HCPC under attack over claimed breaches of social workers’ human rights

Critics feel regulatory body has set itself up as “moral police force”

european court of human rights
European Court of Human Rights Photo: REX/F1 Online

Social work regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) may be in breach of human rights for bringing fitness to practise cases outside of its remit, it has been claimed.

The HCPC’s sanctioning of social workers for their private conduct, or competency issues caused by poor management, has led to growing concerns in the sector over whether the body is fit for purpose.

Unison national officer Sam Oestreicher said the regulatory body was acting inappropriately in imposing moral judgements on what were effectively private matters. A report from the Law Commission published in April this year raised similar concerns about the way health and care regulators operated.

The report said: “These actions not only undermine the credibility of the profession’s regulation but also fail to have proper regard to article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the right to a private life].”

Setting itself up as a “moral police force”

While the HCPC said at the time it welcomed the report, Oestreicher said it did not appear to have taken notice of that aspect of it.

“The HCPC has set itself up as some kind of moral police force, telling people what they can and can’t do in their private lives merely because they are registrants.”

One social worker was suspended for two years  for her private conduct, after police were called to her home following a domestic altercation with her partner. The HCPC used the fact she was intoxicated as part of their case against her and did not accept her defence that she was a victim of domestic abuse.

Social worker and qualified lawyer Allan Norman said although regulators had a right to take account of a social worker’s private life,  the HCPC had taken it far too far.

“It is impossible and wrong to say nothing you do in you private life has any bearing on your fitness to practise as a social worker, but there is a line. The problem with the HCPC is they frequently behave as though there isn’t a line.”

Quality assurance processes in place

A spokesman for the HCPC said there were a number of processes in place to monitor and assure their work, including the Professional Standards Authority (PSA)  which produces an annual audit of judgements and shares learning points with the regulators.

“Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics are clear that you must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as professional conduct. However if you make informed, reasonable and professional judgements about your practice, with the best interests of your service users as your prime concern, and you can justify your decisions if you are asked to, it is very unlikely that you will not meet our standards.”

The previous regulator, the General Social Care Council (GSCC), was also criticised for intruding into social workers’ private lives, but its decisions were subject to appeal in a first-tier tribunal, the Care Standards Tribunal.

The HCPC’s judgements can only be appealed in the High Court, an expensive route beyond the reach of most social workers.

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13 Responses to HCPC under attack over claimed breaches of social workers’ human rights

  1. Kim December 10, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Finally some common sense; the way the HCPC approaches cases in isolation of the poor management and commonsense when inundating us with excessive case loads we face is alarming. It ridicules the profession and turns away practioners. It’s like they are saying poor management is good not jumping high enough Social Workers bad- even our clients can see what is going on. Judge, jury and executioner in the public eye – not a good thing.

    • Diane December 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

      Well said Kim, I agree.

  2. Roni December 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Their approach to auditing CPDs is onerous – to accompany the 1500 word statement you have to post the supporting evidence. So what has happened to our electronic world? They will print copies anyway to send to more than one assessor so why they don`t just ask for them by email is incomprehensible.

  3. Dindiho December 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    I could not agree more they have ruined more lives than they have saved with their own incompetence in how they judge cases. They are more like kangaroo courts flying in the face of proper justice with their randomly constituted panels of retired members of the public often assisted by a bunch robotic legal advisors to say nothing of the odd toothless social work member allowed on to the panel. They are certainly not fit for purpose and should be looking to re-valuate their usefulness to the social work profession or even the public.

  4. Gina December 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    The HCPC has absolutely no right to impose moral judgements on our private life, particularly when our actions have no impact on service users whatsoever. It seems to me that other professions get support from their management and colleagues but social workers are punished more often and for some very minor issues.

    Maybe the HCPC can give us a very specific moral list to abide by; don’t drink alcohol; don’t have a domestic disputes with your partner; never display an ounce of emotion to the abused children we are trying to protect; don’t have two jobs to make ends meet; don’t go on holiday to Magaluf; don’t drink too much caffeine, it makes you high; don’t wear high heels to work and don’t bring egg sandwiches for lunch – it’s cruel to your colleagues.

