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Equality and diversity

This policy outlines our legal obligations with regards to equality and diversity as well as a reasonable adjustment process at fitness to practise hearings.

Equality and diversity: reasonable adjustments guidance (disabilities)

Last updated: 28 September 2022


This policy explains Social Work England’s legal obligations with regards to equality and diversity. It also explains our duty to make reasonable adjustments at fitness to practise hearings.

It’s vital that people with disabilities can use our services. This includes (all of the following):

  • members of the public
  • complainants
  • social workers
  • witnesses
  • anyone else involved in a fitness to practise case

What is a disability?

1. The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) gives rights to people who are disabled or who have, or have had, a disability that makes it difficult for them to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

2. Generally, a disability may be visible or hidden, permanent or temporary, and may have a minimal or substantial impact on a person's life. The term ‘disability’ under the Act (and in this guidance) covers learning difficulties, as well as physical and mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A long-term effect is defined as lasting, or likely to last, anywhere between 12 months and the rest of the person’s life.

3. Some disabilities are deemed to fall within the scope of the Act automatically. For example people who have (or are) any of the following:

  • HIV (from the date of diagnosis)
  • multiple sclerosis (from the date of diagnosis)
  • cancer (from the date of diagnosis)
  • severe disfigurement
  • registered blind or partially sighted (with their local authority or an ophthalmologist)

4. As well as these listed conditions, the Act’s definition of a disability may cover a range of impairments. This includes, but is not limited to (any of the following):

  • hearing loss or deafness
  • visual and speech impairments
  • dyslexia
  • autism
  • arthritis
  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • back problems

where these conditions have a long term and substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

5. Mental illness is a broad category. It covers a range of very different conditions with various levels of severity. These include, but are not limited to (any of the following):

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • bi-polar disorder
  • panic attacks

A mental illness primarily and significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, or interacts with other people.

6. If a person informs us that they have a disability, long-term injury or health condition and they are finding it difficult to access our services, we will focus on exploring whether we can make any reasonable adjustments to make our service more accessible.

7. In most instances, we do not need to request any medical evidence of a person's disability in order to make reasonable adjustments. We will liaise with the individual on what adjustments they feel would help them to engage with the service more easily. We will take their feedback into consideration when making a decision regarding reasonable adjustments.

What are reasonable adjustments?

8. Reasonable adjustments are changes to the way we offer our services or to physical features which prevent people with disabilities from being placed at a substantial disadvantage and make sure they have a fair and equal chance of accessing our services. Reasonable adjustments also extend to the provision of auxiliary aids (extra equipment or services) to reduce the substantial disadvantage.

Examples of reasonable adjustments may include, but are not limited to (any of the following):

  • allowing a person with a visual impairment to raise a concern over the telephone (rather than in writing)
  • making sure physical venues for meetings and hearings are accessible
  • allowing a person involved in a hearing to give evidence remotely
  • providing written materials on coloured paper for a person who has dyslexia
  • providing a copy of guidance and evidence in a format that is compatible with screen readers (or braille) for a person who is blind
  • changing the time of a hearing or giving frequent breaks to help a person mitigate the effects of a health condition
  • providing a British Sign Language interpreter and electronic note taker for a witness who is deaf for the duration of a hearing
  • preparing information in large print for a person with a visual impairment
  • providing information in an easy-read format for a person who has a learning difficulty
  • providing hearing induction loops at in-person hearings for those who use hearing aid

Our duties

Our duty to provide reasonable adjustments

9. Under the Act, we must make sure that reasonable adjustments are provided, to prevent people with disabilities from being placed at a substantial disadvantage (compared with those without the disability). For providers of services such as Social Work England, this is an anticipatory duty. This means we must anticipate the needs of people with disabilities accessing our services.

10. Our obligations to people with disabilities extend to situations where we outsource aspects of our work to another organisation and that organisation is acting as our agent. We consider it essential that our suppliers, partners and associates demonstrate (both of the following):

  • they understand and share our values on equality and disability related issues
  • they’re able to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities

11. In some cases, anticipatory adjustments may not be sufficient. A disabled person may still be at a substantial disadvantage when using our services because of their disability, even after these adjustments. In this scenario, we must make further adjustments specifically for that person (where such adjustments are reasonable).

