Social Worker Suspended for Claiming Single Person Discount Council Tax

A Social Worker based in the North West has been suspended by the HCPC this month after it was found that she had falsely claimed Single Person Discount (SPD) Council Tax between 2006-2014.  The HCPC Panel described the actions as dishonest and by reason of misconduct, believed the Social Workers fitness to practice was impaired.

After 18 days of observing the Social Work at her address, it was found that she was in fact not residing on her own and was therefore wrongly claiming the 25% SPD. The Social Worker in question purported that she had applied for the SPD whilst studying/returning to education. During the initial application for SPD it was agreed that she was residing alone with her daughter.

In reaching a decision to suspend, the HCPC Panel took into account the evidence provided and her own good character, which including no concerns relating to actual Social Work Practice. In addition, following the arrest the Social Worker made arrangements to pay back the SPD in its entirety.

What can we learn from this?

Now, let me make it clear here, I never like to see the demise of a fellow Social Work Professional. I believe there is already enough negativity (and lack of understanding) surrounding our work.

However, as a Social Worker, I believe in the power of critical analysis and reflection – whether good or bad. Therefore, we must harness these learning opportunities to develop and safeguard our own practice. Remember, we must be constantly vigilant about our own internal and external practices – within both the community and working environment.

Social Work is a Career Profession

For me, the first point to make here is that Social Work is a Career Profession. It is not just a ‘job’. What I mean by this is the fact that Social Work is more than just a Monday to Friday (9-5) job – although sometimes I wish it was!

Social Workers are required, both during and outside of the working environment, to behave in a professional and ‘acceptable’ manner. We must not bring our profession into disrepute. We all must evidence and adhere to the Social Workers Standards of Conduct, Performance & Ethics  and Standards of Proficiency  – granted these are England based but I am sure they read similarly on an international level.

Practice what you preach

Yes, I agree that by the very nature of being human beings, we have or will at some point all make mistakes or decisions that we will later regret. However, as Social Workers, we have an inherent responsibility to ‘practice what we preach’. What do I mean by this? Well, take the above as point and case. If you were working with a Service User who was claiming SPD, but lived with their partner, you would be duty bound to report it (or at the very least tell them to amend the tax rate record). By not ‘practicing what we preach’ undermines the very work we do on a daily basis with Service Users. It is hypocritical to ask them to make positive changes and decisions, if our own practices – whether personal or professional – are questionable.

Safeguard yourself

Again, given the constant negativity surrounding our profession, we must be extra vigilant in safeguarding ourselves, both inside and outside the working environment. For example, you should  regulate and monitor what you put on social media. As an example, I am aware that a number of Local Authorities require staff to sign an ‘acceptable users’ policy relating to social media. Also, seek Professional Peer Support – I found this the best forum for safeguarding both my professional and personal self. As my friends outside of the social work profession struggled to comprehend the traumatic and challenging experiences I faced daily.

Management Accountability

On a more general note, I also believe there is a further need to review how the Social Work Profession should hold those in management positions (Team Managers and above) accountable for their actions. As I have previously blogged, I have suffered at the hands of poor/micro management and I have met with colleagues that have felt unsupported and bullied within the work place by their managers. If we are to be critical of front-line staff, then surely the same must be applied to those in management positions?

What are your thoughts

  • Do you agree with the HCPC suspending the social worker in question?
  • What learning can you take from this experience?

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