Fitness to practise cases should take no longer than six months, say social workers

With Social Work England anticipating a rise in fitness to practise case lengths, we asked social workers what a reasonable timeframe to investigate a case is

Photo by Community Care

Social Work England recently revealed that fitness to practice (FTP) case lengths will rise from their current average of just over two years due to budget pressures.

The regulator said its likely government funding settlement for 2024-25 meant it would be unable to increase the number of final FTP hearings it held, increasing waiting times for practitioners.

However, according to respondents to a recent Community Care poll that amassed almost 700 votes, the current case length – from referral to a decision on the practitioner’s fitness to practise – is already much too long.

When considering what would be a reasonable timeframe to thoroughly and fairly investigate an FTP case, almost three-quarters of social workers (73%) said up to six months, with a further 20% selecting six to 12 months

Four per cent said 12-18 months, 1% said 18 months to two years and just 2% chose two or more years, in line with Social Work England’s current average.


‘Why can’t we look after each other?’

In the comments section of the related article, many social workers criticised the regulator’s failure to minimise the timescales, with some considering taking their complaints to Social Work England’s watchdog, the Professional Standards Authority.

“Social Work England routinely taking over two years to conclude investigations is not good enough,” said Tom J, who is trying to create a “six months is plenty” campaign with his trade union.

“Not good for the social worker who has this hanging over them [and] makes a mockery of the person complaining. How seriously are you taking my complaint if it takes you over two years to bring it to a conclusion?”

Another called the delay unacceptable, adding: “This is a profession that makes all the right noise regarding doing the right thing in a timely manner for everyone else. Why can’t we look after each other?”

“Can you imagine the outcry if it took social workers two to eight years to complete an assessment?” asked Callum.

‘Referrals should be accompanied by evidence’

Some suggested overhauling the current processes to help reduce the timescales.

Alastair Gibbons referenced a colleague who had been waiting for an FTP hearing for five and a half years following the referral and eight years post the complaint event. He called the FTP processes too “legalistic and adversarial”.

“This is grossly unfair and unjust and has caused enormous distress. [Processes] should be based on restorative and learning approaches, rather than blame. There should be a time limit (say two years) after which complaints are dropped if Social Work England has been unable to reach a conclusion.”

One practitioner whose local authority took six months to provide evidence and another six months to conclude that there was no case to answer against them, suggested that the regulator makes it a rule that every referral should be accompanied by evidence.

“It feels that Social Work England just goes on fishing expeditions. If they are not provided with any evidence then the case should be closed.”

Regulator ‘blighted by reduced funding’

However, one practitioner, Malteser, said they felt sorry not only for social workers but also the regulator, who they said had been “blighted by lockdowns and reduced funding”.

“Alternative disposals need to be strongly considered and a realistic view be taken of the concerns already shunted through by case examiners,” they added.

“It isn’t fair to all concerned – alleged victims and alleged unfit social workers. The mental torture both sides go through as well as [the lack of] income if the social worker [is suspended] cannot be underestimated.”

Regulator exploring ways to resolve cases without hearings

The regulator has said that it will be considering “operational efficiences” and new ways to resolve cases without progressing them to a hearing where appropriate, to help manage case delays.

In the meantime, Social Work England has pledged to prioritise hearings based on risks that have been identified and to continue to “explore funding options” to increase capacity and reduce timescales for cases.

What has your experience with a FTP process been like?

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15 Responses to Fitness to practise cases should take no longer than six months, say social workers

  1. David April 10, 2024 at 7:03 pm #

    It took SWE 12 months to inform me about a complaint from an irate parent and that it was to undertake an investigation. The complaint followed me challenging the parent regarding his duty of legal parental responsibility towards his child who was not adhering to his parent’s household rules. It the took SWE further 1 year and 7 months to undertake itd investigation with a conclusion of no further action and no impairment as to my practice. I gave up on SWE. Get real SWE regarding what the Social Work role is really about as you sit in your cosy offices

    • Carol April 10, 2024 at 10:11 pm #

      Huh? How did it get that far to SWE? Did the LA you were employed by stop this?

      • David April 11, 2024 at 8:44 am #

        Hi Carol
        I can only assume the parent perhaps went through the LA Complaints Procedure, did not like the response and so chose to approach SWE. I was an agency SW with the LA at the time but had left when any complaints were being made

    • Nathan April 11, 2024 at 7:44 am #

      All that wasted time and money… Yet SWE want more money from the DfE to reduce FtP delays?! Incompetence should not be rewarded. How many other innocent social workers are in this quagmire? No wonder we have a recruitment and retention crisis!

