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Consultation response on amendments to our rules

July 2022

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Consultation response on amendments to our rules

Published: 29 July 2022

Introduction

The first 2 years of our regulation have involved a period of intense activity in unexpectedly challenging circumstances. In this time, we have learned and reflected on our work and tested our legislative framework. We have collated learning where it relates to our regulations and rules and begun the process of proposing amendments to them. This consultation response sets out our decision on some of those amendments.

This consultation relates only to amendments to our rules, and only those rules which do not first require amendments to our regulations. Our regulations, (the Social Workers Regulations 2018), set out how we perform our regulatory functions. Our rules set out what people can expect from us across appointments, registration, education and training, and fitness to practise.

We will consult on further amendments to our rules, following the publication of the outcomes from the Department for Education’s consultation on our regulations.

What we consulted on

This consultation proposed changes to our:

  • Fitness to Practise Rules
  • Registration Rules
  • Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules
  • Fees Rules

We summarised the key amendments in the consultation document as follows.

Any minor amendments (amendments proposed simply to make the rules clearer or ensure that they better align with our other rules and our regulations), were not included in this summary list. However, a list of all the proposed changes were included in tables at the end of the consultation, which provided more detail on why we were proposing the amendments and what they would do.

We note that some of the rules in the summary list below had incorrect references in the published consultation document. Where this is the case, a correction has been added below. All references were correct in the appendix table and we are confident that this did not affect consultation feedback.

In the Fitness to Practise Rules, we proposed to:

  • Increase the time period for investigators to notify social workers they are under investigation from 7 to 14 calendar days (rule 8(a))
  • Include a requirement as to when notice of a review hearing (when an existing interim or final conditions of practice or suspension order is reviewed to ensure it is still appropriate) should be served on a social worker (not less than 28 calendar days) (rule 16(b))
  • Provide provisions that set out the details of the hearing process and what the applicant and regulator may or may not do when restoration to the register is sought after a removal order (rule 20(2))
  • Enable both the regulator and the adjudicators to decide whether an application for restoration after a removal order can be determined by way of a meeting (instead of a hearing) (rule 22). (Please note, the rule should specify regulator only, although we have the power to delegate this to the adjudicators)
  • Extend the current 56 day timeframe for adjudicators to determine restoration applications to 84 days (rule 23)
  • Add new rules to provide a method to close a case, or part of a case, following the determination of the case examiners when new information becomes available which means that there is no longer a realistic prospect of those allegations being found proved (rules 27(j) and 52) (Please note, rule 27(j) should have read rule 27(2)).
  • Allow the regulator to set and publish eligibility criteria for legal advisers outside of the rules, instead of the requirements being in the rules (rule 33)
  • Enable the regulator to take account of previous criminal convictions when considering a social worker’s previous history (rule 35(a))
  • Add new rules confirming the evidence that may be presented to prove a criminal conviction (rule 35A)
  • Extend the provision for the social worker to have legal representation to include Chartered Legal Executives (rule 40A) (Please note, rule 40A should have read rule 40(a))
  • Extend the provisions for service of documents to include courier and personal service (rule 40) (please note, rule 40 should have read rule 44
  • Add new rules to set out the procedure to be followed in respect of a social worker’s duty to provide information to the regulator under regulation 16 of the Social Workers Regulations 2018, including the procedure for suspending or removing a social worker who fails to comply (rules 35A, 51 and 52). Please note, this should not have referenced rule 52

In the Registration Rules, we proposed to:

  • Remove the prohibition on registration for offences committed outside England or Wales (rule 13), to ensure it is compliant with our regulations
  • Harmonise the requirements for restoration and registration after a period away from practice or education, by adding a requirement to demonstrate relevant additional education or training (30 days of updating skills, knowledge and experience) where qualifications were awarded 2 to 5 years before application to the register, or where it has been 2 to 5 years since the applicant was last registered (rules 14(2)(b) and 59(1)(e))
  • Impose a timeframe of 28 calendar days within which an applicant must provide any further information or evidence requested by the regulator in support of a registration application (rule 24(2))
  • Allow an application to be closed upon expiry of the relevant timeline (28 calendar days) if an applicant has failed to provide relevant information (rule 26A)
  • Allow annotations on a social worker’s entry in the register to be removed at the social worker’s request (rule 44(b))
  • Provide more detailed rules for restoration applications (rules 59(1)(d) to 59(1A) and 60A to 60E)
  • Place a time limit of 12 months within which updating skills, knowledge and experience prior to an application to join the register must have been completed, in order to ensure an applicant’s knowledge and training is reasonably recent and up to date (rule 59(1A))

