DfE gives regulator £2.3m to help clear fitness to practise backlog

Social Work England will use money to complete over 100 more investigations inherited from HCPC as it seeks to turn round fitness to practise system

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Photo: chrupka/Adobe Stock

The Department for Education (DfE) has given Social Work England (SWE) an extra £2.3m to enable it to clear a backlog of fitness to practise (FtP) cases.

The regulator asked the department for the money to enable it to investigate remaining FtP cases it took over from its predecessor, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), in December 2019.

The regulator inherited 1,545 cases, however it found that just 10% of the cases listed by HCPC as ready for a hearing were complete, with the rest needing further work. This was one of three significant challenges Social Work England has faced in relation to fitness to practise since it took over from HCPC. The others are the impact of the pandemic on its ability to hold hearings and gather information, and receiving higher than expected referral numbers.

Revised targets

As a result it fell behind its targets for fitness to practise in 2020-21 and revised some of these downwards for 2021-22.

It had completed the investigation of 58.9% of legacy cases as of the end of September of this year.

With the DfE funds, the regulator expects to exceed its target of completing investigations for 80% of the inherited cases by March 2022.

Social Work England will use some of the DfE money to complete over 100 more legacy investigations. It has appointed law firm Capsticks to a ten-month contract running from 22 November 2021 until 30 September 2022, estimated to be worth £928,652.50, to undertake the work.

It expects any inherited cases that it refers to a hearing before March to take a further nine to 12 months to resolve.

Speaking at a board meeting last month, chief executive Colum Conway said: “We are looking to progress those cases as expeditiously as possible and the department are supporting us in that.”

It will also deploy the money on bolstering the FtP system more broadly by hiring 15 temporary employees for 6-12 months in its triage, adjudications and support teams, and recruiting more hearings partners, including adjudicators and legal advisers, as it anticipates an increase in final hearing work.


Aim to reduce triage cases

Social Work England resolves most of the referrals it receives through its initial triage service, with 57.3% cleared at this stage in September. But it aims to reduce the number of open cases in this part of its system from 567 currently to 300 by March 2022.

The regulator said in its latest performance report that its efforts to reduce cases in the triage service stalled in July-September due to unplanned staff absences and volatile numbers of referrals. But it said it still expected to reduce the number of cases to below 300 by March.

Speaking at the board meeting, executive director of fitness to practise Jonathan Dillon said the regulator faced a “balancing act” in reducing triage caseloads as it did not want to “in any way impact the effectiveness” of the enquiries it made at that stage.

Dillon said there was a “fragility” in the triage service team, which he said was “slightly under resourced”. He said Social Work England might reallocate some staff from other teams before March “to really focus on that triage caseload as we move towards the end of the year”, as the regulator is exceeding targets elsewhere. But he said it would only do that if it determined it was appropriate to do so and would not divert resources from clearing its backload of inherited cases.

Longer term, Dillon said the regulator planned to introduce targets to “progress matters through the service far more effectively and reduce the strain on all those affected in the process”.

Other targets met

The regulator is already exceeding its target to reduce its number of open investigations to 1,230 by March, with only 1,040 open at the end of September, down from around 1,400 in April. It said a restructure earlier in the year helped it to resolve more legacy cases and limit new cases entering the service. Social Work England now has more than 100 fewer cases open than those it inherited from the HCPC and it expected the overall number to fall below 1,000 by the end of the year.

It is also exceeding its target for more than 90% of cases to meet its internal standards, with 92.7% doing so in April to September this year. Accountancy firm Haines Watts audited Social Work England’s internal quality assurance processes during Q2 and said they were adequate.

But the regulator took longer to conclude cases it did not inherit that required full investigation, taking 58 weeks on average in July-September, up from 53 weeks the previous quarter. The regulator said it expected case lengths to increase further until March 2022 as it continued to prioritise inherited cases, but it forecasted that it would “improve performance” from then on.

Meanwhile, it took 20 working days on average to approve interim orders in July-September, the limit of its target timescale and up from 17 days the previous quarter. The regulator said it may become more challenging to stay within the 20-day target due to an increase in final hearings in Q2, which it said has put increased pressure on the hearings schedule.


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8 Responses to DfE gives regulator £2.3m to help clear fitness to practise backlog

  1. Claire December 6, 2021 at 2:26 pm #

    It’s not about the money stream, honest.

    • elaine baber December 10, 2021 at 9:28 pm #

      SWE is an absolute sham

  2. Tahin December 6, 2021 at 5:01 pm #

    SWE: Sob sob, we are “slightly” understaffed please give us more money so we can at least start doing some of our bread and butter tasks. It’s all HCPCs fault you know.

    Social Workers: We have never had a properly staffed team and our caseloads are unmanageable.

    SWE: Stop whining upload your CPD or we will prosecute you.

    PSWs and the rest of our betters: I uploaded my CPD in half an hour. Look how professional I am.

    The public: SWE? What’s that?

  3. James December 9, 2021 at 9:04 am #

    If anyone is really interested in efficiency and more importantly a more serious concern about justice and competence, admit the evident truth: SWE is not fit for purpose. I have had the misfortune of having to directly deal with SWE staff. I have gone past expecting politeness and empathy from non-social workers struggling to understand social work queries but an inability to listen and hear from an organisation dependent on fees and tax payers funding is beyond parody. So here is a fairly evidence based prediction. In 2023, SWE will still be behind “catching up”, will still blame HCPC, will still cry lack of resources but still stream away cash to consultants for advice on how to do the basics. And repeat.

  4. Colin December 9, 2021 at 12:02 pm #

    Are there any social workers in teams where there are unexpected staff absences and unpredicted increase in referrals? If yes, leave and get a job at SWE. You will instantly be able to blame others for not completing your tasks and slurp up extra cash without shame as your reward.

  5. Frasierfanclub1 December 11, 2021 at 7:22 am #

    I was a year in limbo under HCPC and a friend of mine 3 years under HCPC and SWE. Its life changing. Although there was no case to answer I am left with 20k of debt and crushing anxiety, terrified every day when I go to work.

    Much of the delay was caused by the LA failing to back up its claims with actual evidence, waiting 5 months before providing the paperwork which would eventually clear my name.

    If LAs male the referral it should be front loaded, accompanied by everything relevant, just like we have to do when initiating Care Proceedings.

    And the clock should start ticking on day one.

    Maybe compensation orders when we are found to have no case to answer. It won’t improve our mental health but it would help to alleviate the financial burden.

  6. Keith December 11, 2021 at 1:19 pm #

    58 weeks to conclude cases it didn’t inherit from HCPC. Count them and reflect on SWE saying with no shame that they “expect” this to be even longer until at least March 2022. All the PSWs that bully us about CPD, all the excuse makers who come out the woodwork to bury this incompetence know that we buy none of your improving standards waffle. If you care about our profession, if you care about social workers, call this callousness out. If I didn’t update my records for over a year and tell you when I will, you would be horrified.


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