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A guide to fitness to practise

A guide to help explain our approach to carrying out fitness to practise investigations.

A guide to fitness to practise

Last updated: 16 December 2022


This guidance explains our approach to carrying out fitness to practise investigations and hearings. It has been designed primarily to help social workers and employers of social workers but may also be helpful to other interested parties including the public.

What do we mean by fitness to practise?

The role of a social worker

Social workers play a crucial role in society by empowering people to improve their chances in life. On a daily basis, social workers are in a position in which they are entrusted with the safety and welfare of members of the public. Members of the public expect that when they receive support from a social worker, the social worker will:

  • put their interests first
  • be capable of delivering a service that is safe and effective

By acting in a safe and professional manner, social workers maintain confidence in the services they provide and in the profession as a whole.

Fitness to practise

When we say that someone is ‘fit to practise’ we mean that they have the skills, knowledge, character and health to practise their profession safely and effectively without restriction.

Fitness to practise is not just about professional performance. It also includes acts by a social worker that may damage public confidence in the profession. This may include conduct that takes place outside of the workplace such as acts resulting in criminal investigations.

When fitness to practise is called into question

We understand the challenges involved in social work and we recognise that mistakes will sometimes be made. Wherever possible, we will work collaboratively with social workers and their employers to support the safe resolution of any problems encountered.

If we decide that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, it means that we have identified serious concerns about (either of the following):

  • the suitability of their character
  • their ability to practise safely and effectively

This may mean that we need to restrict a social worker’s right to practise or issue an order which removes a social worker’s right to practise (in particularly serious cases).

What might lead to a fitness to practise investigation?

We can investigate any concerns that are serious enough to raise doubts about whether a social worker should be allowed to continue to practise as a registered professional.. Examples of allegations that we can investigate include:

Serious shortcomings in professional competence that could put people at unnecessary risk.

For example:

  • serious and/or repeated mistakes or omissions in care
  • failure to conduct appropriate and/or sufficient safeguarding assessments
  • failure to respond effectively to a person’s needs
  • concerns about a social worker’s knowledge of the English language

Serious shortcomings in conduct that could put people at risk or undermine public confidence in social work services.

For example:

  • criminal offences
  • theft, fraud or dishonesty
  • abuse of professional position, for example an improper sexual relationship with a service user
  • serious breaches of service user confidentiality

In addition to the above, we can also investigate:

  • health conditions that have not been managed effectively and may put people at risk through unrestricted practice
  • a determination by another regulatory body that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired
  • being included on a barred list such as those held by the Disclosure and Barring Service or the Scottish Ministers

What we can't do

Below is a list of situations where we cannot act. We cannot:

  • change a court’s decision, or interfere with a court process
  • make a local authority (or any other organisation) assign a different social worker
  • change a local authority’s funding decision
  • change a decision about registering or deregistering foster carers
  • investigate concerns that are not about a social worker’s fitness to practise
  • investigate concerns about social work services or a social worker’s employer
  • make a social worker apologise
  • give a person access to or change their social care records
  • give a person professional advice about the service provided by a social worker
  • pay compensation or fine the social worker
  • help with claims for compensation

We cannot influence court proceedings

If a concern is about a social worker’s involvement in a current court case, it should be raised with a legal representative during the court proceedings. This is so it can be addressed by the court. If a legal representative is not available, the concern should be raised directly with the court.

If a concern is about a social worker’s involvement in a finished court case, it should be raised with the social worker’s employer first for local investigation. This is because we are very unlikely to be able to investigate things that have already been looked at by the court unless we have additional evidence to suggest something has gone wrong.

We will make our own independent decision about whether to investigate things that have already been looked at by the court, but we will usually only investigate concerns about a social worker’s involvement in a court case if the employer and/or the court has also raised concerns.

If we decide to investigate a social worker’s fitness to practise following a court case, this will not change the court’s decision.

