Social worker who authorised payment to drug dealer sanctioned

The youth justice social worker approved a loan of £20 from the council’s petty cash to help a service user buy back a TV from a drug dealer

Photo: Gourmet Photography/Fotolia

A social worker who authorised a loan of £20 of local authority cash to help a service user buy back a TV from a drug dealer has been sanctioned by the HCPC.

A conduct committee found the social worker placed the service user at potential risk of harm from continued contact with the drug dealer, brought the profession into disrepute and undermined public confidence in social work. She was given a conditions of practice order for nine months.

The social worker was the manager of a youth offending team when the service user, a young man with social and family difficulties, asked his probation officer for a loaned television to reduce boredom. One was loaned to him by a staff member at the youth offending team.

The service user later revealed to the probation officer that he had “hocked” the television to a drug dealer in return for cannabis worth £20. He asked for help to retrieve the TV, and said he would re-offend in order to get the £20 needed.


The probation officer told him not to re-offend, and said she would seek advice on how to address the problem. The social worker chaired a Risk and Vulnerability Meeting at which the probation officer suggested taking £20 from petty cash to loan the service user to pay the drug dealer and reclaim the television.

The social worker, and others at the meeting, agreed and authorised the payment. This was then given to the service user by the probation officer who accompanied him part of the way to the drug dealer’s house. The service user retrieved the television, repaid the £20 at a later date and returned the television to its original owner.

The probation officer considered this a situation of “restorative justice”, as she felt the service user had shown considerable remorse and was open to rehabilitation.

The decision to approve the loan reached the local media “by unknown means”, the panel heard. As a result of this, the council then carried out an investigation into the social worker’s actions as it felt the decision harmed its reputation.

“During that investigation, the registrant stated in interview that all those present agreed the £20 loan decision, in the meeting and she did not feel it was an extraordinary matter, and just wanted the best outcome to prevent [the service user] reoffending,” the judgment said.

Weak leadership

The panel found the social worker had been swayed by the group’s acceptance of the course of action. She demonstrated “weak leadership” and had failed to critically analyse the potential consequences for the service user, herself and the council, it added.

Following the council investigation, the social worker stepped down from her management post and fully admitted the facts of the case.

In considering a sanction, the panel acknowledged this was an isolated incident in the social worker’s long career and no service user or colleague had come to any harm. However, it also found she had given “no consideration of the council’s reputation when making the decision” to approve the loan.

The panel concluded the social worker’s actions amounted to misconduct and she had not been “fit to practise at the time of the events”.

It made the conditions of practice order, under which the social worker must submit a 3,000 word reflective piece outlining what she learned from the misconduct and detailing training she has taken to improve her practice. She must also inform any of her employers of the order.

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23 Responses to Social worker who authorised payment to drug dealer sanctioned

  1. Tom J August 16, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    You gotta love the HCPC. The HCPC are promoting a workforce of social workers who will only play everything safe and never think out of the box. A kind of ‘computer says no’ approach to all service users.

    I’m confident that if I applied these and other HCPC standards to everyone I could easily sanction and strike off 80% of the social workers reading this now.

    ‘Service user harmed?’ No.

    What about ‘no consideration of the council’s reputation when making the decision?’ Ha ha checkmate, we’ve got you on this one.

    Message to social workers- do not weigh up risks, become completely risk averse.

    • Mndy Miranda August 18, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Well put Tom. They have no idea and need to get themselves back on the front line.

  2. Paul August 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

    I agree with Tom J. What matters most, the council’s reputation or doing something to actually help the service user in the context of the real world in which he lives?

    • Yvonne August 20, 2016 at 11:23 pm #

      It would of been better if the HCPC had said that the decision was not seen as advocating for a vulnerable YP instead it bolstered their existing irresponsibility. Maybe understanding that such a decision may be made by a loved one but not by a professional.

      Instead they talk unrealistically about the everyday decisions that have to be made to minimise the harm to the individuals social workers are responsible for.

      Looks like they sending a message out that says keep secrets to me.

      Not good at all.

  3. Stuart August 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    This is unbelievably offensive and makes me very angry. The desired ‘social work’ client focussed plan worked perfectly and all was well until the lilly livered council press/media department didn’t know how to deal with a bit of uninformed criticism.

    Reminds us all, you’re not employed to actually do good social work, you’re there to make the employer look good.


    • student social worker August 16, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

      I completely agree! This is so offensive. Also…the whole meeting agreed?!

  4. Denice August 16, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    Of course we should help the service user. However paying a drug dealer?? I cannot see the rationale for this and who is say that the service user will not sell items again for drugs. The drug issue needs to be addressed. Also why are staff loaning personal items?

    • Paul August 16, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

      The story as reported does not say anyone paid the drug dealer. The social worker made a loan to the service user who used that money to get back the TV he had effectively pawned, and he later repaid that loan. How much better to trust the service user and empower him to put right his error, rather than to blame him and refuse to help. This response arguably increases the likelihood of him working with those in authority to address his drug problems.

  5. Stuart August 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    This is unbelievably offensive and makes me very angry. The desired ‘social work’ client focussed plan worked perfectly and all was well until the lilly livered council press/media department didn’t know how to deal with a bit of uninformed criticism.

    Reminds us all, you’re not employed to actually do good social work, you’re there to make the employer look good.

    Deeply saddening.