    • Caroline December 11, 2014 at 8:32 am #

      Well said, are we not allowed to live a life and enjoy things that are not illegal !

  5. Nick December 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    Very true, Gina. A list would be really useful. I’m worried about not being able to continue my spare time drug dealing activities lest the HCPC pick on that.

  6. Charles Bell December 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    I HAVE ANOTHER BONE TO PICK WITH HCPC: REGISTRATION OF INTERNATIONALLY TRAINED SWs.

    GSCC, CC Wales etc do/did it in a few weeks for 125 quid. HCPC charge 440 quid and take months nd months and months…..rejecting about one third or do these SWs just give up? Metaphorically speaking they want to know what underwear you wear on Thursdays. They blow a cart and horses through statutory timescales (apart from taking applicants money which they are super-efficient at doing.

    Registration flows from a European Directive. Fees should reflect cost and should not be set at such a level that they can afford (that is two and a half months salary for a Romanian SW. Romania povides more European SWs than any other country. Fees should alsonot be disproportionate to domestically trained SWs (£56).

    Oh and appeals about registration go to the Care Standards Tribunal which is independent and judicial whereas the HCPC Rules say that they go gto a Panel appointed by themsel ves!

    Definitely not fit for purpose in my opinion….I also suspect they are registering persons who cannot register in their country of training. They are a disaster.

  7. TheMother December 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    As a member of the public, I would expect any professional with a responsability for children and vulnerable adults, to behave appropriately at all times. Are we expected to accept professionals, who judge individuals, acting in a manner that displays standards we would not accept in our own homes?

    • Jazz December 11, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      Dear Mother,

      The thing is – there is one rule for social workers and one for non- social workers. We social workers fight tooth and nail for social justice which includes aiming to protect families from going through kangaroo courts (well said previous commentator, Dindiho). All 4 of the UK’s regulatory bodies need to be scrutinised for their own fitness to practice and the value they place on human rights.

  8. Nellie December 11, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    The whole issue of registration was somewhat of a knee jerk reaction to well publicised tragedies where the quality of SW was called into question. A knee jerk reaction to anything is usually ill thought out and punitive and I believe that at least part of the reason for us having to be registered was as another stick to beat SWs with – because we do not receive the same professional respect as others who are registered. I question the true value of the whole thing. I mean, what DO you get for your fee apart from the threat of being taken to task professionally if you have a row with your neighbour over noise and potentially bring your employer into disrepute (for instance)? There is also the staggering incompetence of those who have been charged with monitoring professional issues – I could give a few examples. I also wonder about those organisations who do not promote the development of their staff – what happens to them? Or is it just the SW who is penalised as usual?

  9. The Agent of change December 12, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    The HCPC like BASW is still in its infancy. It riles when It has not understood its remit and then makes naive statements or carries views that appear childish in comparison with other more established bodies. Its a hard fact to accept that governing bodies get it wrong at governmental, local, or private levels and are so public in their recriminations ironically so are individuals that is non professionals but why make a difference and perpetuate the blame game when things go wrong.

    Human beings will out the rules whatever the profession. I’m no sanctimonious, moralising,self righteous prig and accept the foibles of human beings-but i also accept others out there are much narrower in their moral compass- But perhaps the HCPC should not be so quick to condemn others before sorting out its own diaspora of incongruence and inconsistency.

  10. TJ December 14, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    I have to wonder why this system is failing so when in other countries around the world (US and Canada) it works without controversy. Why does it seem that no one is willing to look at what works well elsewhere and then adapt and modify,…

    In Ontario, when the looked after system came under fire, a group charged with leading the change sought out and investigated various systems already in use elsewhere (including a visit to England). The result is a system that is quite similar to the UK model but modified…granted, it is not perfect and comes under fire (it is at the moment because of high rates of Native and Black children in care), but it was much improved from what it was (accountability, paperwork, each child gets their own worker while the family/parent retains has their own).

    This really isn’t rocket science…. this concept of Social Work registration and trade mark is done elsewhere also, with much success and no controversy.