Safe and effective practice declarations and fitness to practise self-referrals
This guidance explains our expectations regarding your ability to practise safely and effectively as a social worker.
Safe and effective practice declarations and fitness to practise self-referrals
Last updated: 29 November 2023
- About this guidance
- How to make a self-referral
- Safe and effective practice declarations
- Fitness to practice self-referrals
- Professional standards
- What you need to declare
- Honesty and integrity
- More information
About this guidance
This guidance is for social workers and people who want to join or rejoin the register. It explains our expectations regarding your ability to practise safely and effectively. This means that you need to have the skills, knowledge, character and health to practise safely and effectively as a social worker.
The guidance will help you decide what to declare to us when you apply to (any of the following):
- join the register for the first time
- restore your registration
- renew your registration
It will also help you understand when to make a self-referral about your fitness to practise during your registration. Our legal framework requires us to be satisfied that you’re able to practise safely and effectively .
[note 1] Rule 15 of the Social Work England (Registration) Rules 2019, Regulation 11(2)(b) and 25 of the Social Workers Regulations 2018 and Rule 3 of the Social Work England (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2019.
How this guidance relates to what we do
Our main objective is to protect the public.
We do this by (all of the following):
- setting standards for social work education and training
- approving the qualifications that allow a person to apply to join the register to become a social worker
- setting professional standards
- investigating and acting on concerns about social workers’ fitness to practise
This guidance relates to the last 2 points:
- your safe and effective practice (in line with our professional standards)
- our fitness to practise process
How to make a self-referral
To make a self-referral, you need to download and complete the relevant form.
View self-referral forms.
You can submit your self-referral form by emailing to: [email protected]
You can also submit your form by post to: Social Work England, Triage Team, 1 North Bank, Blonk Street, Sheffield, S3 8JY.
Safe and effective practice declarations
Making declarations in your application
You must declare anything that could affect your ability to practise safely and effectively to us. You need to make safe and effective practice declarations when you apply to (any of the following):
We will guide you through these declarations as part of the applications.
We must be satisfied that you are capable of safe and effective practice in line with the professional standards relating to (all of the following):
If you make a safe and effective practice declaration on your application, the head of registration will decide whether to (do one of the following):
- accept your application
- refuse your application
- put conditions on your registration
Once you have registered with us, we will make sure you continue to be capable of safe and effective practice. We do this by asking you to make a declaration every time you renew your registration.
If you want to continue to practise, you must apply to renew your registration annually.
When applying to renew your registration, we will ask you if anything has changed that affects your ability to practise safely and effectively. However, you should not wait until renewal to tell us about something that may impair your fitness to practise.
If there has been a change to your fitness to practise, you must tell us about it as soon as possible by making a self-referral.
Fitness to practice self-referrals
What we mean by fitness to practise
There is no single definition of ‘fitness to practise’. However it is generally understood to mean: the current suitability of the social worker to hold registration and practise without restriction.
To be a social worker in England you must be registered with us and be fit to practise. By ‘fit to practise’ we mean that you can practise safely, effectively, and without restriction. This is because you have the relevant (all of the following):
- knowledge (including knowledge of the English language)
Determining your fitness to practise involves assessing both your current and future situation. It also involves assessing whether your practice, conduct or behaviour may pose a risk to the public now or in the future.
Fitness to practise is not just about professional performance. It is also about your conduct outside the workplace. This includes doing something that could damage public confidence in the profession. For example, an act resulting in criminal investigations.
Following a fitness to practise investigation, we can decide that your fitness to practise is impaired. This means that we have identified serious concerns about your (either of the following):
- ability to practise
We can take several actions, such as (any of the following):
- restrict your practice following an investigation
- impose an order which restricts or removes your ability to practise immediately while our investigation takes place. We only do this in the most serious cases
When to self-refer during your registration
If your situation changes whilst you’re registered with us, you may need to make a self-referral. A self-referral is when you tell us about something that may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively. This may call into question your fitness to practise.
If there has been a change to your fitness to practise, you must tell us about it as soon as possible. You must not wait until the renewal period to tell us.
If you submit a self-referral, we will engage with you throughout the process.
Where you (or your employer) cannot manage any potential risk to the public, we may need to take action. This is to protect public confidence in the profession and to uphold the professional standards. We deal with self-referrals through our fitness to practise processes.
The professional standards set out what a social worker in England must know, understand and do throughout their career. It’s a requirement of registration that you comply with our professional standards .
We expect all social workers to meet and uphold these standards. They are necessary for safe and effective practice.
When we consider fitness to practise concerns, one of the things that we will assess is whether there has been a breach of our professional standards. If you have breached our professional standards, we may take this into account in fitness to practise proceedings .
