Independent social workers (ISWs) met with civil servants from the Ministry of Justice last week over the decision to cap fees for independent court reports.
In an attempt to reduce the legal aid budget the MOJ and Legal Services Commission (LSC) decided the fees of independent social workers providing reports and evidence should be capped at about £30 per hour from October 2010. This decision was made separately to the current, ongoing consultation to review the fees of all expert witnesses in court cases. Expert witnesses such as psychiatrists and psychologists are current entitled to up to £100 per hour.
Civil servants agreed to the meeting after ISWs were dismayed at the lack of knowledge within the MoJ about what independent social workers do.
Following the meeting a joint statement was released from guardians and social worker body Nagalro, the British Association of Social Workers, WillisPalmer and Independent Social Work Associates (ISWA) – companies who contract out ISW’s – which claimed the government’s consultation process on the issue had been seriously flawed.
The statement said that not only had ISWs been singled out for fee cuts when other expert fees were still being reviewed, but the LSC had also failed to provide any data to support their proposals.
The LSC has been unable to say how much money it currently spends on independent social workers in family court cases, nor how much money it expects to save if the fees cap goes through. Opponents of the plan have said the cap could actually result in higher overall costs .
“Our very real fear is that independent social work experience will be lost to the courts at a time when children and families desperately need it and courts themselves are under great pressure,” said Judith Timms, policy consultant at Nagalro.
Phil King from ISWA said: “Without ISWs courts will turn to more expensive experts like psychologists to fill the gap, so costs will rise. Civil servants do not seem to realise that social work expertise is in great demand.
“ISWs will go where their skills are better appreciated and rewarded,” he said.