As a result of a changing legal and policy context, statutory social work with adults in the UK has undergone a series of radical reforms. Underpinning these changes has been an ideological shift in the way adult social care should be provided. A clear ‘direction’ including a focus on autonomy, self-determination and personal responsibility is being promoted. These represent changes for both social workers and people receiving services. However, it has been suggested that policy may not fully acknowledge the factors that may undermine the ability of some individuals to take control of and manage their own needs. This paper draws on findings from two research projects, undertaken with social work practitioners located in statutory adult social care teams in the North East of England. The first explored the involvement of older people in adult safeguarding and the second considered capacity assessments and best interest decision making by social workers under the Mental Capacity Act [2005. Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/9/contents]. This paper presents key findings regarding how social workers attempt to reconcile the gap between the profile of the service user in policy and the reality of the people that social workers are supporting in practice. Key recommendations for policy, practice, and further research are also discussed.