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.
“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.