The professional standards are:
- promote the rights, strengths and wellbeing of people, families and communities
- establish and maintain the trust and confidence of people
- be accountable for the quality of my practice and the decisions I make
- maintain my continuing professional development
- act safely, respectfully and with professional integrity
- promote ethical practice and report concerns
Standard 6.6 requires you to notify us of anything that may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively.
Standard 6.6 says that as a social worker you will:
‘Declare to the appropriate authority and Social Work England anything that might affect my ability to do my job competently or may affect my fitness to practise, or if I am subject to criminal proceedings or a regulatory finding is made against me, anywhere in the world.’
We will provide more information about what you need to refer to us later in this guidance. If you are in doubt, you can get independent advice, such as from a trade union or a legal representative.
[note 6] Rule 3(a)(iii) of the Social Work England (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2019
What you need to declare
Things that impact your fitness to practise include, but are not limited to (any of the following):
- criminal proceedings
- findings by other regulatory bodies. For example, if another regulator (that you are or have been registered with) finds that your fitness to practise is impaired
- if you are barred from working with children or vulnerable adults
- health conditions that affect your ability to carry out your usual duties as a social worker
- employment proceedings
- anything else that may impair your fitness to practise
We will explain these situations in more detail below.
We may consider whether your actions were dishonest if you do not disclose things that impact your fitness to practise.
Convictions and cautions
You must declare all convictions and cautions issued in the UK. This includes spent convictions and cautions, and any convictions received in a military court or tribunal. This is unless they are ‘protected’ (see below for details on protected convictions and cautions).
You must also declare any convictions for offences committed outside England and Wales. This is if they would constitute a criminal offence if the offence had been committed in England and Wales. This includes any convictions received in a military court or tribunal .
You do not need to declare any convictions or cautions that have previously been disclosed to (any of the following):
- Social Work England
- the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
- the General Social Care Council (GSCC)
You should provide as much information as possible about any convictions or cautions. This is to enable us to make a decision about your application. If we need to ask for additional information, your application will take longer to process.
You must provide the following information in relation to each of the convictions or cautions you have:
- details of the offence
- the date you received the conviction or caution
- the name and contact details of the court or authority
- any other information you believe will help to explain the circumstances that led to the conviction or caution
We will only investigate the situation if we believe it may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively. Or, if it is so serious it could undermine public confidence in the profession.
If we need more information, a member of the team will contact you.
If you make any of the above declarations, you must provide (one of the following):
- a DBS (disclosure and barring service) certificate dated within the last 6 months (if the offence was committed in the UK)
- relevant court and police documentation from the relevant country
You must also provide a reflective statement. This should explain:
- the circumstances that led to the caution or conviction
- any learning you have gained and how you have implemented this into your practise
[note 7] Rule 15(1) and (2) of The Social Work England (Registration) Rules 2019
Some cautions are protected by law. This means that you do not need to declare them to us. If you tell us about a protected conviction or caution, we will not take it into account when we assess your application.
You do not need to tell us about a caution if you received it when you were under 18. You also don’t need to tell us about a caution if both of the following apply:
- more than 6 years have passed since you received the caution
- it is not for an offence listed by the DBS as one that will never be protected
Some convictions are protected by law. This means you do not need to declare them to us.
A conviction is protected if all of the following apply:
- more than 11 years have passed since the date of conviction (or more than 5 years and 6 months have passed if you were under the age of 18 when convicted)
- it’s not for an offence listed by the DBS as one that will never be protected
- you did not receive a custodial sentence
The law on whether a conviction or caution is protected is complex. If you’re not sure, we recommend that you seek independent expert or legal advice to check whether you need to tell us about it.
Our professional standards require you to tell us if you’re under a criminal investigation.
You must tell us if you’re subject to criminal proceedings anywhere in the world. This means that you must tell us if you are under investigation for a criminal offence, even if you have not yet been charged or found guilty or not guilty.
If you’re being investigated, this alone is not a ground of impairment, or necessarily evidence of misconduct. However, we will need further information about the situation to assess whether it may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively.
You must also declare (all of the following):
- fixed penalty notices
- penalty notices for disorder
- harassment notices issued to you in the UK or any other country
However, you do not need to declare notices to us if they are for (any of the following):
- road traffic offences (for example, where you have paid a fixed penalty notice for a speeding offence)
- notices for civil matters such as parking tickets
- fixed penalty notices, penalty notices for disorder, or harassment notices issued in Scotland. These are protected from disclosure by amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
Please provide the following information about each notice you have received:
- details of the offence
- the date you received the notice
- the name and contact details of the authority who issued you with the notice
- any other information that will help to explain the circumstances that led to the notice being issued
The offences we recognise as listed offences are specified in our legislation  and include (but are not limited to):
- serious violent offences
- sexual offences
They also include other offences that are relevant to the role of a social worker.