Resolving concerns locally

Lots of concerns can be dealt with quickly and effectively by a social worker’s employer. We encourage people to raise their concerns with the social worker’s employer first in most instances.

However, if someone is raising a concern that is very serious, it’s better to involve us as soon as possible.

Read more about when to complain to a social worker’s place of work on our website.

What is the purpose of a fitness to practise investigation?

Our fitness to practise powers are designed to deal with shortcomings of conduct, competence or health that are so serious that (either of the following apply):

  • people requiring the services of a social worker are at unnecessary risk
  • public confidence in the social work profession has been damaged

Incidents of this nature can lead to us taking action , for example removing or restricting a social worker’s right to practise.

Our powers are not intended to punish social workers for mistakes and we will not conduct an investigation into concerns that aren’t serious. Isolated mistakes are unlikely to be repeated if a social worker (does both of the following):

  • recognises what went wrong
  • takes action to prevent reoccurrence

In these circumstances, we are unlikely to find that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired.

Health concerns

We will not conduct investigations into a social worker’s health unless we have information to suggest that the health condition is impacting the social worker’s professional practice in a way that may place people at risk. In most cases, we recognise that health conditions can be successfully managed with reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Concerns being dealt with locally

The most appropriate place to resolve minor complaints about the service provided by a social worker is within the setting that the service took place. We will only intervene in a concern being managed appropriately by a social worker’s employer if the concerns are serious.

Legal and professional advice

We do not provide legal or professional advice to social workers. If you want this, we recommend that you (do either or both of the following):

  • contact your professional body, indemnity or insurance provider
  • seek independent legal advice

How long will a fitness to practise investigation take?

We try to investigate cases as efficiently as possible and we aim to conclude most cases within 12 months of receipt. However, an investigation into concerns that result in a hearing will take longer to resolve due to the formal requirements of the process.

Sometimes, the process can take longer. For example, if another organisation (like the police) has to finish their investigation before we can progress ours. The process that we must follow when we investigate fitness to practise concerns is set out in our Regulations and Rules.

For this reason, we encourage a social worker to communicate with us from the outset so that we can understand (all of the following):

  • the social worker’s position in relation to the concerns that we are investigating
  • whether any action has been taken to remediate the concerns
  • relevant context to the concerns
  • whether a social worker would consent to a disposal option that would not require a public hearing (in suitable circumstances)

Further information about this is provided in the ‘accepted disposals’ section below.

What are the different stages involved in an investigation?

Fitness to practise investigations go through the following stages:

  1. Triage
  2. Investigation
  3. Case examiners
  4. Pre-hearing case management
  5. Hearing

We will now go into detail about each of these stages.

Stage 1: triage

This stage involves an initial assessment of the information received to decide if it is necessary to open an investigation. The key questions we will consider at the initial assessment stage are:

  • whether the concerns reported raise a question about the social worker’s fitness to practise
  • if so, whether there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to start a full investigation
Factors considered at triage

When deciding whether there are reasonable grounds, we will consider a number of factors including (all of the following):

  • the seriousness of the concerns
  • whether there is likely to be sufficient evidence to support the concern
  • whether there is evidence of a breach of established standards or guidance
  • whether the incident is isolated or repeated
  • what action has been taken already to address the concern

Sometimes, we may need to make further enquiries with the person that has raised the concern or with third parties (such as an employer or the police) before deciding whether to open an investigation.

Triage timescale

We aim to complete the triage stage of the process within 12 weeks of a concern being raised with us. This can be quicker depending on:

  • the nature of the concerns raised
  • whether we need to make enquiries at the triage stage.

It may also take longer than 12 weeks, if (for example) we need to wait until another organisation has finished investigating the concerns before we complete the triage stage.

Closing a case at triage

We may decide to close the case at the triage stage. If the case is closed at the triage stage of our process, we will notify the person who raised the concern but it is unlikely we will notify the social worker concerned.

