BASW launches umbrella company to employ agency social workers

New venture, first mooted three years ago, aims to give locum practitioners a compliant and social work-specific service for handling financial affairs, but must establish itself, say sector experts

Image of payroll file and calculator (credit: vinnstock / Adobe Stock)
(credit: vinnstock / Adobe Stock)

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has launched its own umbrella company aimed at offering agency practitioners a trusted means of handling their financial arrangements.

Social Work Employment Services will cater exclusively for social workers who are also BASW members. Like other umbrella companies, it will, in effect, employ locum members, providing them with employment rights and insurance cover, handling invoices and other administration and paying taxes and national insurance contributions to HMRC.

According to the association, it has been set up “in direct response to members’ request for a trusted umbrella organisation, which is professional, ethical, and understands the complexities and challenges of the industry”.

The firm has been set up as a separate organisation to BASW – costing participants £15 per week – with excess cash being donated to BASW’s own membership services.

Kate O’Regan, BASW’s head of business development and one of Social Work Employment Services’ directors, said the new firm would provide a different option for social workers.

“One unique thing is that we have signed a formal recognition agreement with [BASW partner] the Social Workers’ Union,” O’Regan told Community Care.

She added that Social Work Employment Services would be working with the union to raise the profile of agency workers and address the issues they face, such as inferior working conditions or higher caseloads relative to staffers.

O’Regan said the umbrella company would also be developing a professional development package for social workers who sign up.

Tax hazards

BASW chief executive Ruth Allen first floated the idea of providing an umbrella company “alternative” back in 2017, a time when some agency social workers had criticised the association for providing insufficient support around tax law changes that took many by surprise.

That April, amendments to ‘IR35’ tax rules came into force in the public sector, which meant that locums, in general, could no longer lower their tax liabilities by operating as limited companies, forced many agency social workers, who had long been able to lower their tax liabilities by operating as limited companies, to change their arrangements, bringing take-home pay into closer alignment with directly-employed peers.

The changes fuelled significant interest among locums in working for umbrella companies offering tax rates well below what would be levied through PAYE, in order to maintain take-home pay levels.

While most umbrella companies are perfectly legal, such offers involved creative tax arrangements that fell foul of HMRC. Most notably, many promoted schemes that paid out part of earnings as a ‘loan’, which would not be subject to tax or national insurance and would never be repaid.

The taxman gave notice in summer 2018 that it would be implementing a new charge targeting loan schemes from April the following year, which has since been subject to an independent review and which the government published updated guidance on this week. A Community Care survey of 250 agency social workers conducted around the time of the 2018 announcement found that a third were concerned about the level of tax they had been paying.

Over the past few years, many locums have been hit by large tax bills – with the vast majority now far more diligent in seeking out compliant umbrella companies such as BASW’s. With that in mind, O’Regan acknowledged that Social Work Employment Services’ launch could have had more impact had it come sooner.

Industry accreditation

Carolyn Walsh, a tax expert who has advised BASW on agency workers’ financial affairs, and offers social workers an umbrella company and advice services via her CWC Solutions firm, said that establishing itself would be the the new organisation’s main challenge.

Importantly, the new venture is accredited by Professional Passport, one of a small number of bodies recognised by the industry as providing competent auditing of providers’ compliance, although not so far by the more well-known Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA).

“Over the last few years, social workers have learned to trust umbrella companies that are FCSA members,” Walsh said. “If social workers have trust in BASW, they may have trust in SWES.” But she said the crucial test would be around how many recruitment agencies accept the new company onto their preferred suppliers list (PSL).

O’Regan said that Social Work Employment Services would shortly be added to the PSL of its first major social work recruiter.

“In our work with agencies, we want them to see benefits of partnering with us – if they are going to talk to a director and say we are on their PSL, they are in part with BASW, a trusted and respected brand,” she said.

Tania Bowers, the general counsel at APSCo, a membership body representing recruiters, said BASW’s new venture would need to “build relationships”.

“For social workers this is audited and gives them a straightforward option,” she said. “My guess is our members will become aware and decide whether to add it to their PSL – it seems a good option but is not the only one.”


