After ditching proposals to bring social worker regulation under direct government control, ministers want to set up a new organisation – Social Work England – to take on regulation of the profession from the HCPC. Here’s a quick guide to the plans.
When will social work regulation move from HCPC?
- By September 2018, or at least that’s the timetable government is working to.
What will Social Work England do?
The organisation will have three overarching objectives:
- To protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public.
- To promote and maintain public confidence in social workers in England.
- To promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for Social Workers in England.
Social Work England’s functions will include:
- Maintain a register of social workers.
- Run fitness to practise hearings.
- Set standards for initial education and training and professional standards, including standards of proficiency and continuous professional development.
- Take on regulation of Best Interests Assessors and Approved Mental Health Professionals.
The Children and Social Work Bill also includes a power for the regulator to potentially introduce a register of student social workers. The government has said Social Work England could have a role in supporting efforts to develop post-qualifying specialisms for accredited child and family practitioners too.
So how is Social Work England different from HCPC?
The main functions – registration, fitness to practise etc, are very similar to HCPC. However, there are some differences…
- For a start Social Work England will be focused purely on social workers, whereas the HCPC regulates 16 professions in total.
- It will also, unlike the HCPC, get government funding. The HCPC is entirely funded through registration fees. Social Work England will be funded through a combination of registration fees and government investment, at least until 2020.
- The HCPC doesn’t have some of the functions above – namely the regulation of BIAs and AMHPs, as well as the potential register for social work students.
- Social Work England will require any professional standards it sets to be approved by government. This sets it apart from other health and care regulators in England, including the HCPC which only has a duty to consult relevant parties on standards.
- Social Work England will be accountable to the government. The HCPC is accountable to parliament, rather than the government of the day.
Why is the government taking social work out of HCPC’s remit?
Largely because the Department for Education has been highly critical of HCPC’s oversight of social work education courses and says too many programmes are producing poor quality trainees (the HCPC has challenged the DfE’s criticism of its performance in this regard).
The DfE wants more influence over the standards courses must meet for approval. Social Work England would have to get its standards for approval signed off by the government. The HCPC, which is independent of government, does not have to do this.
Another reason, which appears to have broader support in the sector, is a view that social work should have its own bespoke body rather than sit with a multi-profession regulator.
How much will this all cost and who will pay?
- There is an estimated one off set up cost of £10m. This will be met by the government.
- Running costs will be met through a combination of government funding and social worker registration fees.
- The government will contribute up to £16m for running costs by 2020.
- Ministers have no current plans to make Social Work England ‘self-financing’ – if that changes at any point it would make a registration fee hike almost inevitable.
- Registration fees will be initially set at current levels and any changes to them would need to be consulted on.
How independent will it be?
- Social Work England will be a non-departmental public body – a quango. This means it will be at arms-length from government.
- It will have its own chair and board, but these will be appointed by ministers. The government may also appoint the organisation’s first chief executive and approve subsequent appointments.
- The quango model was also used for the General Social Care Council, the social work specific-regulator that the government scrapped in 2012 in favour of moving social work into the HCPC’s remit. The transfer cost the government £19.2m, although closing GSCC also saved the cost of providing ongoing government funding to the organisation. It had received around £20m a year in grants.
- Social Work England will be accountable to both the Department for Education and the Department of Health, who will hold regular accountability meetings with the regulator.
- Any standards it produces for social workers or social work courses to meet must be signed off by the government. There is no such requirement on the HCPC, which is financially and operationally independent of government.
- Social Work England will be overseen by the Professional Standards Authority, an umbrella body that has oversight of health and care regulation.
So is this all of this a done deal?
Not quite. The government needs to get the plans through parliament via the Children and Social Work Bill.
However, by committing to an “independent” body, and abandoning the plans for direct government regulation of social workers, ministers have quelled some of the opposition to the changes and will be confident of getting them approved.