If it’s appropriate to do so, we may advise the person who raised the concerns to seek resolution of the matter elsewhere (for example with a different regulator or with the social worker’s employer).

Anonymous concerns

It’s very difficult for us to take action in circumstances where the person raising a concern does so anonymously. This is because we often can’t identify further lines of enquiry without being able to contact the complainant. In these circumstances, we’re often unable to open an investigation.

However, as our primary function is to protect the public, anonymous information that relates to very serious concerns will be investigated as thoroughly as possible. In cases like this, we may need to disclose information about concerns that have been raised anonymously to the social worker so that they have an opportunity to respond to them.

More information about how we use personal information in the fitness to practise process is available here.

Listed offences

Our legislation gives us powers to remove a social worker from the register in circumstances where they are convicted of serious criminal offences.

Examples of very serious concerns include:

  • murder
  • sexual offences
  • human trafficking
  • slavery offences
  • extortion
  • blackmail

In these circumstances, we will inform the social worker that they will be removed from the register with immediate effect. The social worker will have a short period of time to challenge this decision in cases of mistaken identity or where the conviction has been quashed by the court.

Interim orders

If we receive information about a social worker that raises very serious ongoing concerns, we will seek an interim order at the earliest opportunity to (either):

  • prevent a social worker from practising
  • place limits on their practice until the investigation is concluded

We will apply for an interim order in cases where the information received indicates that: (any of the following apply):

  • a social worker may pose an immediate risk to the public
  • a social worker may pose an immediate risk to themselves
  • there are other public interest reasons to do so

Such action may be taken upon initial receipt of a concern or at any later point in an investigation if new information received suggests that the risk associated with a case has increased.

When an interim order might be imposed

Examples of cases where we are likely to apply for an interim order include (but are not limited to):

  • sexual misconduct
  • serious criminal investigations
  • theft or serious dishonesty relating to the social worker’s professional practice
  • where there is evidence of a serious concerns about the social worker’s standard of practice
What happens if we choose to impose an interim order?

If we intend to apply an interim order, we will write to the social worker setting out the course of action and the reasons for it. If the social worker wants to provide information to the decision makers directly, they may request an oral hearing before the adjudicators or they can submit information in writing for the adjudicators to consider instead.

If an interim order is imposed, it will apply and be recorded on the social worker’s register entry immediately. The written decision of the adjudicators will not be published and members of the public are not present in these hearings as they are heard in private.

When will an interim order be reviewed?

The interim order will be reviewed every 6 months. A social worker may ask us for an early review if new and relevant information comes to light. If the we agree that an early review would be appropriate, the adjudicators will decide whether it is still appropriate for the interim order to remain in place.

Stage 2: investigation

This stage involves a more detailed enquiry into the concern raised and we aim to conclude investigations within 6 months.

Who conducts an investigation?

During this time, the case will be assigned to an investigator and a lead investigator. The investigator will gather all relevant evidence from the parties involved and prepare the case for referral to the case examiners. The lead investigator will provide supervision and support to the investigator and will review the case prior to referral to the case examiners.

Our investigators are impartial. They do not take the side of a social worker or the person that raised the concern. Their role is to:

  • manage the progress of a case
  • gather all relevant information
  • support the parties involved in the matter

The investigator will act as a single point of contact for everyone involved during the investigation.

The social worker’s role in an investigation

Professional standard 6.7 sets out the requirement for social workers to cooperate fully with any enquiry into their fitness to practise and it will assist us to better understand their position and relevant context if they do so.

We will invite the social worker to provide their comments in relation to the concerns raised as soon as the investigation has started. This helps the investigator understand (all of the following)

  • the social worker’s position in relation to the concerns that we are investigating
  • whether any action has been taken to remediate the concerns
  • relevant context to the concerns
  • what lines of enquiry may need to be followed during the investigation

The investigator will communicate with the social worker concerned and/or their nominated representative regularly to make sure they have a full understanding of the procedure and the possible outcomes.

