More staff found to be practising illegally as social workers, says regulator

Social Work England urges employers to check whether staff in social worker roles are registered after uptick in misuse of title cases

Regulatory compliance papers in the folder and manager.
Photo: Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Adobe Stock

An increasing number of staff have been found to be practising illegally as social workers, the regulator has said.

Social Work England issued the warning on the back of an increase in cases referred to it about people misusing the title ‘social worker’, which is protected in law.

The regulator opened 164 misuse of title cases in 2022-23, up from 105 in 2021-22, revealed figures in a paper to its board meeting last month. From April to September 2023, it opened 66 cases, up from 42 over the same period in 2022.

The report said the rise was down to “concerns raised by members of the public querying why someone is not appearing on our public register, and cases where social workers have practised whilst not holding registration, often after failing to renew”.

Case numbers peaked in December 2022 (37) and January (30) and February 2023 (26), immediately after the end of last year’s renewal period, when just over 1,000 people appeared to have been deregistered unintentionally, of whom over 800 then applied to rejoin.

More cases of practising illegally – regulator

Though Social Work England did not report on the outcomes of misuse of title investigations, the regulator said there were more instances of staff practising illegally as social workers.

Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England

Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England

“We have seen an increase in cases where people are practising as social workers without joining our register,” said chief executive Colum Conway. “This is illegal.

“In our business plan we explained that we are investigating the reasons for this increase so we can find the best way to reduce this. We have produced new guidance, streamlined our internal processes and added resource to cope with the extra demand. We urge employers to check their employees’ registration status on our website.”

About protection of title in England

Regulations 28 and 29 of the Social Work Regulations 2018 state that a person:

  • may not practise as a social worker in England unless they are a registered social worker;
  • must not use the title ‘social worker’ unless they are a registered social worker;
  • must not falsely represent themself to be a registered social worker, to have a qualification in relation to social work or be the subject of an entry in the register; and
  • must not let someone else refer to them as a ‘social worker’ unless they are a registered social worker.

Socal workers registered in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland may practise in England on a temporary basis, which Social Work England assesses based on how frequent, regular and long-lasting their work is.

Social Work England asks people who suspect someone is misusing the title social worker to first check whether they are on any of the four UK registers.

It is an offence to use the title social worker, or falsely represent yourself as one, with the intent to deceive.

When, following an investigation, the regulator concludes a person has misused the title ‘social worker’, it will generally explain the law to them and tell the person to stop.

It may also issue a ‘cease and desist’ letter, informing the person of what they should do and what the consequences would be if they persist, and may then contact the police if the person does not respond or persists in the offence.


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14 Responses to More staff found to be practising illegally as social workers, says regulator

  1. Martin James November 6, 2023 at 8:32 pm #

    So what is definition of social work, unlike solicitors where there is regulated activity, there is no similar thing on social work. I see case cos or social practitioners do same complexity of work

    • Paul November 10, 2023 at 10:10 am #

      Social work is regulated by SWE. You need a qualification in social work, pay £90 a year, then can call yourself a social worker.

    • Elle November 10, 2023 at 2:07 pm #

      You went to uni, worked for free for two of those years whilst studying. Bit like nursing. Anyone can nurse family members but it doesn’t make you a safe knowledgable nurse!

      • Martin James November 13, 2023 at 6:46 pm #

        It doesn’t define social work or what is regulated activity. What is a case for a social worker and what is for a case coordinator for example? With solicitors you do not have rights of audience in court or able to conduct litigation. Unqualified staff can do an assessment and care & support plan. It’s ridiculous that the definition of social work is not there.

  2. Amina Olayinka November 7, 2023 at 11:48 am #

    I don’t blame the people that followed this route. Social Work England has not been fair to some of us that applied to register since last year. I qualified abroad I have a masters degree in social work. I have paid for registration.
    And I am still to have my application registration.
    So it’s heartbreaking not to practice one’s craft

  3. Anon November 7, 2023 at 11:50 am #

    What I’m finding are that Socail workers are not upholding their duty of care and passing assessments and care plans to unqualified parents of people with support needs. I’m seeing the care act2014 and Dols as an excuse to presume capacity instead of assessing capacity.
    I’m seeing no risk assessments, no training no dbs checks of staff. I’ve previously worked in Ld services for 20 years it’s gone properly down hill.
    I’m looking into a dangerous direct payment contract that’s exsisted for over 6 years. The lack of duty of care by the council has resulted in neglect and the individual has been emotionally and financially abused.
    I’m an ex ld nurse. This is a member of my family.
    I shall be asking my Mp to investigate. It’s taken me 7 days ( I have a brain tumour) to realise what no one else has in over 6 years.
    A serious complaint will be made. I’m disgusted they have taken too long to act after the crime was reported. I have had to issue safeguarding plans, and I’ve also been tasked with supporting to raise at least 2 years of fraud in his account. Possibly 7. This is too much for me to handle. They need to support him with this. He’s been robbed of over £12.,000!