In the Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules, we proposed to:

  • Allow the regulator to set and publish eligibility criteria for legal advisers outside of the rules, instead of the requirements being in the rules (rule 14A)
  • Reduce the 28 day objection period (to an application being decided by meeting instead of hearing) to 14 calendar days to avoid unnecessary delays to the process (rule 15(4))
  • Increase the decision outcome period from 60 to 80 working days, to provide a more realistic timeframe for scheduling or determining appeals (rule 20(1))
  • Add new rules confirming the evidence that may be presented to prove or rebut a criminal conviction (rule 22A)
  • Extend the provisions for service of documents to include courier and personal service (rule 23)

Legally qualified chairs

Rule 33 of the Fitness to Practise Rules allows us to use legally qualified chairs (LQCs) in our fitness to practise proceedings. We have not yet used this power.

Our panels are currently made up of either 2 or 3 adjudicators but they always include, as a minimum, a social worker and someone who chairs the proceedings. The chair will work with a social worker adjudicator in 2 person panels, or a social worker and lay adjudicator in 3 person panels.

Additionally, all of our adjudication panels are supported by an experienced lawyer as a legal adviser, who does not take part in decision making but advises the panel (and the social worker where unrepresented) on points of law and process. By this we mean that the legal adviser may provide some additional support  and explanation of the procedure and process to an unrepresented social worker, they do not provide legal advice to the social worker.

If we were to use legally qualified chairs, this would change the composition of our adjudication panels as follows.

  • The chair will be legally qualified rather than a lay adjudicator
  • The legally qualified chair will replace the role of the legal adviser at our hearings
  • This means that they would chair proceedings, be part of the decision making process and give advice to other adjudicators

We sought views on how and when we should use legally qualified chairs in our fitness to practise meetings and hearings

We did not consult on whether we should introduce the power for us to have legally qualified chairs as that power already existed.

How we consulted

Our regulations require us to consult when we make substantive amendments to our rules (Social Workers Regulations, regulation 3(5)). We also wanted to hear from those who may be impacted by the amendments. In addition to the proposed changes, we also sought feedback on how we might implement the existing rule 33 of the Fitness to Practise Rules, which allows us to use legally qualified chairs in our meetings or hearings.

We made this information accessible via our website and promoted the consultation on our social media channels.

We published a proposal of the amendments on our website, along with an accompanying consultation document, explaining the changes we would make. People and organisations were able to provide feedback via email to [email protected]

Consultation methodology

We counted, read and analysed all responses to the consultation. We asked for responses to be sent via email to our dedicated consultations inbox.  

All of the responses that we received were considered and recorded, which helped us to review our proposed amendments to our rules.

Who responded?

We received 33 detailed responses to the consultation, 10 of which were from external organisations and 18 from Social Work England adjudicators and legal advisers.

What you said

Feedback across all sets of rules

Respondents generally approved of the proposed changes to all the Rules and felt that they would streamline processes. This was echoed by some key stakeholders, including the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), Ofsted (who felt the changes mostly strengthen our processes), and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Social Workers Union (SWU).

Some of our proposals centred around increasing time periods to provide more realistic timeframes. These changes were for adjudicators to determine restoration applications and registration appeals, and the time period for notifying social workers that they are under investigation. Some respondents, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Ofsted and UNISON, felt that this may slow the overall processes down.

Some stakeholders, such as the Professional Standards Authority fed back that this seemed at odds with other proposed rule changes that are intended to reduce delays, and queried the rationale for these changes.