At the end of an investigation

Once the investigation has finished, the investigator will provide all relevant information obtained to the case examiners. This will include (all of the following):

  • an investigation report setting out the key evidence
  • where appropriate, recommendations as whether the case should be closed or referred for further action
  • a bundle of evidence gathered during the investigation

The evidence obtained and the investigator’s report will usually be shared with the social worker concerned. At this point, we will allow sufficient time for a written response from the social worker before referring the case to the case examiners.

If (both of the following apply):

  • the social worker has provided a full response to the concerns at the beginning of the investigation
  • the investigator is recommending that the case examiners close the case with no further action

it may not be necessary for the investigator to invite the social worker to provide a further response before the case is referred to the case examiners.

Stage 3: the case examiners

The case examiners look at all available evidence and decide whether there is a realistic prospect that the fitness to practise of a social worker will be found to be impaired at a final hearing.

Who are the case examiners?

Cases examiners always work in pairs to make decisions. One of the case examiners will be a registered social worker. The other case examiner will be a lay person who is not social work qualified who can bring the perspective of a member of the public. All case examiners have experience and training in relation to how to make fair and well-reasoned decisions so they can apply their decision-making tests appropriately as set out in our legislation.

The case examiners’ role

After reviewing the case, the case examiners may choose to (do one of the following):

  • close a case without taking any action
  • close a case and give the social worker a warning or advice
  • refer a case to a final hearing
  • offer the social worker an accepted disposal as an alternative to referral to a final hearing

In circumstances where the case examiners decide that there is a realistic prospect that impairment will be found at a final hearing, they will ask

  • is there a public interest in a hearing being held?
  • is there a more suitable order might be secured in agreement with the social worker? We call this type of outcome an ‘accepted disposal’.

The case examiners may also adjourn a case if they need more information to help them reach a decision. In serious cases, case examiners can recommend to us that an interim order may be needed until the fitness to practise process concludes.

Accepted disposal (an order without a hearing)

Accepted disposal is designed to make sure that cases are not referred to public hearings in circumstances where a suitable outcome can be agreed. Accepted disposal will not be applicable if (either of the following apply)

  • the social worker disputes key aspects of the concerns
  • it is in the public interest for the case to be decided at a hearing

If the case examiners consider it appropriate to propose an accepted disposal, they must decide on the appropriate disposal in accordance with our case examiner and sanctions guidance.

Social worker response

The social worker will then be given up to 28 days to consider the proposal for accepted disposal. During this time, the social worker will be invited to provide further information to the case examiners. The cases examiners may then make minor revisions to the proposal at their own discretion.

However, in order for the case to be closed without a hearing, the social worker must accept that their fitness to practise is impaired and agree to the proposed course of action.

Accepted disposal outcomes

The accepted disposal outcomes available to case examiners are to (do any of the following):

  • take no further action
  • give advice to the social worker
  • to impose a warning order
  • to impose conditions of practice order for a maximum period of 3 years
  • to impose a suspension order for a maximum period of 3 years
  • to impose a removal order
Reviewing orders

Before a conditions of practice or a suspension order expires, the order will be reviewed by the adjudicators to decide whether any further action is necessary.

A removal order will prevent a social worker from applying to re-join the register for at least 5 years.

Publishing outcomes

Accepted disposal outcomes will be published on our online register and decision outcome pages.

Appealing an accepted disposal outcome

There is no right of appeal against a case examiners decision. However, if someone believes we have not followed our processes correctly, they could apply to the court for the decision to be judicially reviewed.

Additionally, if someone believes that a decision of the case examiners to close a case was materially flawed or there is new information that could have led to a different outcome, they can apply for the decision to be reviewed.

Stage 4: pre-hearing case management

If the case examiners decide that a final hearing is required to resolve a case, the case will be referred to the adjudicators to make a final decision. The pre-hearing case management is the process of preparing for the final hearing.
This is the stage in which further evidence is obtained to prepare the case for a hearing. Typically, this involves interviewing people that may have had involvement in the matter (‘witnesses’) and drafting statements that capture their evidence.

