How should social work regulators be funded?
- Fully through a government grant (67%, 176 Votes)
- Mostly through a government grant, with some income from registrant fees (17%, 45 Votes)
- A roughly even split between government grant and registrant fees (10%, 27 Votes)
- Fully through registrant fees (4%, 10 Votes)
- Mostly through registrant fees, with the rest through a government grant (2%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 262
Social Work England is to review the fees it charges practitioners under its new strategy, covering 2023-26.
Social workers have been charged £90 a year for registration, and its renewal, since 2015, firstly under the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and then Social Work England since 2019. The regulator said it was, consequently, reasonable to review levels, in a consultation paper on the new strategy, published last week.
The review would not necessarily lead to an increase, and Social Work England said it would involve engagement with the profession, followed by a full public consultation, and that the regulator would take into account public spending pressures, inflation and recruitment and retention issues in its decision making.
However, the British Association of Social Workers England urged a freeze in fees, particularly in the context of the “extreme financial hardship” facing some practitioners.
Social Work England’s annual registration fee is higher than those levied on social workers by the other UK regulators though it is lower than those charged by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for nurses and midwives, and the HCPC for occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists and the other professions it regulates (see box).
Annual registration fees
Social Work England: £90
Scottish Social Services Council: £80
Social Care Wales: £80
Northern Ireland Social Care Council: £65
Health and Care Professions Council: £98.12 (plus one -off scrutiny fee £68.68, though newly qualified staff pay 50% fee in first year)
Nursing and Midwifery Council: £120
Practitioners trained outside the UK face additional fees. Social Work England charges international applicants a one-off £495 scrutiny fee to join the register.
Fees make up just under half of Social Work England’s annual income, bringing in £9.6m in 2021-22, up from £9.1m in 2020-21 and just below the £11.2m grant it received from the Department for Education (DfE), itself a rise from £9.8m the year before.
In the consultation paper, Social Work England said it had agreed a baseline level of funding with the DfE, though this would remain under review in the light of policy and spending priorities, as was normal practice.
Spending shift away from fitness to practise
It said its proposals in the strategy were deliverable within its current financial framework and that, overall, its headcount and annual expenditure were lower than comparable regulators.
So far, much of its expenditure has been directed at fitness to practise, in the light of the huge pressures created by the backlog of cases inherited from the HCPC, disruption to the process during Covid and high levels of referrals since it took over social work regulation in December 2019.
However, it said the legacy caseload from the HCPC would largely be cleared by 2023, aided by adjustments to processes and changes to its rules and regulations that have recently been agreed.
It said it now wanted to shift more expenditure from fitness to practise to prevention of harm, including by working more closely with employers to help them to resolve concerns about social workers without the need for a referral to the regulator.
Social Work England said this was “often the most appropriate way of resolving concerns or issues that arise” and that it had started working with employers to understand how local processes were working, and wanted to accelerate this. It would also look at how it could develop its case resolution approach, under which fitness to practise cases are resolved without the need for a hearing, with the practitioner’s agreement.
CPD ‘should be continuous’
The regulator also said improving social work education standards, the transition to employment and continuing professional development (CPD) would contribute to preventing risks to the public.
In relation to the latter, it wanted to work with employers and social workers to make CPD “a continuous process of learning and reflection across the year”, with practitioners moving away from “social workers moving away from recording CPD near the end of the annual registration period”.
With this year’s registration cycle having started this month, Social Work England has warned practitioners not to leave recording their continuing professional development (CPD) until on or just before the end of the process, 30 November, as many did in 2020 and 2021. This year, practitioners must submit two pieces of CPD, one of which practitioners must have reflected on with a peer, up from a single piece, without peer reflection in 2020 and 2021.
In its strategy consultation Social Work England said it would explore whether changes to guidance, its engagement with the profession or the digital systems for submitting CPD were needed to support its ambition to make it “a routine and valued part of professional life”.
NQSW registration status mooted
In terms of improving social work education, it referred to its proposed approach to the issue, published in July, which included publishing a set of proposed statements of what new graduates should be equipped to do when they enter the workforce. The consultation on this closes on 7 October.
Among ideas mooted for enhancing the transition from education to employment were reintroducing student registration – which ceased in 2012 in England but is in place in the other three UK countries – and establishing a specific registration status for newly qualified social workers.
Social Work England said it would “take forward work on greater recognition through regulation activity of the practice educator role in preparing future professionals for practice and supporting those new into practice”, something that was proposed by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in its final report in May.
BASW urges fees freeze
In response to the proposals, British Association of Social Workers England national director Maris Stratulis said she hoped fees would remain at their current level up to 2026.
“BASW will raise awareness, consult with our members and respond to the Social Work England strategy consultation,” she said.
“Public protection, working conditions and the wellbeing of social workers must be integral components of the strategy going forward. BASW hopes that registration fees will remain at the current level for the duration of the next strategy timeframe, especially in view of the extreme financial hardship that some registrants are experiencing.”
Respond to the consultation
You can respond to the consultation by answering Social Work England’s online survey or emailing your views to email@example.com with the subject line: Social Work England strategy 2023 to 2026.
The regulator is also holding two online consultation events, on 6 and 10 October, which you can book tickets for, though places are limited.