If you have been convicted of a listed offence, you will not be eligible for registration. If we become aware that you have a conviction for a listed offence once you are registered, we will automatically remove you from the register.
[note 8] Schedule 3 of the Social Workers Regulations 2018
What happens if I disclose a conviction, caution, penalty notice or investigation?
If you disclose a conviction, caution, penalty notice or investigation for an offence, we’ll assess whether this is likely to impact (either of the following):
- your ability to practise safely and effectively
- public confidence in the profession
If you disclose a conviction, caution or penalty notice we’ll take into account (all of the following):
- the nature of the offence
- when it occurred
- whether you have committed any other offences
- any details you provide about the circumstances surrounding the offence
- any learning and insight you demonstrate
We may contact the police to verify any details you provide about your convictions, cautions, penalty notices or investigations. This is to help us decide whether your fitness to practise will be affected. We may also ask for sentencing documents and further information in order for us to complete our assessment.
Investigations and findings by other bodies
During the application process we will ask you (both of the following):
- whether you have ever been subject to fitness to practise proceedings before any regulatory body . This includes overseas regulators and the proceedings of regulators outside of the social work profession (such as the NMC or HCPC)
- what the outcome was
You do not need to tell us about any proceedings that you have previously disclosed to:
- Social Work England
- the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
- the General Social Care Council (GSCC)
If you were the subject of a fitness to practise investigation, you must provide the following information:
- the name and contact details of the regulatory body that investigated your fitness to practise
- the date of the decision of the fitness to practise proceedings
- the outcome of your fitness to practise proceedings, for example:
- whether the investigation was closed
- if you were suspended
- if you were removed from the register
- if you had conditions of practice imposed
- if you were given a warning, advice or caution
- if no formal action was taken
Please note this includes:
- if you were the subject of a voluntary removal process during the course of fitness to practise proceedings
- any further details about the case that will help to us to understand the circumstances that led to the decision
[note 9] Rule 15(3) of the Social Work England (Registration) Rules 2019
What happens if I disclose a fitness to practise history?
If you declare anything in relation to your fitness to practise history, we will ask for a copy of any determinations. This will enable us to make an assessment as to whether the findings or facts are likely to affect your ability to practise safely and effectively as a social worker in England.
When considering whether you are able to practise safely and effectively, we will consider our over-arching objective to protect the public under Section 37 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. This includes:
- protecting, promoting and maintaining the health, safety and well-being of the public
- promoting and maintaining public confidence in social workers in England
- promoting and maintaining our professional standards for social workers in England
Barred from working with vulnerable groups
During the application process you will also be asked to disclose whether you are, or have ever been (any of the following):
- listed on the adults’ or children’s list under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007
- listed on the adults’ and or children’s list under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007
- subject to a barring order under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (2006)
- barred from working with vulnerable people in any other country
If any of these apply to you, you’ll need to provide us with the full details , including (all of the following):
- the date you were barred from working with children or vulnerable adults
- name and contact details of the organisation that barred you from working with children or vulnerable adults
- any other information that you believe will help us to understand the circumstances that led to the decision
[note 10] Rule 15(4) of The Social Work England (Registration) Rules 2019
We use the term ‘health condition’ to mean an illness, injury, disability, or impairment.
Why we ask about health conditions
We ask about health conditions because we need to know that the people on our register are able to fulfil their role as a social worker safely and effectively.
Our focus is whether you have a health condition that could adversely or negatively affect your practice.
Health conditions you do not need to disclose
Many people with health conditions are able to practise safely and effectively. For example, you may be receiving support or treatment from a health care professional.
The fact that you have a health condition does not impair your fitness to practise. You may still be able to practise with or without adjustments to support you.
The important questions to ask before declaring a health condition are:
- Am I managing my health condition?
- Do I have sufficient insight to limit my practice as necessary to protect the public while registered as a social worker?
If you are managing your health condition and it does not affect your practice, then you do not need to declare it to us.
You do not need to tell us about any health conditions that you have previously disclosed to:
- Social Work England
- the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
- the General Social Care Council (GSCC)
This is unless the way your health condition affects your ability to practice safely has changed.
Health conditions you need to disclose
You must tell us about a health condition if (both of the following apply):
- your health condition affects, or could affect, your ability to perform your role as a social worker safely and effectively. This includes any episodic or occasional conditions that may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively if you experience a recurrence
- you do not have arrangements in place that manage the health condition and allow you to perform your role as a social worker safely and effectively 
[note 11] Rule 15(5) of The Social Work England (Registration) Rules 2019
What happens if I disclose a health condition?