12. Specifically, we must consider (all of the following):

  • providing equipment or other aids that make it easier for people with disabilities to access our services (if it is reasonable to do so). For example, an induction loop for a person who uses a hearing aid
  • changing any provisions or practices that place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage
  • adapting or changing venues if the physical features of our premises put people with disabilities at a substantial disadvantage when accessing our services. For example, in some cases we may plan to hold a physical hearing on the first floor, in a building where it is not reasonably possible to install a lift. If a person has a disability which prevents them using the stairs, we should change the hearing room to the ground floor or find a more accessible venue.

13. The most important thing is how our staff engage with people with disabilities. All staff who provide services have been trained to know how to arrange reasonable adjustments to help people access those services.

Asking about reasonable adjustments

14. It’s important that we include questions about adjustments as standard in our conversations with anyone involved in a fitness to practise concern. For example, we should do (all of the following):

  • at the start of an investigation, investigators should ask all potential witnesses whether they need any adjustments in order to participate. This includes the person who made the complaint
  • at the start of the investigation and throughout the fitness to practise process, our staff should ask social workers if they require adjustments to any aspects of the fitness to practise process
  • prior to a hearing, hearing team members should ask witnesses if they require any adjustments in order to participate in a hearing

Our duty to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities

15. As a public authority, the Act also requires us to positively promote equality when carrying out our functions under our public sector equality duty. The protected characteristics listed under the Act to which our duties extend are (all of the following):

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • race
  • religion and belief
  • sex and sexual orientation

16. The Act recognises the role that public authorities play in removing barriers (both physical and those relating to people’s attitudes) to ensure the full economic and social inclusion of disabled and other disadvantaged groups of people.

Our general equality duties

17. Under our general public sector equality duty, we must carry out our functions and consider how we will (do all of the following):

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, or any other conduct prohibited by the Act in relation to the protected characteristics listed in point 15 above
  • advance equality of opportunity between all people
  • foster good relations between groups of people sharing a protected characteristic and those who do not

Deciding what is reasonable

18. There is no set definition of what constitutes a reasonable adjustment. This means we must consider this issue (and any specific requests which are made) on a case-by-case basis. If there is any doubt about the reasonableness of a request, our staff will escalate it to an operational manager for them to discuss with the legal team. It is important to note that the duty to make reasonable adjustments for service providers is anticipatory. It is not dependant on a request being made by an individual.

19. When deciding whether a particular adjustment is reasonable, we must consider (all of the following factors):

  • would this adjustment effectively overcome the substantial disadvantage the disabled person faces when accessing this service?
  • how practical is it for us to make the adjustment?
  • what are the costs associated with making the adjustment?
  • would making the adjustment cause any disruption, and to what extent?
  • can we afford to make this adjustment in terms of cost and resources available?
  • what resources have already been spent on making adjustments?
  • do we have access to any assistance, financial or otherwise?

Sharing information about disability and reasonable adjustments

20. The aim of this policy is to make sure our services are as accessible as possible for people with disabilities. This means that Social Work England employees will only share relevant information with colleagues where there is a need to do so. For example, fitness to practise staff may share information about health. This will only be for the purposes of the proceedings and ensuring individuals are supported to engage. Information will not be shared with other teams outside of those carrying out regulatory functions, or more widely than is necessary.

21. We share relevant information about the reasonable adjustments required with colleagues who will need to be involved in making the adjustment. For example, adjudicators and legal advisers may need to know about specific adjustments to the process before a hearing takes place.

22. As a service provider interacting with people with disabilities, we are clear about what information will be shared, who it will be shared with, and how that information will be used. You can read more about this in our privacy notice.

Version history

Last updated: September 2022

  • Language review carried out to make document more accessible
  • Title has been changed for clarity

First published: November 2019

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