK for veterans and their dependents, with 190 beds. Their community-based welfare and advice work deals with crisis issues. For example, homelessness and housing issues, debt and money advice, alcohol and substance misuse, mental health, domestic abuse, and suicide ideation.

However, they have recently reported that there is growing evidence to suggest that disengagement with the veteran’s charity sector is higher than across other sectors.

Disengagement from services is a problem across all charities and sectors. However, where the client/user/beneficiary is also an adult at risk, the impact of disengagement can often be an increase in the risk of harm, abuse or neglect.

Resulting safeguarding concerns can include neglect, self-neglect, financial abuse, domestic abuse, physical abuse and modern slavery. The most prevalent safeguarding concern for the RBL’s beneficiaries is self-neglect and neglect.

The RBL see that a process-driven approach to safeguarding, in which staff respond to safeguarding issues in an agreed and well-defined manner tends to be the easiest way forward. However, a person-centred approach puts the needs and wishes of beneficiaries at the centre of the decision-making process.

Casework and Safeguarding

Finding the line between a complex piece of casework and an issue that tips over into a safeguarding concern is difficult. The RBL’s casework is becoming increasingly complex, with multiple needs being presented by beneficiaries.

They are seeing more interconnected issues leading to higher levels of complexity. Therefore, there is a requirement to consider more closely if there is a safeguarding need or not.

RBL beneficiaries engage voluntarily with the services, they do not engage with them because of compulsion or direction. A person-centred approach says that the power rests with the beneficiary – they are in control, and they can take their own journey forward at their own pace and in their own way.

Successful engagement is driven through a values-based relationship, based on empowerment, partnership, and accountability. Proportionality must be maintained in casework when working with beneficiaries who have capacity but may not recognise the complexity or the totality of their situation.

A person-centred approach encourages ongoing discourse and disclosure, and it leads to an identification of needs often beyond initial presentation. Caseworkers then must tease out the complexities of the case, particularly through contextual safeguarding.

Whilst the focus on crisis and need is important, applying contextual safeguarding principles is vital to ensure the safety and the wellbeing of the beneficiary. However, differentiating a safeguarding concern from complex casework remains an issue.

Safeguarding support is only truly effective if the beneficiary has access to all relevant information. They must fully engage in a clear, honest, and meaningful dialogue based on the information they have received.

In complex casework, beneficiaries may choose not to act and may not be willing participants in a statutory referral. The RBL must then know how to deal with this, whilst maintaining safeguarding principles.

For the RBL, suicidal ideation is often the presenting situation, with 40% of RBL’s safeguarding referrals being from those suffering this. Through a contextual safeguarding analysis, they often see complex issues such as social isolation, mental health problems, debt and homelessness linked to suicidal ideation.

The Components of Disengagement

The RBL has identified 3 major components of disengagement with their services:


  • Not having the mental capacity to engage
  • Emotional capacity, not having the resilience to engage
  • Stigma, pride affecting motivation to engage

 Staff need to be fully equipped to assist beneficiaries that are struggling with their mental health. It is often difficult for people to ask for help when they are struggling with resilience. Pride often gets in the way for veterans who don’t want to appear vulnerable in asking for help. No level of competence and compliance should be assumed of anybody, as something that is easy for one person, may be impossible for someone else.


  • Struggles with forms and application processes
  • Inability to present in person

Forms that can help beneficiaries apply for financial support are often very long and complicated. Some people struggle with literacy and numeracy and cannot engage with these processes. Some support services require beneficiaries to present in person, which is not always possible for people suffering from a diverse set of needs.

Organisational Efficiency:

  • Is the RBL doing enough to communicate properly?
  • Are response times quick enough?
  • Is the safeguarding approach person-centred enough?

The RBL is starting to look at things from the beneficiary’s perspective. Lengthy response times and delays are likely to increase disengagement. Cross-agency assessment is also key in seeing whether engagement in other services has also decreased, and then understanding why.

The Disengagement Cycle

The RBL use the Disengagement Cycle to check themselves on what they could do/stop doing to mitigate disengagement.

Voluntary Engagement

  • What is the request for help – is it a crisis?
  • What is the presenting need?
  • Is there an imminent risk to life? Safeguarding response?
  • Is it something we can help with?

Triage and Assessment

  • Are the responses person centred, timely, proportionate? 
  • Have the beneficiaries’ needs been met?
  • Is a safeguarding concern identified an imminent risk to life?
  • Have concerns been discussed in full with the beneficiary?
  • Onward referral to an alternative/more appropriate service.


  • Consider the beneficiary journey, psychological, sociological, and organisational efficiency. 
  • Does the beneficiary have a history of dis-engagement?               
  • Has the safeguarding concern been accepted or rejected by the beneficiary?
  • Is this an “unwise decision”? Does the beneficiary have capacity and is fully informed?
  • Has the beneficiary been referred to another service, if so, was this a “warm” handover?


  • What needs to change to re-engage the beneficiary?
  • What can you change to allow re-engagement?
  • Is your concern sufficiently acute that you want to breach confidentiality?
  • What is the likely impact of such a breach? 
  • Will the beneficiary voluntarily re-engage in time?

The Impact of Disengagement

Beneficiaries suffer first and foremost from disengagement. Their needs are not addressed if they do not get adequate support. They become an increased safeguarding risk and the risk extends beyond risk to self. A ripple effect can occur in which families and wider support networks become impacted.

The likelihood of future re-engagement can decrease and re-engagement at a late stage can see an escalation in the safeguarding risk. Does this pose the question – does risk increase over time?

Disengagement doesn’t only impact the beneficiary. Vicarious trauma for staff is common. Worry and stress, unresolved concerns, and a lack of ability to mitigate known or perceived safeguarding risks can be a severe source of concern for staff.

There is also a risk to the organisational reputation when there is a lack of engagement. With services being delegitimised, this can encourage even further disengagement.

Engagement – Is There a Right Approach?

The RBL recommends that to drive engagement, organisations should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How well do we know our beneficiary/acknowledge their journey and adjust accordingly?
  • How do we maintain a person centred approach? – pace, disclosure, resolution
  • How can we tackle staff bias? Is there a need to ignore all previous dis-engagement, start from afresh?
  • Do we offer a timely delivery?
  • Do we offer consistent communication?

Additionally, they recommend:

  • If you cannot do something, tell the beneficiary, and explain why. Refer to a more appropriate organisation and make sure the beneficiary “gets there”. Hand over the beneficiary if that’s appropriate.
  • Have courageous conversations – if there is a safeguarding concern discuss it openly, honestly. Give your rationale.

[1] The Royal British Legion

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There is growing evidence to suggest that disengagement with veteran’s charities is higher than with other charities. In this case study, the Head of Safeguarding from The Royal British Legion discusses why tackling disengagement with services, is crucial to improving safeguarding in the voluntary sector.

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