Who is involved with pre-hearing case management?

Management of the case at this stage will be allocated to our external legal provider to prepare for the hearing.

This is also the stage at which our hearings team will be allocated responsibility for the case. The hearings team is an impartial service that exists to assist social workers, witnesses and all other participants at a hearing with the aim of making sure that hearing events are managed fairly and efficiently.

What happens during pre-hearing case management?

Hearings case managers will communicate with both parties (the social worker and our lawyer) before a hearing to make sure:

  • information is shared in accordance with agreed deadlines
  • the hearing is planned on a suitable date and for a suitable length of time

Hearings officers and hearing support officers will also communicate with social workers and witnesses shortly before a hearing to make sure that they fully understand the process and that suitable arrangements are made to cater for attendance. At this stage, participants will be asked if they have any particular requirements that we need to take into account to help with their attendance and engagement during the hearing.

During the preparation for a hearing, our external legal provider will be the first point of contact in relation to case-specific matters (such as the collection of evidence).

Stage 5: the hearing

Where will the hearing take place?

The hearing will either take place (either):

  • remotely using video conferencing software
  • in-person at our offices in Sheffield
  • a combination of remote and in-person

The hearing before the adjudicators will usually take place in public. This means that members of the public, including representatives from the media, have the right to attend and report on proceedings.

In limited circumstances, evidence at a hearing will need to be heard in private. For example, to protect the private lives of certain parties involved (particularly if there are health issues involved).

Even in circumstances where evidence is heard in private, any decisions the adjudicators make (and the reasons for them) still need to be given in public. The adjudicators will always seek to publish as much information as possible about their decisions without undermining the reasons for hearing certain evidence in private.

Social worker’s attendance at a hearing

A social worker may be represented at the hearing by a professional such as a lawyer or another suitable party. Alternatively, they may choose to represent themselves. Social workers do not have to attend the hearing but it is usually in their interests to do so.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing, our advocate will set out the evidence relating to our concerns about a social worker. They may call witnesses to provide oral evidence in support of the matter.

The social worker will then have the opportunity to question these witnesses and provide their side of events, which may include calling their own witnesses.

The adjudicators will then decide whether the case is ‘well-founded’. In doing so, the adjudicators will decide whether (all of the following apply):

  • we have proved the facts alleged to have taken place
  • the facts proven amount to the ‘grounds’ set out in the allegation (for example, misconduct, a lack of competence or health)
  • the social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired as a result of this
Making a decision

In deciding whether a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, the adjudicators will consider (all of the following):

  • whether the evidence available indicates that they may still present a continuing risk of harm to the public
  • whether the findings mean that further action is required to maintain public confidence in social work (even in circumstances where they do not consider there to be a continuing risk to public safety)
  • the nature and the severity of the concerns and any actions taken since the events to address the concerns raised

If the panel decides that the case is not well founded at any of the 3 stages above, no further action will be taken and the case will be closed.

What outcomes are available at a hearing?

If the adjudicators decide that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, they will consider whether it is necessary to take further action. Actions taken by the adjudicators are intended to protect the public and maintain confidence in the social work profession. They are not intended to punish the social worker for past mistakes, although they may have that effect.

Actions available to the adjudicators if a social worker’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired are (the following):

  • no further action
  • advice
  • warning order
  • conditions of practice order
  • suspension order
  • removal order

We will now go into detail for each action.

No further action

This outcome is rare. Usually when the adjudicators find that a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, they will take further action to address this (although they do not have to).

Adjudicators may take no further action in circumstances where they decide that any risk associated with the social worker’s fitness to practise has already been sufficiently mitigated. For example, in circumstances where a social worker retains the support of their employer and is in the advanced stages of completing a personal development plan. In cases like this, the adjudicators may decide that further action is not necessary.