    • Anne-Marie November 10, 2023 at 10:21 am #

      Sad to hear of your circumstances but I do have to raise these issues.

      Firstly please advise where in law a duty of care exists (it doesn’t). There is doctrine in Tort law regarding neglect and the ambiguity and wide spread misuse of the term duty of care leads most people – including people who should know better – to believe that duty of care exists in law which is totally wrong.

      Secondly, the mental capacity act enshrines in law the presumption of mental capacity. It is only when there is good reason that an assessment of a person’s mental capacity would take place and then the decision must be subject and time specific. Also enshrined in law is the principle that when a person is being assessed for a specific subject where they are suspected to lack capacity l, every reasonable assistance must be provided to help them make the decision. I find in my practice on the front line that there is regularly a real failing on both of these principles where it is much easier for practitioners to find a person to lack capacity and progress to best interest decisions. This flies totally in the face of the MCA and results in unlawful decisions.

    • Anne November 10, 2023 at 11:35 am #

      I am shocked. Good luck in correcting a wrong. I hope this is isolated and not common practice.

  4. Anna Borne November 7, 2023 at 8:38 pm #

    More Tory government found to be practising untruthful, discriminatory, blinkered, illegal lip service more like. Social workers will cease to exist at the rate they are being vilified and diluted.

    • Paul November 10, 2023 at 10:12 am #

      Anna, check history Blairs government started this pay to be registered stuff. SWE is the 4th regulatory body created since then

  5. Jude Emmanuel-Ukato November 10, 2023 at 10:22 am #

    This is shocking, real shocking.. but expected due to desperation.

  6. Anne-Marie November 10, 2023 at 10:57 am #

    Yes Anna. I totally agree. But isn’t that the intention of this Tory government?

    According to a legal member of the scrutiny team who worked on the care act, it was clear to that lawyer that the care act was drafted to reduce the need for registered social workers.

    The introduction of Social Work England and the increasing demand for proof of fitness to practice i.e the requirement – as is the current state – for social workers to register every year and to produce to pieces of written work, including one that is reflective with another qualified person every year to prove that one’s practice has improved is point in case.

    It is no longer sufficient to show how one has maintained a good level of practice and to remain current with legal frameworks, practitioners must now constantly improve. I don’t mind saying that when one has tens of years in practice and is the most experienced practitioner in a team, that proving improvement becomes very difficult and time consuming.

    Which brings me to my final point,. Many services in which practitioners are so stretched or fail to understand the social work role – particularly in the NHS – that they do not allow time for practitioners to do CPD. Nor do they provide circumstances where learning can take place. For many a practitioner, supervision is not a vehicle for learning but more an administrative process focused on managers to tick box their responsibilities as managers.

    More frequently than not, I go home feeling totally exhausted. I am also aware that many social work colleagues take annual leave (normally in late October or early November to complete their CPD for the registration process. This is totally unacceptable. The pressure that SWE is now placing on practitioners is far beyond maintaining what is required to prove competence to continue to practice and is a significant factor in practitioners missing the registration boat leading to them temporarily loosing their registration and then practicing illegally until they are re registered.

    I would like to know what happens when a practitioner submits evidence to SWE but that evidence is not seem as meeting the standard SWE deems acceptable. I suspect that that practitioner looses their registration. What is such a person supposed to do, stop practicing? Fall into arrears with their mortgage or rent, be unable to pay their bills etc, etc. Hardly surprising that some continue to practice.

    All the above is – being candid – due to a paranoid government, having their quango apply more and more pressure to practitioners. It is my firm belief that the Tory government have a form plan to minimise social work as a profession with the profession being significant depleted and much of the work of social workers being completed by support staff. This of course is a perverse situation as qualified staff are being put under pressure to constantly improve whilst much of their role is being completed by un-qualified and un-regulated staff.

    Seems to me to be a totally bonkers position where there will be a constant reduction of Social Workers and end users of services will be significantly disadvantaged. This of course then helps the government in their goal of significantly reducing public services and the public sector.

  7. Anonymous November 10, 2023 at 5:58 pm #

    I’m curious if this applies to local authorities that direct non social work qualified staff to undertake statutory child in need work?

  8. peter griffiths November 12, 2023 at 2:26 pm #

    With the social work profession being poorly paid and poorly managed many employers are desperate for for applicants. They may recruit an individual simply based on an interview or a phone call to a previous employer for recruitment purposes. Being registered is a sise issue when the role is urgently required