Revealed: social worker pay differences for agency, permanent and adults’ and children’s staff

Community Care research reveals agency social workers can still earn more than permanent staff, but the gap is narrowing

pay key on keyboard
Photo: md3d/Fotolia

Agency social workers can still earn £6,000 a year more than permanent staff despite a clamp down on agency worker rates and the introduction IR35 legislation, a Community Care investigation into social worker salaries has found.

Despite the pay gap between permanent and locum staff narrowing due to regional caps on agency pay and the new pressures on agency staff from IR35 legislation, an annual ‘top line’, pre-tax salary for agency social workers continues to outstrip that of a local authority-employed staff member.

A Community Care freedom of information (FOI) request across 107 councils in England found that the average basic salary, before tax, at the top of a pay scale for a qualified children’s frontline social worker was, at just over £35,000, £6,000 lower than what an agency worker could invoice on an average hourly rate working 37 hours per week, 47 weeks of the year.

For advanced practitioners and team managers the gap was wider, with agency team managers able to command an annual rate of almost £12,000 more than permanent staff, before deductions.

The gap narrowed for frontline social workers in the adult social care sector, with a discrepancy of around £4,000 between permanent and agency.

Social worker salaries: are agency staff still better off than permanent?

Find out more about the pay picture in social work from agency to permanent staff, and across the country, using our interactive maps to see the top of the pay scales for social work staff in England’s local authorities.

However, the investigation found that caps on agency pay rates in line with regional memorandums of understanding (MoUs), along with government IR35 legislation tightening the level of take-home pay an agency worker will actually receive, means that the take-home pay gap is narrower than the basic picture paints.

Local authorities within regions that have caps on agency pay rates were paying locums in line with these, the research found, but some councils were still giving higher hourly rates for some agency staff.

Children and adults’ social workers

Community Care’s investigation also revealed that children’s and adults’ social workers broadly earn the same for similar roles.

The average pay (at the top of pay scales) across England for a permanent qualified frontline social worker was identical in children’s services and adults’ services, at £35,444. An advanced practitioner in children’s services was only slightly higher, at £40,038 than an adults’ equivalent (£39,937), while team managers were paid roughly £1,500 more in children’s services than in adults.

Regionally, qualified frontline social workers in London and the South East are, on average, paid more at the top of their pay bands than their equivalents elsewhere. A frontline children’s social worker at the top of the pay scale in London can expect an average £39,855 compared to that in the East Midlands (£34,049), North West (£33,988) and South West (£32,486). London-based adults’ staff see an average £40,086, compared to £33,554 in the East Midlands and £33,997 in Yorkshire.

Expect more findings from the investigation on Community Care in the coming days and weeks where we also reveal coumcil spend on agency and employed social workers in 2016/17.

Our research

Community Care sent a freedom of information request to England’s 152 local authorities, with 107 responses received, asking for details on pay bands for social worker roles (the minimum and maximum) and rates paid to agency staff. We also asked for the total costs to councils for employing staff along with how much was spent on employed and agency social workers in 2016/17.

Salary ranges quoted are the maximums of pay bands for social worker roles.

More from Community Care

11 Responses to Revealed: social worker pay differences for agency, permanent and adults’ and children’s staff

  1. Spike February 28, 2018 at 1:46 pm #

    Does this take into consideration that agency workers don’t get paid if they are off ill, and that they get paid for their 37 hours, and ONLY for 37 hours, despite often working well in excess of that but are (in many authorities) not entitled to claim TOIL and just have to suck it up.

  2. Right to Roam February 28, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

    Makes my blood boil.
    What happened to market competitiveness and freedom of movement?
    As an experienced social worker who enjoys her right to roam did work for a large northern authority where agency pay was so appalling at the end of the tax year I took home less that a newly qualified worker.

    Did it make me want to go permanent NO.

    An agency worker flogs dammed hard with no pension, holiday pay and especially no sick pay so it does work out cheaper when you look at the posts we cover for those being paid for being of sick.

    We agency workers are extremely reliable when conditions are right, but why should we stay somewhere when we see our permanent colleagues exploited bullied and abused by managers or an authority where the aim is to move social workers away from their personal interests and insist on a 7 day mentality which will break them. Indeed why would anyone want to.

    I am worth and earn every penny I am paid, I take on work that one else will or can do.

    Leave us alone. As long as the pay, conditions and prospects remain poor for permanent social workers, independent workers will always be needed.