Advice is the least severe action available to the adjudicators. The advice should set out the steps the social worker should take to avoid repeating the shortfalls in their conduct or performance that contributed to the concern. The advice will be imposed for a period of 1, 3 or 5 years. Advice does not restrict the social worker’s practice and will only be imposed where the adjudicators consider it safe to allow the social worker to practise without restriction.

Warning order

A warning does not impose restrictions on a social worker’s practice and will therefore only be used in cases where the adjudicators consider that it is safe to allow the social worker to continue practising without restrictions.


  • are a clear disapproval of the social worker’s conduct or performance
  • are a signal that any repetition of similar conduct in the future is highly likely to result in a more severe sanction
  • sends a message to the profession and the wider public about professional standardswill appear alongside the social worker’s name on the register for 1, 3 or 5 years, depending on the severity of the findings
  • form part of a social worker’s fitness to practise history which is available to employers and other public bodies
  • may be taken into account should similar concerns arise in the future

Conditions of practice order

Conditions of practice may be imposed for a period of up to 3 years at a time. Conditions of practice could include (but is not limited to):

  • preventing the social worker from practising in certain circumstances
  • restricting involvement in these areas to supervised practice

Conditions may also make positive requirements of a social worker such as (but is not limited to):

  • to undergo training in a particular area
  • to complete continual professional development (CPD)
  • produce written reflections

A copy of the typical conditions adjudicators may choose to impose is available in our conditions bank.

Conditions of practice may be suitable where the adjudicators are confident that the fitness to practise concerns can be remediated and the social worker is willing to comply with those requirements.

Suspension order

A social worker’s registration can be suspended for any period considered appropriate by the adjudicators up to a maximum of 3 years at a time.

A suspension order prevents a social worker from practising for the length of the order. They are also not allowed to use the title ‘social worker’ during this period.

Suspension will be appropriate in circumstances where findings against a social worker are so serious that they must not practise until they have demonstrated that they have addressed the concerns the adjudicators have identified.

Suspension will only be appropriate in circumstances where the adjudicators decide that the concerns can be remediated and social workers are expected to use the period of suspension to achieve this.

Removal order

If the adjudicators decide that removal is appropriate, the social worker’s name will be removed from the register and they will be prevented from practising as a social worker. This is the most severe sanction and will only be used where there are no other means of protecting the public and maintaining confidence in the profession.

The adjudicators will make sure that any action they take is fair and proportionate and to do this they will consider sanctions in increasing order of severity. This means that they will consider all other sanctions before deciding to remove a social worker from the register.

A social worker who has been removed from the register by the adjudicators may apply for restoration to the register after 5 years.


Orders made by the case examiners or adjudicators cannot be changed by employees at any level at Social Work England.

There is an external right of appeal against most adjudicator decisions by going through the High Court of England and Wales. Appeals of this nature must be filed with the High Court within 28 calendar days of the decision being received from the hearings team. Further detail about the process for appealing orders is provided in the adjudicator's decision.

Social workers are strongly advised to seek professional or legal advice if they are considering an appeal in these circumstances.


Reviews of conditions of practice and suspension orders

If the case examiners or the adjudicators impose a conditions of practice or suspension order, a review hearing will be arranged shortly before the order is due to expire. If a hearing is not required, the adjudicators will review the order based on documentary evidence before the order expires.

The purpose of a review

The purpose of the review is to decide if the concerns previously identified have been addressed. The adjudicators reviewing the order will not reconsider what decision was made by the previous final hearing panel. They will only consider what has happened since the order was imposed.

If the adjudicators decide at a review that the social worker is still not fit to practise without restriction, the existing order may be extended or replaced with a more severe sanction (this includes a removal order, if appropriate).
During the period in which a reviewable order is in place, a social worker’s compliance with the terms of the order will be monitored by our case review team.

