Social Work England cuts timeframes for investigating staff alleged to be practising illegally

Average time to conclude misuse of title cases fell from 85 to 21 days last year on back of streamlined procedures and increase in resources for investigating team

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

Social Work England has significantly cut its timeframes for investigating cases of people allegedly practising illegally.

It took an average of 21 days to conclude so-called ‘misuse of title’ investigations from October to December 2023, down from 85 days over the previous three months.

This was despite the regulator having dealt with many more cases during the last quarter of 2023 (59) than during July to September of 2023 (22).

Reduction in case timescales

The improvement was substantially down to performance in December 2023, when Social Work England opened 25 misuse of title cases – the highest since February last year – and took an average of one day to resolve them.

The figures were revealed in the regulator’s latest performance report, which was shared at its board meeting last month.

The regulator said that the change had been achieved through a boost in staffing for the relevant team – which had previously been carrying vacancies – streamlined procedures and new guidance on the process for the public and social workers.

Misuse of title cases tend to be of two types: staff continuing to practise after being removed from the register or reports from the public about someone they believed to be a social worker not appearing on the register.

Rise in number of misuse of title cases

Last year, Social Work England reported a rise in the number of misuse of title cases it was investigating. It opened 188 such cases in 2023, up from 124 in 2022.

Though it did not report the outcomes of these cases, the regulator said that it had found more cases of people practising illegally as social workers.

In its performance report, the regulator said it had introduced, in December 2023, a new procedure for dealing with practitioners who failed to renew their registration, continued to practise briefly and then sought restoration to the register.

“This has assisted with ensuring these individuals can return to practise appropriately and efficiently,” it said.

New guidance for public and practitioners

It also issued guidance on misuse of title in September 2023.

This advises members of the public that they should make various check before referring a person for alleged misuse of title. This includes finding out whether they are registered as a social worker with the other three UK regulators, which would enable them to use the title.

For practitioners making a self-referral about working unregistered, the guidance advises them to stop practising immediately, remove their title from their email signature and inform their employer.

Where they want to restore their registration, the guidance stresses that they be honest about any time spent practising without registration.

It is an offence to give false or misleading information in order to procure or attempt to procure entry to the register, and the guidance says that doing so may result in the person’s application being denied or them being removed later on.

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.

Social 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.

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.

The regulator may then contact the police if the person does not respond or persists in the offence. It also has the power to bring private prosecutions for misuse of title.

In July 2023, Social Work England said that no misuse of title cases had met its threshold for a prosecution.

Regulator’s business plan

Publishing guidance was one element of an objective in the regulator’s 2023-24 business plan to review its approach to misuse of title, in order to improve timeliness and understanding of the nature of cases.

A Social Work England spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the timescales for concluding misuse of title cases have improved in response to a combination of changes we have made. These have included procedural changes, producing new guidance and adding resource to the team.

“Alongside the changes we have made which have improved timeliness, we have been gathering data and insight on the increase in and nature of misuse of title cases. We are analysing this research and will use the findings to further develop our processes.”


6 Responses to Social Work England cuts timeframes for investigating staff alleged to be practising illegally

  1. VH March 4, 2024 at 10:26 pm #

    Would it be too much to ask SWE to streamline their timeframe and procedures for social workers caught up in their cruel Fitness to Practice net too? Probably.

  2. David March 5, 2024 at 10:49 am #

    My FtP investigation, including the consideration by Case Examiners took two years and 7 months to finalise. This was with NFA and no impediment regarding my Social Work practice. In the first instance it took SWE 12 months to inform me of the complaint about my practice and to advise that it was undertaking an investigation. I had challenged a parent about his refusal to have his wayward teenage child at home

    I chose to give up on Social Work

    Best wishes

  3. Angelica March 5, 2024 at 10:47 pm #

    Why don’t more social workers speak out about the ordeals they experience during the fitness to practice process? Surely they have nothing to lose. Also, why aren’t BASW putting pressure on SWE?

  4. Ida Bentley March 8, 2024 at 2:46 pm #

    My friend has been waiting for a FtP to conclude. SWE have just written to say the hearing wont take place until 2025. The complaint was made in 2019 I cannot tell you how much this has affected her. Shocking

  5. Claire M March 8, 2024 at 3:27 pm #

    I have it on good authority that SWE are not even looking at new fitness to practice referrals until April 2025. Apparently, they are begging other social work organisations to ask DfE for extra funding on their behalf.

    We need to call SWE out for what it is – an incompetent and repugnant government department with morally bankrupt leadership.

  6. Pauline March 12, 2024 at 11:02 am #

    Perhaps SWE has managed to cut time frames for investigating those using a protected title illegally because those workers, by dint of their offence, are unlikely to be on the Register and therefore are depriving it from the registration fee. Nothing like loss of revenue to galvanise a bureaucracy it seems. Whereas of course there is no financial incentive to conclude FtP investigations in a timely manner as however long these take the social worker being investigated continues to pay the £90 fee. if I’m wrong blame SWE for fostering such cynicism. It’s based on personal experience of the near contempt with which they deal with us