  6. Stuart August 16, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    Also, if I had time (and I’m so angered by this story I might have to find the time for therapeutic reasons) I’m sure I could easily write 3000 words about why I think the hcpc (I’ve decided to deny them capital letters – petty I know but it makes me feel better and as such is fairly consistent with some of their judgements) are totally wrong here and reveal themselves as principally just a bunch of busy-bodies trying to justify their existence and continued income stream.
    To start with, the payment wasn’t autorised to the drug dealer, it was autorised to the service user. For second it had the desired result and for third the ‘drug dealer’ was left with the same £20 as before the whole story began so profited not at all. Fourth the service user received some compassion and repaid it by acting responsibly.
    Fifthly, …
    I think I’ll just try listening to some Dire Straits instead…

  7. Prussik August 16, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    Shouldnt this be dealt with in supervision rther than external disciplinary proceedings about registration through the HCPC?
    The HCPC is being asked to deal with things that should be dealt with in house

  8. Lilybright August 16, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

    So much for the creativity, autonomy & problem-solving demanded by the PCF. We are being turned into performing circus poodles.

  9. Helen August 16, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

    Whilst I think that the sanctions placed by the HCPC are patronising, and that there was no need for the manager to step down, I can’t believe that a panel of professionals would think it appropriate to loan the money. (If the employers thought the decision would impact negatively on their reputation, it would be enough to bring it up in the managers supervision. They may see the need to be seen to doing something about it, but much worse decisions are made every day.)

    I can understand the desire to reduce the likelihood of someone reoffending, and that the individual might have complex issues – but at some point the individual is going to have to take responsibility for their actions. If they make the decision to reoffend because they can’t get a loan, they have to accept what the consequences of that decision would be.

    I don’t see the issue of loaning a T.V in the first place. I would probably be one of those people that would happily of loaned a spare T.V if I had one, but would also accept that there is a possibility that I might not get it back – and maybe think twice the next time.

  10. Fiona August 16, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

    I usually find the headlines for these sort of articles a bit sensationalist and then when I read on I tend to agree with the overall decision. However, I find this to be totally disheartening. I also cannot ignore that the key issue to the council was in fact its reputation rather than the needs of the service user and the practicalities of the situation. Peoples’ lives are complex and do not sit in a perfect box for analysis nor can social workers follow a flow chart of ‘what to do when…’ (It doesn’t exist for a kick off) so sometimes it gets messy. As far as I can see, the actions taken by a TEAM of professionals does not undermine the ethics and values of the profession. I feel for the social worker and hope they manage to get a job within an authority that deserves them.

  11. Billy August 16, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

    I am really sick of all this naming and shaming in community care. This only adds to the negative media and blame culture. The reflective and information pieces on this site are brilliant but this stuff really lets i down. I cannot believe fitness to practice has been questioned over a loan to a service user for £20, with the aim to prevent re-offending. HCPC need a re-think and we need a new regulator.

    • Andy McNicoll August 17, 2016 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Billy,

      I’m ComCare’s news editor. We reported this case because we felt it raised some important questions about practice, and local authority reactions, that social workers would want to be aware of. Readers can decide for themselves whether they feel the HCPC panel made the right decision, or indeed whether this matter should’ve been referred to the HCPC at all. As usual, with our reporting of fitness to practise hearings, we do not name the social worker concerned to avoid what might be seen as naming and shaming.

      Glad you’ve found other pieces helpful. If you have suggestions of articles you’d like to see, please do email me at Always keen to hear ideas.



      • BB August 17, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

        Andy – how about some stories of when HCPC heard cases and did not give any sanctions?

  12. Ian Mancor August 17, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    HCPC decisions are becoming increasingly absurd. Was it really necessary for them to deliberate on such a petty issue? It’s getting to the stage where nobody will want to train as a social worker for fear of being hauled in front of an HCPC show trial for some petty or non-existent transgression.

    Drug dealer? The drug in question was cannabis, not heroin or crystal meth. Many states in the USA and Europe have decriminalised soft drugs or in the process of doing so. Expect there’s many a social worker and probation officer smoke cannabis in the privacy of their own homes.

    Wonder what the HCPC or the council involved would have said if the service user had given the TV to the third party to buy Special Brew and the social worker has authorised the £20.00 to retrieve the TV? After all, alcohol causes much more damage to society and puts a greater strain on the NHS than cannabis does.

  13. Blair Mcpherson August 17, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    What’s interesting is that the majority of social workers who have responded think using the LA’s money to pay a drug dealer was acceptable as the clients motives were good. I can’t imagine many managers would not seeing the risk to the departments reputation as unacceptable.

    Social workers frequently complain that the profession gets a bad press, is misunderstood and undervalued and then we shoot ourselves in the foot like this.

    • Tom J August 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

      I find what you write to be a bit scary- Putting the reputation of the department in front of the needs of the service user! So lets put the service user second and safeguard the department at all costs. That brings the Mid Staffs crisis to mind!

  14. Tjane August 17, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    This is what harms social work and the public. It may not have been the best decision but it didn’t warrant HCPC intervention for goodness sake. The HCPC is almost criminalising social work and I’m ashamed to have to be registered with them.

  15. Ian Merry August 17, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    Around 20 years ago when I was managing a L.A. Children’s Home one male resident approached me and asked if I could give him £10 out of petty cash so that he could pay his dealer as he was being threatened b y the dealer.

    I told him that his request was impossible to meet due to the fact that we would be using public money for nefarious purposes.

    With that he walked out of the office saying I wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night as I was on sleep in duty and so I worked a 25 hour shift with no sleep whatsoever due to his behaviour. All those who would have paid up should try this….many would have caved in but not me…the principle remained intact.

  16. Charlie August 17, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    Organisation Centred Practise, folks.