  • IR35 is a piece of legislation to is designed to prevent tax avoidance for any contractor working for a hiring organisation via a limited company or personal services company. Locums subject to it must make a payment to HMRC roughly equivalent to the taxes that would have been paid had they been employed by the hiring organisation.
  • Umbrella companies employ contractors on permanent contracts, meaning that the individual receives all 84 statutory rights and employment benefits whilst also having the flexibility to work for a series of different clients. They collect payment and calculating the amount to be paid to the freelancers, ensuring that appropriate PAYE tax and national insurance contributions are paid to HMRC.
  • Personal services companies have sole directors/shareholders who supply services to organisations, often through a recruitment agency. If arrangements are not covered by IR35, the worker will be paid through a mix of salary and dividends; within IR35, they are paid a salary.

Source: FCSA

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11 Responses to BASW launches umbrella company to employ agency social workers

  1. Nicholas Ettheridge August 15, 2020 at 11:19 am #

    How strange that a professional association gets into the business of supporting insecure employment.

    • Sean Hayes August 20, 2020 at 8:22 pm #

      Yes iam not sure that this is a good move for BASwa at all . Its separate but is closely associated. Perhaps would been better to help vet various umbrella companies on behalf of members and or advise on the standard and pitfalls and represent members . Appears to be a clear conflict of interests

  2. Ryan August 15, 2020 at 5:21 pm #

    Seems like a sensible and helpful move for agency social workers. Playing devils advocate though.. is there a risk here that BASW is indirectly promoting agency work? Agency work provides flexibility for a lot of people but importantly it can often create a lack of stability in organisations which adversely impacts on citizens. It is perhaps not a coincidence in high performing Local Authorities most staff are permanent. Not to also mention the huge costs associated with agency work which take away from money being spent on families, individuals and communities

  3. A Man Called Horse August 15, 2020 at 5:53 pm #

    So easy but ask them to tax apple or Amazon and they do nothing at all. Only ordinary people pay taxes, the big fish are laughing at the stupidity of UK Government and basically saying no such thing as society, we don’t care about NHS or poor people eating in food banks. Pay taxes you little people.

  4. Jim August 17, 2020 at 3:48 pm #

    Surely there are better ways to increase BASW membership than this? A sincere suggestion, represent a profession rather than act as a failed employment agency. That’s the task of Job Centre Plus.

  5. Joe August 17, 2020 at 4:48 pm #

    What’s the Local Authority’s benefit / interest in using this company to supply agency workers? Are you reference checking and holding all compliance records as with other recruitment companies? Will you operate a low margins and find workers for roles, or are you needing the worker to bring their own role to you? It seems the worker can increase their take home pay, but there seems little benefit to the LA and in fact may increase the volume of people going agency for financial (and then added stability) reasons.

  6. Gideon Hughes August 18, 2020 at 8:44 am #

    I am struggling to understand how a self declared professional association which supposedly strives for social workers is encouraging a two tier employment environment? What’s my incentive to join the ‘Social Workers Union’ when they have a conflict of interest if I am at threat of losing my permanent job and they are telling my employer they can replace me with one of their temporary workers? It’s all very strange.

  7. Sue Plummer August 19, 2020 at 8:53 am #

    I look forward to BASW adding accountancy as a core social work skill to their Code of Ethics. Good to know from a “professional association” that social work is an “industry”.

  8. ABC August 20, 2020 at 7:33 am #

    BASW Head of Business Development. Blimey, who knew.

  9. Yonrog August 24, 2020 at 11:00 am #

    That is £780 a year for that service, they would want to be saving you a lot of tax to make that worthwhile
    How much is a decent accountant?

  10. ABC August 24, 2020 at 6:10 pm #

    I always thought we funded education and the NHS through tax revenues. I never thought that I should employ an accountant to enable me to avoid paying tax so I can boast that I am like Uber and Apple and Starbucks and Amazon and the like. No idea why I would want to be a social worker and bang on about disadvantage, inequality and poverty while I was defrauding, legally of course, the public purse. But than I have never been a Tory.