The General Social Care Council has been slammed by a tribunal judge over its strict policy on preventing overseas social workers from practising without the right qualifications.
Judge Carolyn Singleton said experienced practitioners from abroad wishing to practise in the UK faced being unfairly rejected under the current system.
She said the GSCC itself had admitted to fears “that they were missing out on experienced people”.
Singleton, of the First Tier Tribunal (which has taken over the appeals role of the now defunct Care Standards Tribunal), called on the regulator to review its policy in the light of an appeal by Sally West, an Australian national, against the GSCC’s decision to refuse her application for registration.
The GSCC refused her application on the grounds that she did not have a degree in social work accredited by the Australian Association of Social Workers, and as such did not meet the GSCC’s requirements.
However, West had been employed in the social welfare sector for 15 years, with a degree in psychology and a diploma in social welfare. She said she had experience of child protection work and felt “very strongly that she had the skills and expertise to perform the role of social worker”.
Her appeal against the refusal of her registration was dismissed by the tribunal because she did not satisfy the requirements laid out in the Care Standards Act.
However, Singleton urged the GSCC to carry out a review of its policies in this area.
“A more flexible approach to applications for registration may have the result of producing fairer conclusions and fewer opportunities for good people to ‘slip through the net’,” she said.
Ed Mitchell, a solicitor and editor of Social Care Law Today, said the criticisms could leave the GSCC facing a High Court claim for judicial review.
“One ground for judicial review is ‘fettering discretion’ which means applying an inflexible policy and that is what the tribunal thinks the GSCC did in this case,” he said.
Michael Andrews, director of regulatory operations at the GSCC, said it was pleased that the tribunal upheld the decision, “which demonstrates that we are complying with our legal duties under the Care Standards Act” when considering overseas-qualified practitioners.
He added that the GSCC would consider the comments from the tribunal to see whether any improvements to its approach could be made.
The Health Professions Council (HPC), which takes over the regulation of social workers in England from 2012, said in response to the judgement: “The HPC will, in the future, make a decision based on demonstration of meeting the standards of proficiency – which can be through a combination of education, training and experience.
“All applicants applying for registration via the international route will be subject to verification of their identity, qualifications and employment.
“This may involve the HPC contacting regulatory authorities, professional bodies, education providers and past employers in order for them to verify the information provided by applicants as part of their application. The HPC may also ask an outside agency to conduct these checks on our behalf.”
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