Social workers in England would have faced registration fees of up to £300 had ministers decided to retain the General Social Care Council.
The current annual fee of £30 could have gone up ten times to meet the cost of making the organisation financially independent of government, as confirmed by care services minister Paul Burstow in a letter seen by Community Care.
Burstow raised concerns that this was “not sustainable” in a letter to senior academic Hilary Tompsett, explaining the reasons behind the Department of Health’s shock decision to scrap the GSCC.
“We explored the possibility of maintaining an independent social work regulator funded by the profession,” Burstow wrote. “However, if the GSCC was to become independent of government and self-funding it is currently forecasting that its fees would need to rise to around £250-£300 per social worker per year. We are concerned that this cost is not sustainable.”
Instead, the GSCC is being abolished and its regulatory functions transferred to the Health Professions Council, which currently regulates 15 professions such as clinical scientists, dietitians and hearing aid dispensers. Registration fees at the HPC are currently £76 per year.
A spokesperson for the GSCC said Burstow’s forecast was “an estimate at the higher end based on our current operating costs”.
“However, we had been discussing with DH our business strategy aimed at making fees considerably more affordable by driving down our costs through a programme of reform rolled out over two to three years.”
Burstow pointed out that the HPC is an experienced regulator with a “proven track record” of providing “effective, safe and value for money regulation” at a cost of £76 per year for each professional.
He insisted the government remains committed to the regulation of social workers in order to protect the public and uphold the status and standards of the profession.
However, the Lib Dem minister stressed that regulators must be independent of government, and raised concerns about the GSCC’s financial model relying on public funding.
This echoed a recommendation from the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence published in a report last November, which said the GSCC should become financially self-sufficient to bring the organisation into line with healthcare regulators.
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