As a parent or carer, it's natural to want to know about risks in your local area. Perhaps you're moving to a new home and you want to be sure your neighbourhood will be safe, or you're a new parent and you'd like to understand if the area where you currently live is safe for your child or children. If you've searched for information online, you may have seen headlines promising a map or list of sex offenders in your area, but in the UK there is no public sex offenders register.

However, under the government's child sex offender disclosure scheme (also known as Sarah's Law), if you have concerns about a specific adult, you can make a request to learn if they are a registered offender, or pose a risk to a child.

Read on to find out more, including:

Do you have concerns about another adult's behaviour?

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, always call 999.

If you suspect someone might be behaving inappropriately towards children - online or offline - we strongly encourage you to call our confidential and anonymous helpline on 0808 1000 900 or visit the Stop It Now! website.

You can also read our information on warning signs of abuse in adults and children to know what to look for.

How to find out who's on the sex offenders register

There is no public sex offenders register available in the UK, but information about people who pose a risk to children can be given to parents and guardians in certain police service areas under the government's child sex offenders disclosure scheme (also known as Sarah's Law).

You may have heard of Megan's Law, or the Family Watchdog website, but these are specific to the USA, and don't apply here in the UK.

What is Sarah's Law (the child sex offender disclosure scheme)?

Sarah's Law is another name for the UK's child sex offenders disclosure scheme. It allows anyone to enquire whether a person who has access to a child is a registered sex offender, or poses a risk to that child. Consideration will also be given to disclosing information about a person who poses a risk to a vulnerable adult(s).

The scheme builds on existing processes to proactively manage sexual and violent offenders by the police's public protection units under the multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA).

Although disclosure already takes place when children are deemed to be at risk, the scheme allows parents, guardians and third parties to apply directly for information themselves.

Who can request information under the child sex offender disclosure scheme?

Under the scheme, a parent, guardian or third party (e.g. grandparents or neighbours) can make an application to find out if there is information which they need to know about in order to protect a child, or children, in their care.

Any member of the public can approach participating forces to apply under the child sex offenders disclosure scheme for information about a specific person who has contact with a child or children.

Is disclosure guaranteed?

The police will process the application, but disclosure is not guaranteed.

Where appropriate, information will only be disclosed to parents and guardians or those best placed to protect a child.

If there is a need to pass information to someone in order to allow them to better protect a child, then the police will disclose to whoever is in a position to use, or need, that information.

Although each case will be considered separately, in consultation with partner agencies, disclosure will only be made to those people who are in a position to best protect or safeguard a child.

Do I need proof or evidence of my suspicions?

Even if there are no firm grounds for suspicion, the applicant can trigger an investigation to find out if the subject (the person they are asking about) has a known history that means they might be of risk to children

How to make a request

Visit any police station or call your local police non-emergency number. More information can be found on the relevant police force's website. 

How to keep children safe

Don't wait for 'proof' of child sexual abuse. 

Visit our family safety plan page for information and advice on the things to think about to keep your child or children safe, as well as helpful resources.

Make sure your children know that it's OK to talk with you about what may have already happened - that you love them and will help them. If you are concerned about a child who has disclosed information to you, visit our 'what to do if a child tells about abuse' page.

If you are concerned about the way someone you know behaves towards children, you should consider contacting the police or children's services in your area, they can take action if appropriate.

You can get anonymous support about how to prevent child sexual abuse from the advisors on the Stop It Now! helpline on 0808 1000 900.

Sarah's Law FAQs

Does disclosure already take place?

Yes it does. Under the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) or under the Safeguarding Children Arrangements, information is disclosed to an individual or group where it is felt necessary or proportionate to protect children from abuse.

MAPPA is the process through which the police, probation and prison services work together with other agencies to manage the risks posed by sex offenders, and violent offenders living in the community in order to protect the public.

The Safeguarding Children Arrangements involve a number of agencies working together to promote children's welfare and help protect children from abuse. Disclosure may also take place under the Safeguarding Children Arrangements, where Children's Services may disclose information held by the authorities in a managed way; where it is felt necessary to protect children under Section 47 of The Children Act.

How are registered sexual offenders usually managed?

The police have a statutory responsibility to manage registered sex offenders. All registered sex offenders are subject to  MAPPA proceduresMAPPA aims to reduce the risk posed by offenders to the community.

Will the subject know they are being checked out, and who asked for it?

No, confidentiality will be maintained unless a disclosure takes place. If a disclosure does take place the subject may be informed that the applicant is to receive a disclosure about them. Risk assessments will take place for each disclosure.

If disclosure takes place, can applicants warn family and friends about the sexual or violent offender?

Information about disclosure must be treated as confidential. It is only being given so that steps can be taken to protect children. Applicants must not share this information with anyone else unless they have spoken to the police, or the person who gave them the information, and the police have agreed that it can be shared. In considering disclosure, all relevant persons will be informed.

What will be done to stop offenders becoming victims of vigilantism?

The police and other agencies are in regular contact with offenders and the disclosure process will be carefully managed. If anyone feels they are likely to become a victim of vigilantism or have been targeted, they should contact the police. In all cases of disclosure, the risks to the offender and the community impact will be considered. However, the protection of children will be the key determining factor.

What happens if someone tries to make a false application?

Making a false declaration in an attempt to procure the disclosure of personal data to which someone does not have a lawful right of access is an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998. This offence is more commonly referred to as 'blagging' and is punishable by an unlimited fine at Crown Court. Therefore, anyone providing false information in registering their interest or misusing any information disclosed, for example, by engaging in vigilantism on their own behalf, or on behalf of others, or the harassment of sex offenders, would be subject to police intervention and potential prosecution for any offences identified.

For more information about the disclosure scheme, click here.  

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