Expert guide to social work conduct

To work as a qualified social worker in the UK, you must be registered with one of the four care councils and adhere to the codes of practice. If you breach the codes, you may have to go through a conduct process and, in extreme cases, you could be banned from practice altogether.

Care councils

There are four care councils in the UK: the General Social Care Council (GSCC) in England, the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) and the Care Council for Wales (CCW). All four are responsible for regulating social work and ensuring the public is protected.

In July 2010, the government announced its intention to abolish the General Social Care Council and transfer its functions to the Health Professions Council. This is due to take place in 2012.


Each UK country has a social care register of social workers and social work students. Character references and qualifications are checked as part of the registration process. Social workers need to complete post-registration training and learning (PRTL) requirements in order to re-register every three years.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are at various stages of rolling out registration to the wider social care workforce, such as domiciliary care workers. This has been put on hold in England while the transfer of functions takes place (see above).

Codes of practice

The codes of practice provide a clear guide for all those who work in social care, setting out the standards of practice and conduct that workers – and their employers – should meet. However, only frontline practitioners can be punished for breaching the code.


When a social worker breaches the codes of practice, the relevant care council may be called in to investigate.

They will investigate if:

● A social worker has been convicted of a crime.

● It is alleged their work has fallen well below the standard that is expected with serious or repeated mistakes.

● They have behaved in a way (in or outside work) that questions whether they are suitable to work in social care.

They do not investigate general employment issues such as sickness and timekeeping.

Anyone, from a concerned individual to an employer, can refer a social worker to the care council. The care council will make general enquiries and gather information to see whether there is evidence of misconduct. If there is, the social worker may have to attend a conduct hearing, which is usually held in public and uses the civil standard of proof.

The British Association of Social Workers, Unison and Aspect provide advice and representation for social workers accused of misconduct.

If a social worker is found to have committed misconduct, the conduct committee can impose certain sanctions.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, these include:

• Admonishment (a caution/public record).

• Suspension from the register, which would prevent the person practising as a social worker for a limited period.

• Removal from the register.

In Scotland, the SSSC has the added power to impose conditions on practice. The Welsh regulator is consulting on moving to this system. In England, the Social Work Task Force and the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence have previously recommended that social work move to a “fitness to practise” model of regulation, which would look at professional competence as well as conduct. It is likely this will be achieved when the GSCC’s functions have been transferred.

Social workers in England and Wales can appeal to the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal, in Scotland to the Sheriff Court and in Northern Ireland to the Care Tribunal.

Legislation and policy documents

Codes of practice

England (GSCC)

Scotland (SSSC)

Wales (CCW)

Northern Ireland (NISCC)

Key organisations

General Social Care Council

Scottish Social Services Council

Care Council for Wales

Northern Ireland Social Care Council

First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal

Care Tribunal (Northern Ireland)

Sherrif Court

Health Professions Council

British Association of Social Workers



College of Social Work

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