Other respondents, including ADCS, UNISON and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), also felt that it may have a negative impact on a social worker’s wellbeing. However, stakeholders also acknowledged the need for fitness to practise cases to be handled sensitively and provide sufficient time for us to explore concerns.

Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules

Some felt that the proposal to reduce the 28 calendar day period in which an applicant may object to an appeal being heard without a hearing in the Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules to 14 calendar days would disadvantage the applicant, whilst others, including Ofsted, felt the proposal was proportionate and would reduce delays.

Registration Rules

The proposed introduction of 28 calendar days for applicants to provide further information or evidence in support of registration applications was welcomed by respondents, including ADCS, UNISON and Cafcass.

Fitness to Practise Rules

There was support for the new rules to be able to close a case, or part of a case, following the determination of the case examiners when new information becomes available after a referral to a hearing, including from key stakeholders such as ADCS, Cafcass and UNISON. However, the Professional Standards Authority felt it was unclear how and why the discontinuance process permitted by new rule 27(2) is different from the one set out in the new rule 52, and that it was less robust for facts and grounds.

Though respondents were not opposed to the proposal to set and publish eligibility criteria for legal advisers outside of the rules, a few respondents, including the Professional Standards Authority and UNISON, asked for further information on the rationale for this change.

Fees Rules

We did not receive any feedback on the change to the Fees Rules.

Legally qualified chairs

When asked whether the use of legally qualified chairs (LQCs) would streamline and better support our fitness to practise meetings and hearings, responses were mixed. Some responses focused more on whether respondents felt legally qualified chairs should be used at all, rather than whether they would streamline the process or how and when we might use them. Of those who expressed an opinion on whether the use of legally qualified chairs would streamline the process, 30% felt it would, 35% were unsure or thought that it would in some cases, and 35% felt it wouldn’t.

Some respondents were supportive of the use of legally qualified chairs, including the SSSC, saying it would mean that legal advice was integrated into discussions and could reinforce the rigour of decision making.

Some respondents, including ADCS, UNISON and Cafcass, disagreed with the use of legally qualified chairs, and felt that legally qualified chairs could cause conflict between the roles of independent advice and decision maker, whilst others thought it could disadvantage any social workers that don’t have their own representation as legal advisers often provide them with explanation about process.

BASW and the Social Work Union fed back that their members were generally supportive of legally qualified chairs, feeling they were more robust, as long as social work experience is still represented on the panel. Some stakeholders, such as the Professional Standards Authority and Ofsted, suggested trialling or monitoring the use of legally qualified chairs, to explore their impact.

Some respondents shared feedback from their own experiences of being a legally qualified chair or working with legally qualified chairs at other regulators. The majority of them felt that these were positive experiences, and that the use of legally qualified chairs is sensible, progressive and does speed up the hearings process. However, some respondents expressed concerns that the increased workload for the chair could make hearings longer, and therefore questioned what the role of a legally qualified chair would entail.

When asked what types of meeting or hearings a legally qualified chair should be used for, feedback was again mixed, though most said only in certain types of hearings. This was echoed by key stakeholders such as Ofsted, BASW and Social Workers Union.

The most common response was that a legally qualified chair should only be used when the social worker has legal representation. Other common responses were for them to be used in review hearings and final hearings that are shorter and less complex.

What we did

We have made the following changes to our proposals as a result of the consultation responses we received.

Fitness to Practise Rules 2019

Rule 16

We received feedback that the wording proposed would mean that 28 days’ notice of a hearing to review an interim order would be required which was not the intention. This amendment was only meant to cover notice periods for final order reviews. Interim orders must be reviewed within 3 or 6 months (if the planned regulations amendments go ahead, this will always be 6 months). If an interim order review hearing or meeting is adjourned or postponed at the last minute, a 28 day notice period could easily mean we do not review the interim order within the statutory review period and would hamper our ability to call interim order reviews quickly which could impact public protection. Therefore, we have redrafted this to make clear that 28 days’ notice is required for a hearing or meeting to review a final order, whereas 7 days’ notice is required for a hearing or meeting to review an interim order. This has meant redrafting this into a number of sub-paragraphs for clarity, but the only substantive changes are that a 28 day notice period is now required for a final order review hearing or meeting and 7 calendar days’ notice is required for an interim order review hearing or meeting.

Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules 2019

Rule 15(4)

As a result of the concern discussed above about comparative timelines between Social Work England and appellants, we have decided that rather than shortening the time to object to a meeting to 14 calendar days, this will only be shortened to 21 calendar days. We still believe it is proportionate to shorten this time, as it is the second opportunity the appellant has to request a hearing, as they may do so in their original appeal (rule 12).

Rule 20(1)

As a result of the concern about comparative timelines, we have decided to keep the time for a registration appeal to be heard to 60 working days. However, to reflect our experience that 60 working days is often too short to complete the appeals process, we will amend this Rule to include the wording from Fitness to Practise Rule 23 that the 60 working days timeline ceases to apply where the appellant asks for or has agreed to a postponement.

Registration Rules 2019

Rule 24(2)

We added the word ‘calendar’ to the wording of this rule, to clarify what timeline we are referring to.

We will keep all other proposed changes and provide reasons for some of those changes below, in response to consultation feedback we received.

Fitness to Practise Rules 2019

Rule 8(a)

This amendment proposed to increase the time period for investigators to notify social workers they are under investigation from 7 to 14 calendar days. However, 14 days is the limit by which we will notify social workers that they will be under investigation. A triage process must be carried out to help determine whether an investigation should be opened. Therefore the timeframe required will be dependent upon the complexity of the case. A timeframe of 14 calendar days will allow sufficient time for the relevant quality assurance processes to take place prior to the decision being finalised and communicated, whilst still ensuring that the social worker is notified of the investigation at the earliest opportunity. 

Rule 23

This amendment proposed to extend the current 56 day timeframe for adjudicators to determine restoration applications to 84 days. We understand there is a concern that this may appear disadvantageous to the applicant. However, we still consider the increase to 84 days is required. When we first included the figure of 56 days, we had not yet become the regulator and had to predict how long it would take. There are significant operational challenges associated with listing restoration hearings within the 56 day period (which amounts to in effect just under 2 calendar months). Within that short time period we have to review and assess the application, prepare a bundle of documents and brief our external legal provider. In addition, our hearings team would need to find an available listing date for the hearing and this will be challenging in a short period of time given that the hearing calendar is usually booked at least 3 to 6 months ahead with final hearings, interim order reviews and final order reviews. While there is always provision for short notice hearings, these are usually allocated for high risk hearings such as interim order applications. However, taking on board the concerns raised about the increase in days we will always endeavour to list restoration hearings as soon as practicable. Furthermore, this change in days brings this provision more in line with the timeframe required for a decision to be made in registration appeals. Registration appeals are required to be completed in 60 working days. Changing this provision to 84 days (to be read as calendar days), means that the time period to allow the regulator to make a decision on both types of application is now more aligned.

Rules 27(2) and 52

These amendments add new rules to provide a method to close a case, or part of a case, following the determination of the case examiners to refer the case to a hearing. Rule 27(2) allows for discontinuance in part at a case management meeting and discontinuance of the whole case at a one day fitness to practise hearing. This applies to circumstances when new information becomes available which means that there is no longer a realistic prospect of those allegations being found proved. We note the suggestion that this would lead to a less rigorous process, but in the revised rules, Social Work England are required to make a formal application setting out detailed reasons for seeking a full discontinuance at a one day final hearing and the adjudicators can refuse the discontinuance application and adjourn the hearing so it can be relisted for a full final hearing. Such decisions would be subject to Professional Standards Authority oversight as there would be a finding that fitness to practise is not impaired which would fall within the scope of a section 29 appeal under the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002.

In the case of ‘partial discontinuance’ under rule 27(2) the adjudicator’s decision would be shared with the Professional Standards Authority, following the conclusion of the final hearing and would therefore form part of the decision which may be subject to a section 29 appeal.