If you declare a health condition to us, we’ll treat this matter sensitively. We know it may cause you additional concerns.
We’ll need to be sure that you understand your condition and how it affects your safe and effective practice.
We need to know that you’ve considered how certain aspects of your practice may be affected. We also need to know that you have taken appropriate steps to make sure you do not put yourself or others at risk.
We’ll consider the information you have provided on a case by case basis. In some cases, we may need to speak to your doctor or other treating clinician. We will always let you know that we’re doing this. Sometimes, we will have to use our regulatory powers to get more information from a third party, even if you have told us that you do not agree.
All information regarding your health will be treated in the strictest confidence. We will only share this with people who need it to deal with your declaration or self-referral.
We retain any health declarations or self-referral and associated evidence in accordance with our information governance processes.
What information should I include?
You should include the following information in your application or self-referral:
- the nature and seriousness of your health condition, including whether it is ongoing or episodic (occasional)
- how your condition may affect your ability to practise safely and effectively
- what steps you’re taking to manage your health condition (for example medication or reduced hours) and how effective these are
- whether you’ve made your employer aware of your condition
- any relevant dates of occurrences and treatment
Support at work
We expect that you inform your employer of any health conditions that may impact your practise. Your employer has a responsibility to discuss what reasonable adjustments they can provide to support you at work. If your employer is not providing adequate support to help you manage your health condition and enable you to work safely and effectively, you should raise it with them.
Having a disability does not necessarily mean your fitness to practise is impaired.
If you are managing your disability and it does not affect your practice, then you do not need to declare it to us.
However, if you do disclose a disability, we will ask you for more information to make sure it does not affect your ability to practise safely and effectively.
If you’re the subject of an employment investigation, your employer should follow their normal procedure to decide whether to raise this with us.
We do not need to know about all performance or disciplinary issues. But you must tell us if you have been involved in any disciplinary proceedings at work that could affect your fitness to practise.
Where the concerns are particularly serious, or raise significant risks, you and your employer need to make an immediate referral to us. This is so we can decide if an interim order is necessary to restrict your practice.
Our professional standards do not require you to tell us if you have been suspended from work. However, you should tell us immediately if the concerns raised by your employer are serious enough to affect your fitness to practise.
What counts as 'serious'?
Serious misconduct can occur both in your professional and personal life. There is no single way to define ‘seriousness’. There are a number of factors to consider when determining if a concern is serious, including (any of the following):
- the risk of repetition
- breaches of guidance or rules
It may be helpful to consider the triage guidance in terms of what we mean by ‘seriousness’.
Guidance for employers
Our guidance for employers aims to support your employer to decide what to refer to us and when. It’s not for your employer to decide whether you’re meeting the professional standards or not. That is the role of the regulator. However, the professional standards must be a point of reference when they determine whether a concern needs to be raised with us.
We expect all employers to consider their duties under the Equality Act 2010 when they consider raising a concern.
What information to include
If you’re making a self-referral because you’ve been involved in disciplinary proceedings at work, you should provide us with all of the following information:
- the date the proceedings started
- what the proceedings are about
- the outcome of the proceedings (if known)
- the name and contact details of the organisation taking proceedings
- any supporting documents you want to include in the self-referral
Employment matters that we cannot deal with
Depending on the circumstances and the seriousness, you may not need to self-refer. This is because some issues are unlikely to also raise fitness to practise concerns. They are more appropriately dealt with through your employer’s performance or disciplinary process.
Employment matters that do not need to be referred to us include (but are not limited to):
- persistent lateness, poor timekeeping or unauthorised leave (unless it has a direct impact or the potential to impact on a person’s care)
- personality conflicts, providing there is no evidence of bullying, discrimination or harassment
- disputes between you and your employer or manager, providing there is no evidence of bullying or harassment. You may want to refer to your own internal guidance around bullying and harassment, and consider ACAS guidance on bullying and harassment at work
- sickness absence, unless there is evidence of misconduct (such as dishonesty) or if you are not managing your health and the public is at risk
- other contractual or breach of local policy issues (unless it raises serious concerns about your conduct or character)
Anything else that may impair your fitness to practise
Our professional standards require you to declare to us anything that could affect (either of the following):
- your ability to do your job competently
- your fitness to practise
This includes circumstances where your actions (or inactions) have placed either someone at risk of significant harm.
You need to tell us about anything you think may affect your fitness to practise. This is the case even if it does not fit into one of the previous sections.
