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BASW concerned over role of social workers in rape cases under Universal Credit scheme

Letter to MP’s also questions possible legal ramifications for social workers in Northern Ireland

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has stressed its concern for UK social workers over the Universal Credit scheme, but especially for our Northern Ireland colleagues who may be caught in the middle between pregnant victims of rape and the law.

Under the current scheme benefits have been capped at two children unless there are ‘specific circumstances’, such as adoption, multi-baby births and children conceived as the result of a ‘non-consensual sexual act’.

In line with BASW’s position on austerity, the organisation does not endorse the capping of Universal Credit at two children.

But of chief concern in this instance is the criteria for exemption, which says evidence of rape needs to be accredited, and this accreditation can be undertaken by a range of groups that includes ‘registered social workers’ – a decision that was forced upon the social worker community.

This clearly presents a minefield for social workers, but the greater fear is that this issue potentially puts Northern Ireland social workers in danger of breaking the law due to the country’s specific requirement to report crime (Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967) or face prosecution, which is not the case in the rest of the UK.

Thus, a social worker in Northern Ireland approached by a person seeking to establish a claim for a further child under Child Tax Credit/Universal Credit, may well be the recipient of a disclosure of ‘a non-consensual sexual act’, in which case, unless this matter was reported to the police, that social worker would be liable to criminal prosecution. 

BASW has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke MP and the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, asking to provide assurance to professionals that no social worker in Northern Ireland will be prosecuted under this legislation.

Universal Credit will be introduced in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from September 2017. Currently the payment of Child Tax Credit in the region is capped at two children.