Rules 33 and 33A

These amendments proposed to allow the regulator to set and publish eligibility criteria for legal advisers outside of the rules, instead of the requirements being in the rules. We recognise that publishing eligibility requirements in this way is different to how some other regulators deal with this; however, we remain of the view that publishing the requirements outside of the rules allows us to ensure that we can keep our requirements for legal advisers as up to date as possible.

Rule 35(a)

This amendment proposed to enable the regulator to take account of previous criminal convictions when considering a social worker’s previous history. The original wording of rule 35(a) identifies previous history as an adverse decision relevant to the social worker by the regulator, its predecessors, or a body included in regulation 7. Regulation 7 includes a variety of bodies and organisations which the regulator has a duty to co-operate with. The bodies include 'any local policing body and any chief officer of police, for a police area in England...' As such we understood the intention of including regulation 7 was also to include substantive criminal findings made by the courts, namely convictions. As such this has been added into the rule.

Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules 2019

Rule 14(a)

This amendment proposed to allow the regulator to set and publish eligibility criteria for legal advisers outside of the rules, instead of the requirements being in the rules. We recognise that publishing eligibility requirements in this way is different to how some other regulators deal with this, however, we remain of the view that publishing the requirements outside of the rules allows us to ensure that we can keep our requirements for legal advisers as up to date as possible.

Legally qualified chairs

We want to take more time to consider the operation, details and impact of using this rule before deciding how legally qualified chairs will be introduced and used at Social Work England in the future. We will update the sector about this in due course.

What happens next?

The consultation closed on 26 May 2022. The final rules can be found on our website. We’ll continue to work with social workers, employers, people with lived experience and other people with an interest in social work as we consider how to apply these rules and to explain any changes to our work.

Equality impact assessment

Introduction

We’re committed to monitoring the impact, and enhancing the accessibility and content, of all our services to meet our equality duties and objectives. We’ve reflected on the feedback from our consultation to assess the potential positive and negative impacts of our proposals.

Social Work England is the specialist regulator for social workers in England. Between 3 March 2022 and 26 May 2022, we held a public consultation on proposed amendments to our rules. We received 33 responses to the consultation which included feedback from key stakeholder organisations and adjudicators and legal advisers.

This equality impact assessment sits alongside our consultation response. It is a written record that shows how we’ve taken care to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equal opportunities.

As part of the equality impact assessment, we found that people from some protected characteristic groups could be impacted both positively and negatively. We also considered how the changes could impact a person’s socio-economic status or health and wellbeing. These areas are set out below, along with any action we will take.

Consultation responses

Through our consultation, we asked respondents if they thought our proposed changes would have a positive, negative or no impact on people in different protected characteristics groups, and in what way. The responses have helped us to understand which groups respondents thought would be most impacted and consider areas for change and improvement.

What people said

The majority of respondents (79%) either stated that they thought there would be no impact, or did not provide a response. Where people stated that they thought there would be a negative impact, some of those potential impacts did not refer to the proposed changes, or they did not identify a potential impact based on a person’s protected characteristic.

Excluding these, only 5 respondents identified potential negative impacts. The impacts they identified were:

  • Requiring the chair of adjudicator panels to be legally qualified may reduce the diversity of the role. While we consulted on this, it is outside the scope of our response, as we already have the power to have legally qualified chairs (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 33(a) and Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals, rule 14(1)) and have decided to take more time to consider how legally qualified chairs will be introduced and used at Social Work England in the future.
  • Reducing timeframes may negatively impact people with certain specific learning difficulties, for example, dyslexia.

Timeframes

Positive impact

Changes to the Fitness to Practise Rules include a requirement as to when a notice of a final order review hearing should be served on a social worker (not less than 28 calendar days) (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 16(ac)) and a requirement as to when notice is to be served in respect of interim order review hearings (no less than 7 calendar days) (Fitness to Practise Rule 16(ab)). However, this time can be shortened where the regulator considers it is necessary to protect the public or in the public interest. These rules may have a positive impact on individuals with protected characteristics relating to mental health issues who may find it helpful to have a clear timeframe within which they will be notified. It may also make it easier for people to maintain appointments relating to health conditions, gender reassignment, religious holidays and pregnancy or maternity.

