Special Report: Regulation of social workers moves to Social Work England

The regulation of social workers in England is set to move from the Health and Care Professions Council to Social Work England on 2 December.

In January 2016, the Department for Education launched a paper ‘A vision for change’, in which it announced that there would be a new regulatory body for social work in England established. The new regulatory body would have a “wider remit” than the HCPC to look at post-qualification, accreditation, and potentially CPD.

Social Work England has subsequently been established and while the HCPC had responsibility for the regulation of 16 different professions including occupational therapists, paramedics and practitioner psychologists, the new regulator will, as the name suggests, focus purely on social workers in England.

Putting social workers on a par with surgeons

‘A vision for change’ set out the government’s aim “to truly transform the quality of children’s social care services in England”.

“Our ambition for this Parliament is radically to reform the children’s social care system, putting practice excellence and achieving more for the children we serve at its heart,” said the paper.

It revealed that reforms would be structured around people and leadership, practice and systems and governance and accountability.

Nicky Morgan, who was education secretary at the time, said the new body for social work would drive up standards and put social workers on par with high-status professions such as surgeons or lawyers.

She said the new body would have a relentless focus on raising the quality of social work, education, training and practice in both children’s and adult’s social work. It would also set standards for training and oversee the roll out of a new assessment and accreditation system for children and family social workers.

Operating at arm’s length from government

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 (the 2017 Act) established Social Work England, however, a secondary legislative framework was required in order for Social Work England to operate as the regulator setting out the core elements of how its regulatory functions will operate.

The policy underpinning Social Work England’s secondary legislative framework was subject to public consultation from 8 February to 21 March 2018. Following the consultation, the DfE stated that Social Work England will, as a separate legal entity in the form of a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), operate at arm’s length from government.

The response continued: “It will take over the regulation of social workers in England from the current regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). HCPC regulates social workers in England alongside 15 other professions, which means that it cannot develop the same in-depth understanding of the profession as we believe a specialist regulator can.”

The HCPC has been regulating the social work profession since August 2012, when the organisation took over the responsibility from the General Social Care Council. Until then, the organisation was known as the Health Professions Council but became the Health and Care Professions Council to reflect its new role. These changes were made by the UK government as part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

The Secretary of State cannot amend, remove or restore an entry in the register

A summary of the key changes following the consultation were outlined as follows:

• The investigation, case examination and adjudication roles in the fitness to practise system must be separate.

• Interim orders can now only be made by adjudicators, rather than case examiners.

• Social Work England will not have power to suspend approval of education courses or training as a remedial measure.

• All rules, which set out what people can expect from Social Work England across appointments, registration, education and training, and fitness to practise, will be subject to a minimum 28-day oversight period, coming into force on a date determined by the regulator at the end of this period, unless the Secretary of State objects. The regulations also provide that the regulator and Secretary of State can agree an earlier date and clarify that the Secretary of State can use their existing power to seek independent advice from the PSA.

• Under default powers, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint an independent person to take over the regulator’s functions or give effect to a remedial direction.

• The Secretary of State, or person appointed under default powers, will not be able to make a decision to make, amend, remove or restore an entry in the register.

• Modern slavery offences have been added to the list of fitness to practise automatic removal offences.

• Social Work England will be required to co-operate with NHS bodies, the police, the Disclosure and Barring Service and relevant inspectorates.

Since then, Social Work England has been working closely with the HCPC to “ensure a smooth and safe transition for social workers”.

Automatic transfer

On Monday 2 December, Social Work England will become the regulator of social workers in England and the social work profession. The transfer from HCPC to Social Work England will be automatic for everyone on the register and therefore current registrants do not need to do anything. The transfer, including payment of fees by direct debit if appropriate, will be automatic for everyone on the register and Social Work England will contact registrants on the week commencing Monday 2 December 2019 to confirm that this has taken place. All remaining balances will be transferred to Social Work England around the date of transfer.

Social workers currently registered with the HCPC will retain their current registration numbers.

In order to set up an online account with Social Work England, if you have applied to join the register or are already registered with HCPC, you will need to set a new password with Social Work England to access your online account. This will require the primary email address that you used with HCPC to do this. Social Work England will also email this address from 2 December with information regarding your registration and online account.

For social workers wishing to return to the profession following a break, the requirements for restoring your registration will be similar to HCPC’s. If you have been out of practice for two years or more, you will need to spend 30 days updating your skills and knowledge through formal study, private study, or supervised practice. If you have been out of practice for five years or more, this will increase to 60 days.

Failing to maintain CPD records can result in removal

Social Work England’s registration rules state that social workers must maintain an up to date record of your CPD to demonstrate that you are eligible to renew your registration each year. CPD will be recorded in your online account as Social Work England states that they believe that this is the easiest way to make sure you can demonstrate that you meet the CPD standard.

The rules state that a registered social worker must maintain an up-to-date record of their continuing professional development in order to demonstrate to the regulator upon request that they meet the requirements of rule 50(1)(a) of these Rules.

If Social Work England intends to inspect any CPD records that a social worker has submitted to demonstrate compliance with rule 50(1)(a) of these Rules, the regulator will notify the social worker. If, upon inspection, the social worker has not provided information which complies with rule 50(1)(a) of the Rules, the regulator can either decide to remove the social worker from the register or apply conditions to the registered social worker’s entry on the register.

Furthermore, any concerns about social workers should be raised with Social Work England after 2 December.

If you have any questions about the transition, you can find information at Social Work England’s website.

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