Early reviews

Where there is evidence that the order is not being complied with or other concerns have been raised, we will seek an early review of that order. A social worker may also seek an early review of the order if circumstances have changed since the order was put in place.

What to do if your fitness to practise is investigated

A small proportion of social workers will be involved in fitness to practise proceedings at some point in their career.

We will always inform a social worker immediately if we decide to open an investigation and we will invite the social worker to communicate with us from the outset. If we decide that a fitness to practise investigation is required, we will (do all of the following):

  • share the information we have received within 14 calendar days
  • explain why it is appropriate to conduct further enquiries
  • seek details of(both of the following):
    a. the social worker’s employment arrangements
    b. any other regulatory bodies the social worker is registered with
  • invite the social worker to provide us with information about the concerns raised (which can include any information they consider to be relevant)

Responding to our requests

Professional standard 6.7 sets out the requirement for you to cooperate fully with any enquiry into your fitness to practise and it will assist us to better understand the matter if you do so.

It’s essential that the social worker responds to the request for employment details within 7 calendar days so that our investigators can conduct an initial risk assessment. If the social worker fails to respond to this, we may need to take urgent action to ensure public protection which can include suspension or removal from the register.

Sharing details of our investigation

We’re required to inform a social worker’s employer of the investigation, keep them updated about progress and tell them about the outcome. However, we will not share details of ill-health with an employer unless they brought the concerns to our attention initially. We will not publish any information about a fitness to practise investigation at this stage unless action is required to secure an interim order (see interim order section above).

In the interests of fairness, witnesses and complainants should be aware that we may need to share information with the social worker facing fitness to practise proceedings so that they can understand the case they are facing. Requirements for sharing information will always be discussed with complainants and witnesses in advance.

Trade unions, professional bodies and legal representation

If you’re a member of a professional body or trade union, we recommend you contact that service immediately if you are notified that you are the subject of a fitness to practise investigation. It’s likely that your membership organisation will be familiar with our procedures and will provide the support you need.

If you do not belong to a professional organisation, you can seek legal representation throughout the investigation and at a final hearing if the matter progresses to that stage. Details of solicitors that specialise in this area of work can be found on the Law Society website.

You should be aware that legal aid funding is not available for fitness to practise investigations, however you may be able to seek representation from a charity called Advocate. Please speak to your investigator for further details.

You may have ‘legal protection’ cover included with some of your insurance policies such as home, car or mobile phone insurance. It is worth checking if you have such cover as this may include fitness to practise proceedings, but every policy will be different.

Support for social workers

We appreciate that involvement in a fitness to practise investigation is likely to be difficult. We want to minimise stress to social workers wherever possible.

Everyone going through fitness to practise procedures will have a named investigator at Social Work England. If you’re going through our fitness to practise process and feel you would benefit from additional support, you can discuss this with your investigator and they can advise you where best to find help.

Read more about organisations that can provide you with support.

Voluntary removal from the register

In most circumstances, social workers that are under investigation are not able to remove themselves from the register until fitness to practise proceedings have concluded. This is because there is an overarching public interest in concluding investigations and securing an appropriate outcome in circumstances where there may be concerns about a social worker’s fitness to practise.

However, if a social worker has ceased practising and has no intention to return to the profession, we may consider voluntary removal as an alternative to fitness to practise proceedings if the allegations being considered are not so serious that this would undermine confidence in the profession.

Social workers should think very carefully before deciding to apply for voluntary removal and we advise that they seek legal advice or advice from their representative body before making an application.

Read further information about the voluntary removal process.

If a you’re considering applying for voluntary removal in these circumstances, please contact the person assigned to your case in the first instance to discuss the suitability of this approach.


Version history

Last updated: 16 December 2022

  • Content changed to reflect changes to our regulations and rules
  • Language reviewed to make the guidance more accessible

First published: 28 July 2021

Fitness to practise process flowchart

You can view our fitness to practise flowchart. This flowchart sets out the different stages of our fitness to practise process.

View the flowchart
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