Negative impact

Some of our proposals across the rules centre around increasing time periods to provide more realistic timeframes in light of operational considerations. These changes included an increase in the time for adjudicators to determine restoration applications (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 23), the decision outcome period in registration appeals (Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules, rule 20(1)), and the time period for notifying social workers that they are under investigation (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 8(a)). The increase in the time period allowed to make a decision on restoration or registration appeals may affect a person’s mental health or situational health and wellbeing as they may need to wait longer for a resolution. From a socioeconomic perspective, a longer timeframe may also mean that a person is out of work for longer (if applicable).

As a result of the potential impact and the concern from respondents about comparative timelines, we have decided to keep the time for a registration appeal to be heard to 60 working days (Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rule 20(1)). To reflect our experience that 60 working days is often too short to complete the appeals process though, we will amend this rule to include the wording from Fitness to Practise Rule 23 that the 60 working days timeline does not apply where the appellant asks for or has agreed to a postponement.

In the case of Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 8(a), 14 calendar days is the limit by which we will notify social workers that they will be under investigation. A triage process must be carried out to help determine whether an investigation should be opened. Therefore the timeframe required will be dependent upon the complexity of the case. A timeframe of 14 calendar days will allow sufficient time for the relevant quality assurance processes to take place prior to the decision being finalised and communicated, whilst still ensuring that the social worker is notified of the investigation at the earliest opportunity. To mitigate any potential negative impact, we will notify the social worker that they are under investigation as soon as practicable, up to the 14 day limit.

On Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 23, when we first included the figure of 56 days, we had not yet become the regulator and had to predict how long it would take. We have since found that the current 56 day timeframe causes us significant operational challenges. In any event, if the timeframe is not met, the adjudicators must consider at the hearing how to proceed. The only options they have are to proceed or to refuse to hear the matter. If they refused to hear the matter, we do not consider this to be a fair outcome for the applicant. Therefore, extending the timeframe does not mean that appeals take longer, but rather that applicants do not face the concern of us having to submit to the adjudicators why the application should be heard out of time, notwithstanding the rules. Furthermore, this change in days brings this provision more in line with the timeframe required for a decision to be made in registration appeals. Registration appeals are required to be completed in 60 working days. Changing this provision to 84 days (to be read as calendar days), means that the time period to allow the regulator to make a decision on both types of application is now more aligned. This relates to a small number of applicants (5 to 10 applications per year) and 84 days is the limit by which we will schedule or determine a restoration, and we intend to do this much more quickly if possible. We therefore feel the potential negative impact is low.

Streamlining our hearings process

Positive impact

We proposed to add new rules to provide a method to close a case (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 52), or part of a case (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 27(2)), following the determination of the case examiners to refer a case to a hearing when new information becomes available. This may positively impact a social worker’s situational health and wellbeing as it will either clarify or limit the regulatory concerns that require adjudication (in the case of Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 27(2)) or will potentially close the case against the social worker entirely (in the case of Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 52), thereby not requiring the social worker to engage in a full final hearing and allow them to return to work quicker (if applicable).

To help streamline the fitness to practise process, we proposed an amendment to the Fitness to Practise Rules to enable the regulator rather than the adjudicators to decide whether an application for restoration after a removal order can be determined by way of a meeting instead of a hearing (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 22). This will apply in instances where the applicant indicates they do not wish to attend or does not give an indication as to whether they wish to attend and the adjudicators don’t require any other person to attend and give evidence.  

In the above cases, allowing the regulator to decide to hear a restoration by meeting and providing rules for clarifying or limiting the fitness to practise case, or discontinuing the case entirely (according to Fitness to Practise Rules, rules 22, 27(2) and 52) may positively impact the following groups, as they would not need to attend:

  • those with protected characteristics relating to physical disability and mental health related issues, for example anxiety
  • those who are pregnant or on maternity leave (health issues relating to their pregnancy or childcare considerations up to the baby being 26 weeks old)
  • people with childcare responsibilities
  • those who need to attend appointments relating to disability, pregnancy and maternity, gender reassignment and religious holidays

We proposed new rules to set out the detail of the adjudication procedure where a social worker fails to provide information requested by the regulator (Fitness to Practise Rules, rules 2, 25 and 51). We also clarified the roles of each party in a hearing to determine restoration of an applicant to the register (Fitness to Practise Rules, rule 20(2)). These could have a positive impact on a social worker’s situational health and wellbeing, as they add clarity to the intended processes.