Please provide us with as much information as possible to help us decide on next steps.
Honesty and integrity
Public trust and confidence in social work depends on honesty. It is also an important part of the professional standards and safe and effective practice.
It’s important to be honest when making a declaration or self-referral. If you give false or misleading information, we may remove you from the register.
You must tell us as soon as possible if any of your details change. It’s your responsibility to make sure all the information we hold about you is up-to-date and accurate throughout your registration.
Failure to inform us of any changes as soon as possible could lead to you being suspended or removed from the register .
[note 12] Regulation 16 of The Social Workers Regulations 2018
If you need any more information, or support with the self-referral process, please contact us.
The police stopped and breathalysed you whilst you were driving. They found you to be over the legal drink drive limit. You are charged and are awaiting prosecution. You plan to inform your manager.
You must make a self-referral to us. This incident raises a concern about your fitness to practise. We would also expect your employer to raise a concern. This is also a matter of public interest. The public would expect us to consider whether a social worker who is being prosecuted is fit to practise.
Further information regarding how we deal with drink and drug driving is available in our drink and drug driving policy.
You have been issued a fixed penalty notice for a speeding offence.
You do not need to make a self-referral to us. This is because receiving a fixed penalty notice for speeding does not raise a question about your ability to practise safely and effectively as a social worker.
You have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. You have discussed these concerns with your manager. You have a history of repeated ill health absence. You have been referred to occupational health and reasonable adjustments have been made to your work patterns. You and your employer now have a plan in place to manage your health needs.
You do not need to make a self-referral to us. There is evidence that you and your manager are managing your health issues appropriately. A plan of support is in place and there is no evidence that the health issues have an impact on your fitness to practise.
You have shared in supervision that you are experiencing stress related symptoms. You are not sleeping and experiencing anxiety attacks. You have spoken to your GP who has prescribed anti-depressants and provided you with a sick note for 4 weeks. You have been offered and have accepted support from your employee assistance system.
You do not need to make a self-referral to us. There is evidence that your health issues are being managed appropriately by you. You have appropriately shared your health issues with your manager and shown insight into your health needs. There is a plan of support in place and there is no evidence that the health issues have an impact on your fitness to practise.
You have a mental health condition that you have previously been able to successfully manage with medication and reasonable adjustments from your employer. However, your situation is now getting worse, and you are struggling to manage your condition and your work.
You must make a self-referral to us. You are not managing your health issues effectively. This may impact your fitness to practise.
Issues have been raised with you about your case recording. These issues have not placed anyone at risk of harm. The local authority have followed their internal procedures. They have agreed an improvement plan with you and provided support and training over a time specific period.
You do not need to make a self-referral to us. You have been through a capability investigation by the employer. The outcome of the investigation has been to implement an improvement plan to manage your performance.
There is an allegation that you have breached professional boundaries in relation to a child known to the local authority. The allegations are that you have inappropriately been meeting a young person outside of working hours. You have been sending personal and inappropriate messages to them via social media. The local authority has initiated an internal investigation and referred the matter to the designated officer.
You must make a self-referral to us. This is due to the seriousness of the concern (that you may have an inappropriate relationship with a child). We would need to consider making an interim order to restrict your practice, pending the outcome of the investigation. It is also in the public interest for us to know about this. This is because the public would not expect a social worker who is being investigated for such concerns to practise without restriction.
There is an allegation that you have assaulted your elderly father. Someone has anonymously referred you to the local authority. Your father has also reported the abuse to employees of a care agency. A member of the public has made an adult safeguarding referral.
You must make a self-referral to us. This is due to the seriousness of the concern (that you may be abusing a vulnerable adult). We would need to consider whether an interim order is needed to restrict your practice, pending the outcome of the investigation. It is also in the public interest for us to know about this. This is because the public would not expect a social worker who is being investigated for such concerns to practise without restriction.
You are the sole carer of a child with a disability. The child has a statutory intervention of a ‘child in need plan’. This is only because of their disability. The child has an allocated social worker, and the support plan includes direct payments and respite care.
You do not need to make a self-referral to us. The statutory intervention with the child is not due to any action or inaction that placed them at risk. The statutory intervention does not raise any concerns about your ability to practise safely and effectively.
Last update: 29 November 2023
29 July 2022
- Updated to reference changes to our rules
14 September 2021
- Changes made to make the guidance more accessible and user-friendly following feedback from the sector, including social workers, social work employers, regulatory partners, and people with lived experience of social work, alongside experiences of our first year of regulation
- Examples added to help applicants and social workers to better understand if they need to self-refer
- Clearer information about penalty notice declarations
First published: 1 December 2019