Government confirms independent fees will be capped
The coalition government has controversially decided to press ahead with plans to cap the court fees for independent social workers (ISWs), BASW Online has learned.
Despite the threat by many practitioners that the work will no longer be financially sustainable, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat led Ministry of Justice has told BASW that previous plans to cap fees at £30 an hour (£33 for workers in London) will be implemented from 1 October 2010.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We plan to bring the rates paid to independent social workers engaged by a private solicitor into line with the fees paid by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) for reports by independent social workers. This follows a public consultation on family legal aid funding which closed in April last year.
“The new system will come into effect in October,” the spokesperson confirmed.
The move comes despite pleas at a conference in March from ISWs to then head of family legal aid Alan Pitts to abandon the new fees and include ISWs in an ongoing review of payments to all expert witnesses.
Many delegates pointed out that ISWs are responsible for their own training, equipment and administration, unlike Cafcass social workers who have organisational back-up. Pitts agreed to a further meeting at the MoJ to discuss ISWs’ grievances, so the move today will come as a further blow to ISWs.
Joint BASW England manager Nushra Mansuri said the news was “extremely disappointing”. She said: “A lot of ISWs are wondering why, of all the expert witnesses, they are being targeted? The irony is that compared to other expert witnesses, such as psychologists and health witnesses, social workers are probably the cheapest option,” she added.
“We feel the whole consultation system has been flawed with a lack of transparency and evidence base. How can anyone say the move is to save money if they don’t have a breakdown of costs? With a new government, we would like the opportunity to explain the critical contribution of ISWs and how money has been saved through ISWs’ intervention.
“This flies in the face of the efforts of the Social Work Task Force and what it is trying to achieve – getting social workers on a better standing and keeping experienced practitioners in front-line work longer. I would be extremely disappointed if the coalition government takes that position and would ask them to take a fresh look at the evidence.”
“This is about the welfare of children after all – what could be more important?” Mansuri concluded.
Pauline Jordan, an independent social worker from Brighton, summed up the mood among independent workers at the London conference when she said: “I won’t work for the new rates and all the ISWs I’ve spoken to have said the same thing. It’s insulting.”