Raise a concern about a social worker
You may be raising concerns about your own care or acting on behalf of a friend or relative, or as a carer.
What we can and can't help with
It’s usually best to raise any concerns you have about a social worker with their employer first. Check if your concern is about fitness to practise.
We are not an appeals system and therefore cannot:
- investigate concerns about social care services or employers of social workers
- overturn decisions made by local authorities, social work services, or the courts
- resolve disputes that should be dealt with at a local level
Before you consider raising a concern with us please read the details below.
Safeguarding and services - who to contact
You should contact your local council or NHS trust if you:
- are worried about a child or adult
- need access to health care
- are unhappy about services you, or another person, are receiving (contact their complaints team)
If you're worried about someone and it's an emergency, contact the police. We do not directly manage safeguarding concerns.
How to decide if you should raise a concern
1. Check your concern is about a person listed on our register
A person must be registered with us to be allowed to use the title ‘social worker’. We can only investigate concerns about individuals who are listed on our register.
We cannot investigate concerns about social care services or employers of social workers. If we're not able to investigate, there may be other organisations that can help you.
2. Check your concern is about fitness to practise
Before raising a concern, make sure we’re the right organisation to help you. As the regulator for social workers in England, our role is to investigate concerns about social workers’ fitness to practise.
If your concern is not about a social worker’s fitness to practise, we will not be able to help you. Fitness to practise concerns are serious matters such as:
- breaching professional boundaries
- breaching confidentiality
- violence, sexual assault or indecency
3. Check that raising a concern is right for you
Raising a concern starts a regulatory process which we take very seriously. For this reason, concerns take time to process thoroughly. If we decide to investigate, the seriousness of a fitness to practise investigation means it can take 6 to 12 months to investigate. During this period, it is likely that you will need to be involved.
Your role during the fitness to practise process
Once we receive your concern, we will review it to decide if we need to investigate further. We call this the triage stage. We aim to make this decision and let you know the outcome within 12 weeks, but this is not always possible. We prioritise concerns based on the risk they pose to the public.
Investigations usually take around 6 months to complete. In some cases this can take longer, especially if we are waiting on further information from others.
A hearing might not be necessary, but if it is, you may need to be involved. You may want to read this information for people giving evidence at a fitness to practise hearing.
The entire fitness to practise process can take around 1 year from start to finish.
4. Check that you understand the things we cannot 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 you access to or change records
- give you 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 your concern is about a social worker’s involvement in a current court case, you should raise this with your legal representative now. This is so it can be addressed in court. If you do not have a legal representative, you should raise it directly with the court.
If your concern is about a social worker’s involvement in a finished court case, you should raise this with the social worker’s employer first.
You should wait for the employer to investigate before raising any concerns with us. This is because we are very unlikely to be able to help you with things that have already been looked at by the court.
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.
If you need support, you may want to view this information about financial, legal and emotional support organisations.
5. Check that you cannot resolve your concern with the social worker's employer
We get a large number of concerns that cannot, and should not, be resolved through a fitness to practise investigation. But while we’re not able to investigate, we encourage you to discuss these issues with the social worker’s employer.
The employer should be able to deal with issues that are not about the social worker’s fitness to practise more quickly and effectively.
Read more about how to make a complaint to a social worker’s employer.
6. Check that your concern is fair and unbiased
We will take all available steps to ensure that our fitness to practise processes do not disproportionately impact people from certain backgrounds and those with protected characteristics.
We recognise that bias, prejudice and discrimination can sometimes play a role in concerns raised about social workers. Bias is a preference for one person or group, that is deemed unfair. It is a belief that some ideas, people, and cultures (and so on) are better than others. When a person is biased, it is difficult for them to make a fair judgement.
Prejudice is often described as holding an unfounded opinion which is usually negative towards an individual based solely on the group they belong to, for example an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude. This means that someone can be prejudiced towards a certain person or group but not discriminate against them.
Discrimination means treating a person unfairly because they possess certain characteristics rather than on who they are as an individual. For example their:
- gender identity
- race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin)
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
How to raise a concern about a social worker
The quickest and easiest way for most people to raise a concern with us is by using our online form. You should raise a concern using this form if you are:
- a member of the public
- raising a concern about your own experience with a social worker
- a carer or raising a concern for a friend or relative
- a social worker raising a concern about a social work colleague
Before you raise a concern
Read all the information on this page and check that:
- Your concern is about a social worker listed on our register
- Your concern is about that social worker’s fitness to practise
- You understand what happens after you raise a concern
- You understand the things we cannot do (for example, change a court’s decision)
- You have discussed this concern with the social worker’s employer, if possible
- Your concern is fair and unbiased
What to include in your concern
Raising a concern means giving us information about:
- something a social worker did (or did not do), or
- information about the social worker themselves.
When you raise a concern about a social worker, you need to provide specific information about your concerns.
For example, if you feel that a social worker has harassed you, you need to provide specific examples of what the social worker did and when (and why you think it is harassment).
Or if you are raising a concern about inaccuracies in a social worker’s report, it is likely that we will ask you to provide a copy of the report. You will also need to explain what information you think is inaccurate and why.
Read more about what information to include in your concern.
If you're unable to use the online form, you can get support to raise a concern.
We want to make sure that our processes are accessible to everyone.
Please let us know if you need:
- support to tell us about your concern (for example because you have a disability)
- any information in another format
- an adjustment because of disability or injury
You can call the registration and advice team on 0808 196 2274 or email [email protected] to tell us about what you need.
Social Work England is a ‘prescribed person’ for the purposes of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Please read our whistleblowing policy for more details on how to make a whistleblowing disclosure to us.
If your disclosure does not relate to the registration and fitness to practise of social workers or whether social work courses and qualifications meet our education and training standards, you can view a list of prescribed persons or bodies to find a more appropriate body to receive your disclosure.
Last updated: 20 December 2022