  3. claire February 28, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

    so take off 7.5 grand corporation tax, NI contributions, holiday pay, sick pay, private pension and the cost of training and actually we are not that better off.

  4. Douglas Mhizha February 28, 2018 at 3:30 pm #

    I think what the researcher looked at was the short term gains rather than long term. They also didn’t look at unintended eventualities such as sickness, absence, and holiday pay.

    • Thelma February 28, 2018 at 4:25 pm #

      This really makes me angry , I literally just get paid for the core hours 7.5 even though I often work more than the core hours , no sickness or holiday pay if I go off sick at 1pm I only get paid till 1 pm that day unlike my perm colleagues who don’t even record if they went home sick after lunch , no toil , get paid 23p per mile for petrol whilst perm workers get paid 43p per mile. Im forced to take 4 weeks holiday per year even if I don’t want to as I mustn’t appear to work all year what a joke and I pay 5.80 per day to park at work as no agency workers can get discounted parking fees. I think such articles just look at the amount taken home by agency workers they should tell the whole story.

  5. Onthefence February 28, 2018 at 5:50 pm #

    Don’t forget the ever reducing Dividend allowance (if your Ltd co is lucky enough to make profit by getting an out of IR35 role), the face that we can no longer offset travel and accommodation as tax deductible – so makes working out of region expensive. Pay caps mean it’s rare to be offered more than the same rate as anywhere else…

    The only thing stopping me going permanent is the 2 month notice periods in the contracts, if I could leave with 1 to 2 weeks notice, pay conditions, training, holiday, sick would be fine enough – it’s just the thought of being stuck somewhere I really hated. Although more holiday would help too.

    I’ve seen loads of my agency colleagues go perm in my LA (just down road from Bristol). What would swing you into going back permanent – I’m undecided…

  6. Right to Roam March 1, 2018 at 11:09 am #

    The notice periods do make it unattractive to go permanent. As an agency worker you can usually spot who can and can’t and who will or won’t within a couple of days of taking up a job,
    Especially dodgy/moody managers – as agency you can run for the hills rather than suffer.

    I’ve seen too many witch-hunts and excellent social workers broken, when managers try to cover their own backs and won’t take responsibility however they are always protected.

    We can’t allow senior manager incompetence’s to be exposed for employing them in the first place can we?

  7. Charles Bell March 2, 2018 at 8:36 am #

    Recently published SW workforce data would suggest that IR35 made no difference whatsoever.

    According to HCPC they had 499 international registration applications last year. Data currently being gathered from all LAs suggests that very few LAs recruited internationally last year. Of those that did some were surprising: Torbay, Devon and Oxfordshire being prime examples.

  8. North West March 2, 2018 at 9:02 pm #

    Not quite sure some of the figures add up in the manner explained, also the role of an agency worker is different here today- gone tomorrow in some cases by some LA’s.

    If the La’s wanted to save money prehaps they could look to change the way they work, l recently asked a LA if they would employ me direct (massive saving and they can still ask me to leave in a week so cost effective re notice). They refused and seemed unable to grasp the maths and number of factors involved that would make this worthwhile for them, l understand they dont want to do this with all roles but for genuunily short term posts and if you have worked for the LA previously then why not? Minimum risk for the LA.

    The truth is LA’s are stuck with agency workers in part because they are inept and have tunnel vision. This same tunnel vision that prevents them working innovativly across the whole council to save money and be creative, instead they rely on the usual suspects, reducing worker benefits for full times staff, parking, essential car users, training etc is lost whilst caseloads increase. No one wants to work like this, cahneg working conditions and reduce agency staff to covering sick posts for a few months and maternity cover as it should be.

    This is costing them in money and in staff leaving, moving to more flexible working patterns and all they can do is alienate the workforce more by trying to put pay caps on agencies through using another company to manage jobs and rates, so nothing is really saved as the company does it on the cheap initially and saves them money – then when they are dependent on the model starts to ramp up fees, it also causes problems in getting staff as CV’s are stuck on it, and managers dont get to know about staff.

  9. Stuart logan March 20, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    Ive been a social worker for 10 years and have just gone agency. This report doesn’t highlight the points others have raised such as sick pay and TOIL. it also doesnt highlight the payment to umbrella companies, self training, paying registration costs and insurances to protect income if ill. after comparison of all this a increase in wage is fare to reflect that your contract can be ended at any time.