We proposed to move the criteria to be appointed as a legal adviser to the adjudicators from the Rules to a separate published set of criteria (Fitness to Practise Rules, rules 33 and 33A, and Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules, rules 14 and 14A). This may have a positive impact on individuals with protected characteristics, as it allows us to update our requirements more easily in future if any impacts are identified.

Service of documents

Positive impact

In the Fitness to Practise Rules (rules 44, 45 and 46) and the Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules (rule 23), we proposed to extend the provisions for service of documents to include courier and personal service. Those with certain disabilities, for example, dyslexia, or visual impairment, may find receiving service of documents electronically more difficult. Extending the service options in these rules may be beneficial to these people.

Requirements for restoration and registration

Negative impact

In the Registration Rules (rules 24(2) and 26A), we proposed to impose a timeframe of 28 calendar days within which an applicant must provide any further information or evidence requested by us. This could have a negative impact on situational health and wellbeing, as well as those with protected characteristics relating to certain physical disabilities or mental health issues, gender reassignment, and pregnancy and maternity, as it may make it difficult to respond within specified timeframes. However, adding in timeframes here provides clarity for applicants and better enables us to protect the public, as it ensures that the applications we assess are up to date or accurate. It is also discretionary whether we would close an application if an applicant does not provide the information, and we could consider any information that the applicant shares with us during the process of application.

In the Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules (rule 15(4)), we proposed to reduce the 28 calendar day objection period for an appeal to be decided without a hearing to 14 calendar days. This could have the same negative impact as those related to Registration Rules, rule 24(2) and 26A above. It may be more challenging for some based on socioeconomic status and could also exacerbate workload pressures, particularly for practising social workers (if applicable). As a result of this potential impact and concern discussed above from respondents about comparative timelines between Social Work England and appellants, we have decided that rather than shortening the time to object to a meeting to 14 days (rule 15(4)), this will only be shortened to 21 days. We still believe it is proportionate to shorten this time, as it is the second opportunity the appellant has to request a hearing, as they may do so in their original appeal (Removal From the Register and Registration Appeals Rules, rule 12).

In the Registration Rules, we proposed to add a requirement to demonstrate relevant additional education or training where qualifications were awarded 2 to 5 years before application to the register, or where it has been 2 to 5 years since the applicant received their qualification (rules 14(2)(b), 59(1)(e)). We also proposed to place a time limit of 12 months within which updating skills, knowledge and experience prior to an application to join the register must have been completed (rule 59(1A)). These changes may negatively impact those who have been unable to gather evidence due to physical or learning disabilities, learning difficulties or mental health issues, both situational or long term, or other circumstances outside an applicant’s control, e.g., requesting documentary evidence from a doctor relating to a person’s disability, gender reassignment process, or pregnancy and maternity. It may be more difficult from a socioeconomic perspective for a person to update their skills within the timeframe, and workload pressures (particularly for practising social workers) could also exacerbate the timeframe requirements.

To help mitigate this potential negative impact, we support applicants to meet these requirements by offering flexibility in the type of learning that may be submitted as evidence. Adding in timeframes provides clarity for applicants and better enables us to protect the public, as it ensures currency of knowledge so that the applications we assess are up to date and accurate. Therefore, we consider it reasonable and proportionate to expect an applicant to gather the required evidence within 12 months.

Sign off

This equality impact assessment has been undertaken and signed off in accordance with Social Work England’s responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Name: Philip Hallam and Sarah Blackmore

Title: Executive Director of Registration and Executive Director of Executive Director of Professional Practice and External Engagement, respectively

Date approved: 18 July 2022

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