How the Advice & Representation Service Works

The Social Workers Union (SWU) is a trade union dedicated to social work professionals and run by social workers. Unlike a professional association, SWU can guarantee the legal entitlement of representation in employers’ hearings.

SWU offers swift, practical representation and works with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) which offers Advice & Representation before the regulatory bodies and other advice and representation services. We believe that by working together, SWU and BASW are providing the best protection and best advice for social workers from social workers.

Every year, the SWU/BASW Advice & Representation (A&R) Service helps over 1000 Social Workers with a range of different situations – from the small and easily resolved, to more significant and prolonged issues. Our Trade Union Officials in the A&R Service work throughout the UK and provide representation at internal hearings for disciplinary and grievance procedures, and employer investigations into practice and misconduct allegations.

If going through a formal employment process, a SWU member has the right to be represented by an Official of a Trade Union of their choice.

Here are just some of the issues we have helped members with recently:

  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures, including representation at internal hearings and appeals.
  • Issues around discrimination in employment. This is something we can provide advice upon and support you to take action.
  • Investigations into professional social work practice and allegations of misconduct.
  • Representation at the later stages of the absence management processes.
  • Representation through probation and performance processes.
  • A range of Social Work Student placement difficulties – including situations where the placement is breaking down or has broken down.
  • Representation at Employment tribunals. This will be arranged if our Solicitors assess that the case has a 50% or more chance of success.

SWU is the only trade union to offer representation by a qualified social worker who understands the complexities of the profession. Someone who understands the competing demands placed upon you by your employer and the Code of Conduct. We know how difficult it can be working under tremendous pressure to deliver effective services when the media portrayal of social workers is often unreasonable and unjust. We understand the context in which you work and are able to use our specialist knowledge to advocate and negotiate on behalf of social workers, both individually and collectively within the trade union movement and with employers. 

SWU also recruits and trains workplace Union Contacts who promote membership and activism in workplaces, universities, and beyond.

If you have a workplace issue, please give us a call on 0121 622 8413 to speak to one of our duty initial response team (IRT), Amy, Cheryl, or Jo. They will take details of your problem or concern and, where possible, provide initial advice and direction. The team will also make an initial determination about your eligibility status.

Please note: You are entitled to telephone advice and telephone support from the first day of your SWU membership. You will be entitled to representation after the three-month qualifying period. Please note that to qualify for representation, the issue cannot have been a known pre-existing issue or active during this three-month qualifying period.

Telephone advice

If your issue cannot be resolved by the IRT and requires a more detailed conversation they will book you a 20 minute telephone call with the duty officer within 2 working days. The officer will ask you to give brief synopsis of your situation and will provide you with further advice and guidance.

Repeat calls may be booked until your issue is resolved satisfactorily, although please note if you are not eligible for representation the number of calls that you can have will be limited.


In situations where your situation is more complex and you are in a formal process, the duty officer will make an initial determination about whether your case requires a named officer. If so, your case will be considered by the management team at the daily allocation meeting and a decision taken about whether your case can be allocated. We will let you know in writing the outcome within 2 days of your duty call.

We currently provide most representation via digital platforms as this enables us to provide a more far reaching, effective, and efficient service to all our members. We have learned that online representation can be as helpful and valuable as face-to-face meetings, and surprisingly can sometimes be better because it can equalise the inherent power imbalances. However, we recognise that this is not always the best approach for all our members. Therefore, in circumstances where your job is at risk or in complex hearings, we may be able to provide a representative in person.