In December a new body, Social Work England (SWE), will take over responsibility from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) for regulating England’s social workers. 

I recently reported concerns about the HCPC’s fitness to practise failings.  The HCPC has also been accused of being over legalistic and punitive in its approach. 

Will fitness to practise under Social Work England be different?

 SWE’s chief executive, Colum Conway, and chair Lord Patel are reported to have pledged to improve fitness to practise by making the process faster and more transparent. 


SWE will continue with the practice of an initial triage process before being taken forward.  Through this, SWE will filter out any cases at the very start while social workers convicted of serious ‘listed offences’ will be automatically struck off.  Instances of registration fraud set to be passed to a different team. 

The big difference under SWE will be that they will apply a much broader triage process. Unlike the HCPC’s approach that simply considers whether the complaint of concern falls within its remit, SWE’s fitness to practise approach outlines a set of criteria to determine if there are reasonable grounds for an investigation. 

Reducing hearings

SWE has also indicates that it aims to reduce the number of fitness to practise cases that requires a full hearing. 

Under the HCPC, social workers have experienced a disproportionately high shared of fitness to practise hearings.  Community Care reports that in 2017-18 social workers made up 27% of HCPC registrants but accounted for 51% of concerns raised with the regulator, the same proportion of final hearings heard by FTP panels, and 54% of striking-off or suspension orders. 

SWE said it aims to adopt a more “consultative” approach potentially using the initial triage process to explore which concerns can be resolved locally, without engaging the full fitness to practise process. 

SWE will use regional engagement leads to undertake remediation at local level. 


 SWE is currently consulting on a number of fitness to practise guidance documents: 

  • Pre-hearing case management guidance
  • Sanctions guidance
  • Triage guidance

Social workers due to transition to SWE can respond to the consultation by emailing with comments by 5pm on Friday 11 October 2019.

Stephen McCaffrey

I am a HCPC Defence Barrister who has represented a large number of health and care professionals before the HCPC and other regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals. 

I can help with all matters relating to HCPC Fitness to Practise referrals issues including:

  • Applications for Registration
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  • Internal Disciplinary and Grievance
  • HCPC Referrals
  • Fitness to Practice Hearings
  • Conduct and Competence Hearings
  • Health Committee Hearings
  • Interim Orders Hearings
  • Preparation for hearings
  • Representation at hearings
  • Preparation of witness statements

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