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“Service user” or “client”? Social workers divided on best term


Social workers are split on whether “service user” or “client” is the best term to describe people accessing social care, a Community Care poll has found.

Over 920 people responded to the poll, including over 800 social care professionals and students, more than 50 people using services, and 35 carers and advocates. Thanks to all of you for taking time out to give your views.

Social care staff views


The results make for interesting reading (check out the slideshow above for the full breakdown). A third of social care professionals and students (33%) backed “client” as the best term to use, but almost as many (28%) preferred to use “service user”.

“Service user” views

But social worker opinion contrasted quite significantly with the views of people using services. Almost half of them (45%) voted for “service user” as the best term, with just 17% preferring to be referred to as a “client”.

The caveat, and it is a significant one, here is the sample size. We can’t draw too much from the service user poll given it had just 50 respondents compared with 800 plus social care professionals. But the contrast in views is worth noting nonetheless.

It isn’t just about numbers though. Aside from statistics, the survey threw up some really interesting comments and highlighted the gulf in opinion between staff in the sector.

Take these two views from social care professionals:

“Client is more professional even if it has the overtone of receiving services rather than an equal relationship. But it is far better, and I feel more respectful, than service user which is impersonal and odd.”


“I hate the term ‘person who uses services’ as it’s pointlessly clumsy and doesn’t really serve any purpose and comes across as unnatural and alien. Service user is accurate and to the point. The people using the services are service users. Job done.”

There’s plenty more of that in this slideshow of different views on the topic. It’s well worth a read to see the different arguments put forward for why each term is awful/great/inadequate.


One to one 

Finally, to the person who suggested “just using someone’s name”. I thought I’d clarify that I wasn’t suggesting that my social worker should approach me and say “hello client” or “hello service user” instead of “hello Andy”.

But the reality is reports need to be written, forms filled in etc. Of course someone should use my name in one-to-one contact but I also accept that when having wider discussions about people who use mental health services that I’ve used in the past they are likely going to have to refer to “the people who use the service” as a group in certain contexts.

About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at

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