  2. RY April 12, 2024 at 9:32 am #

    My ftp started in February 2020… I’ve now totally given up and taken myself out of practice. Final hearing concludes in July, 4.5 years later. I don’t even want the review. I’m done with the profession after the way in which I have been demonised.
    The ftp process is a joke. Swe appear to take great pleasure in misrepresenting social workers. They don’t seem to have any understanding of this complex profession and cannot even uphold the standards they demand of social workers or meet their own professional standards.
    The process destroys people in the most isolating of ways. It’s utterly brutal, slanderous, discriminatory but God forbid you let on that your mental health is suffering… they will destroy you more. And a warning to any neurodiverse social workers… DO NOT TELL SWE!!!! They will use that against you too.
    I want removing from the register but that refuse. Possibly because I’ve card them out on their utter incompetency and multiple gdpr breaches, they want to continue to defame my name.
    Why would I want to be in a profession regulated by these clowns

  3. David April 12, 2024 at 1:56 pm #

    Frankly I just felt absolutely exasperated and exhausted by SW England’s actions. Trying to do a difficult job under very difficult circumstances. The above episode was during the very height of COVID in the early months of 2020. No sensitivity from SWE

  4. JG April 13, 2024 at 3:31 pm #

    There are FTP cases that have been rejected by SWE’s Triage team for way more serious matters than what yours is (trust me). I don’t know why your FTP case was singled out but public referrals are very rarely investigated by SWE without some from of LA referral as well.

    This can be checked with their published data.

    The cases that are rejected, aren’t published, so no one knows about them and also social workers’ who are being investigated aren’t aware of these cases which could potentially help them defend themselves in FTP hearings.

    Basically, SWE are just cherry picking FTP cases and your case (unfortunately) was maybe just picked out to suit their published data?

    • David April 13, 2024 at 9:11 pm #

      Dear JG


      Throughout the SWE investigation I maintained complaints to SWE and Subject Access Requests to the LA where I was then employed as an agency SW. There were no complaints raised as to my practice by the LA.

      • JG April 18, 2024 at 12:08 pm #

        Dear David

        The only conclusion that I can draw, is that your case was just put through for SWE’s performance targets or maybe you were discriminated against because you were an agency social worker?

        There is a much more serious FTP case than yours involving 2 social workers interfering in police matters during a CPP process that SWE have rejected (despite documented evidence). The Professional Standards Authority and the Social Workers Union are both aware of this case as well.

        Hope this helps

    • Deluxe April 15, 2024 at 1:04 am #

      If you’re black its worse

  5. Frasierfanclub1 April 14, 2024 at 1:47 am #

    My experience was under HCPC. I was a locum within a chaotic and inadequate rated LA. Although the LA initiated the complaint it took them 6 months to provide any paperwork. My mental health and my marriage, plus my mortgage were on the floor. I then had to attend a hearing to temporarily suspend my registration. I had no legal represention, couldn’t afford it, plus wasn’t in a union.i was fully exonerated but I’ll never get that year back, still paying off the debts, and it’s taken years to feel feel any semblance of confidence in myself as a practitioner. I get the need for investigation, however they could be completed a lot quicker by any complainant providing either hard evidence or at the very least, where to find the evidence.

  6. Tom J April 17, 2024 at 10:26 am #

    Thankyou to Community Care for allowing social worker voices to be heard on this. Six months should be plenty in the majority of cases. The role is challenging enough without having this unnecessarily process hanging over your head due to Social Work England resource issues.

  7. David April 17, 2024 at 1:15 pm #

    There are resource issues for Social Workers in trying to keep to targets and timescales regarding tasks, with no management respect for the 37 working week. SWE seem to be quite happy to launch an investigation if, for eg, a LA makes a referral to SWE re a SW not maintaining up-to-date recording. I have heard about SW managers threatening this. Bullying, eh?

    • David April 21, 2024 at 8:19 pm #

      Dear JG

      My TM at the time contradicted the allegations made by the parent regarding my practice and actually stated that they were untrue. SWE’s investigation report confirmed this and that the parent could not evidence his allegations re my practice. This was further confirmed by SWE’s Case Examiners. In effect this parent had rejected and abandoned his vulnerable and needy child, and this is what I challenged. The parent should have been, and indeed became subject to a Local Authority investigation, not me. It took SWE 2yrs and 7 months to progress its investigation regarding my practice to find no wrongdoing.There has to be something wrong with SWE’s processes and its understanding of the pressures and difficulties Social Workers have to work under. Hence I left the profession


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