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Information about how adjudicators make decisions about a social worker's fitness to practise.

The role of adjudicators

Last updated: 10 February 2021

Adjudicators are independent of us and appointed to make impartial decisions about fitness to practise cases.

Adjudicators must all declare any conflict of interest that could relate to the case, whether the conflict exists or could just be thought to exist. 

You can read more about how we manage adjudicator conflicts of interest. 

Adjudicators make decisions based solely on the evidence presented to them, and the relevant law that applies, and they must give clear reasons for their decisions.

Adjudicators make decisions on:

  • interim orders
  • final hearings
  • reviews of conditions of practice and suspension orders


At hearings, adjudicators decide if:

  • investigators have proved the facts of the allegation
  • the facts amount to the ‘grounds’ set out in the allegation
  • the social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired as a result of this

If the adjudicators decide that the case is not well-founded at any of these three stages, no further action will be taken and the case will be closed.

You can read more about attending a hearing.  


If the adjudicators find that the facts have been proved by investigators, it will consider whether those facts are enough to uphold the statutory grounds of the allegation.

Possible statutory grounds to an allegation include but are not limited to:

  • misconduct
  • lack of competence
  • health

If the adjudicators decide that the facts do not amount to the grounds of the allegation, the hearing will end.

If the adjudicators decide that the grounds have been established, they will consider whether the social worker's fitness to practise is impaired.


Impairment means that there would be serious concerns about the suitability of the social worker’s character or their ability to practise safely and effectively.

The adjudicators will decide whether the evidence available shows that the social worker may still present a continuing risk of harm to the public, or to themselves. They will also consider the nature and seriousness of the allegations and any actions the social worker has taken to address the concerns raised.

The adjudicators have to decide if the social worker's fitness to practise is currently impaired, not whether it was impaired when the events of the allegation took place. Because of this, the adjudicators may need to know more about what has happened since those events happened.

If the adjudicators do not find impairment, the allegation is not well-founded and the hearing will end.

If the social worker's fitness to practise is found to be impaired, the adjudicators will consider what, if any, sanction should be imposed.


The purpose of fitness to practise hearings is to protect the public, not to punish social workers. When deciding what sanctions to apply, public protection is the most importance consideration.

The adjudicators must also take account of the interests of the social workers and the wider public interest. Public interest includes protecting people with lived experiences of social work, promoting professional standards for the social work profession and maintaining public confidence in the social work profession and the regulatory process.

You can read more about hearing outcomes and the factors a panel may consider when deciding whether a sanction is appropriate in sanctions guidance.

Become an adjudicator 

Adjudicators and legal advisors are recruited through an open application process.

You can find more information by searching our current vacancies.

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA)

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) oversees the work of the health and care regulators in England, including Social Work England.

Our fitness to practise processes and panel decisions are audited by the PSA.

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