BASW, SWU and UNISON Joint Statement on Social Work England Fitness to Practice Hearing Delays

British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Social Workers Union (SWU), UNISON

All three organisations have expressed concerns about Fitness to Practice hearing delays announced by Social Work England (SWE) due to budget constraints.

It is a tenet of justice that there is in principle an “equality of arms” where legal processes are involved. It appears that this is not a concept that stretches to Fitness to Practice processes at SWE, the specialist regulator for social workers. 

The consequence for a registrant social worker can be very grave. Ultimately, they can face suspension from the register for a period of time or permanent erasure. This means that these social workers are not allowed to practise as social workers, losing their earning capacity.

All of us would want any social worker whose Fitness to Practice was impaired and potentially a risk to the public to be prevented from practising, but those decisions should be made after a relatively speedy process in which registrants are properly enabled to defend allegations made against them. This, however, is far from the case. 

Colin Anderson, A&R Service Manager for BASW/SWU, commented:

“Fitness to Practice can be a complex process taking time to complete. However, there is a point where delay becomes unreasonable and can interfere with fairness and justice. It is BASW, SWU and Unison’s view that far too frequently we witness delays that are well beyond any notion of ‘reasonableness’ and is now disproportionately impacting upon social workers.

“We believe this is made far worse by a basic and intrinsic unfairness in the process and by an apparent unwillingness on the part of the regulator to review their approach other than to call for greater resources to do more of the same.

“Today, we call for four key changes to remedy this unacceptable situation, including a more collaborative and thorough investigation stage, updating training for case examiners, and developing alternative outcomes for cases which have been pending final hearing for multiple years.”

Bellow is the full joint statement from our organisations to document our significant concerns on behalf of our respective members, followed by our letter to the CEO of Social Work England, Colum Conway.

BASW, SWU and UNISON have jointly written to Social Work England to seek an urgent resolution to ongoing fitness to practice delays.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is the professional association for social work in the UK with offices in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. With over 22,000 members we exist to promote the best possible social work services for all people who may need them, while also securing the well-being of social workers working in all health and social care settings.

The Social Workers Union (SWU) is the only trade union to offer representation by qualified social workers who understand the complexities of the profession. With officers working across the UK, SWU provides representation at internal hearings for disciplinary and grievance procedures, and employer investigations into practice and misconduct allegations.

UNISON is the biggest trade union in the UK and the largest membership organisation for social workers and the wider social care workforce. We are recognised for collective bargaining within local government and the NHS and negotiate nationally, regionally and locally with employers to improve social worker pay, pensions, employment conditions and job security. Our Professional Services Unit provides the highly specialist knowledge and skills required to represent UNISON members who are being investigated by their professional regulator.


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