If you work in the social service or care sector in Scotland, for instance as a social worker or support worker or in a nursery or care home, you come under the regulation of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). The SSSC is a regulatory body which regulates the social service workforce in Scotland, ensuring that there is a certain quality of service provided.
All service workers have to be registered with the SSSC and abide by its Codes of Practice. If there has been an alleged breach of these Codes of Practice, the SSSC may investigate this. What the SSSC can investigate is wide ranging but will concern, more generally, a registered worker’s fitness to practise.
If you are found to be in breach of the SSSC Codes, you could face losing your SSSC registration and your ability to work in social services. Given the potential impact of a decision against you, it is important you take advice to understand your options and right to representation if you are facing an SSSC investigation or hearing.
Fitness to Practise is when someone (often an employer) alleges that a worker has done something that raises doubts about their ability to work in the sector. Therefore, there are concerns that their conduct or working practices may cause harm to others.
Concerns can be raised:
- as a result from a serious allegation against the worker following an incident at work or in the service worker’s personal life
- if there has been a repeated pattern of minor failures
- if there is an allegation of misconduct
Investigation and action by the SSSC can sometimes be over and above disciplinary action taken by an employer or a criminal conviction. It might be, for example, that a service worker has allegedly acted dishonestly or there has been an abuse of trust, violence or threatening behaviour or a worker has acted negligently.
If a service worker’s Fitness to Practise is called into question, the SSSC investigation will be based on whether there has been a breach of the SSSC Codes of Practice.
Firstly, the SSSC will investigate matters. If they decide that there is sufficient information of a breach of the SSSC Codes of Practice then they may take further action against you.
This further action may require you to make written responses to any allegations against you or attend a hearing to answer the alleged breach.
If a breach is established, you may be suspended from the sector or your SSSC registration may be revoked, meaning removal from the SSSC register. The decision taken against you can therefore be life changing, both economically and emotionally.
Investigation by the SSSC should not be underestimated and it is recommended that you engage in the investigatory progress without delay and take advice early on in the process. This will also ensure that you are complying with the SSSC Rules.
The investigation notification letter from the SSSC is effectively putting you on notice that there may be further action taken against you. It is likely that there will be a Personal Statement Form with the letter. This gives you the opportunity to comment on the complaint or concerns raised against you. It is worth noting that you do not have to provide comments and sometimes it can be detrimental to do so. It is recommended you take legal advice before submitting the Personal Statement Form as it will be relied upon in the investigatory stage and at any hearing, if a hearing is necessary.
Once the investigation is complete, the SSSC will notify you of what action will be taken. The SSSC may impose an Interim Suspension Order while they are conducting their investigations.
An Interim Suspension Order will temporarily suspend your registration with the SSSC. Usually, it will be granted for the purposes of further SSSC investigation or to await the outcome of an Impairment Hearing (see ‘What happens at an Impairment Hearing?’ question below). This will affect your ability to work within the sector and so can have a big economic impact on you.
If the SSSC seeks an Interim Suspension Order, then it calls a Temporary Orders Hearing, where an independent panel will consider whether the order is appropriate in the circumstances. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to respond to the SSSC’s position and provide evidence against the Interim Suspension Order. You are entitled to be legally represented at such a hearing and it is strongly advisable that you are legally represented.
The panel can decide:
- not to impose the Interim Suspension Order
- to impose the Interim Suspension Order, or
- to impose a Temporary Conditions Order
Whilst an Interim Suspension Order would prohibit you from working in the sector, a Temporary Conditions Order allows you to continue working subject to certain conditions, for example your duties would be restricted or you would have to be supervised.
Following the conclusion of the SSSC’s investigation, they will decide whether or not there is a case against you. If they decide that there is no case (referred to as no case to answer), then no further action will be taken. If there is a case to answer, then there will be an Impairment Hearing (see below).
Before the Impairment Hearing goes ahead, you will be sent a draft decision from the SSSC as to what they consider to be an appropriate sanction. You can agree to what they consider to be an appropriate sanction or dispute it. It is recommended that you take legal advice before responding and it is worth bearing in mind that what the SSSC consider to be an appropriate sanction may not be what the independent panel at the Impairment Hearing consider appropriate.
About a month before the hearing there will be a Case Management Meeting to ensure that both parties are prepared to proceed. There will be procedural decisions made at this meeting that will have a bearing on the Impairment Hearing, for example about whether evidence can be used. It is recommended that you are legally represented at this meeting.
The Impairment Hearing is chaired by an independent panel and the SSSC will be represented by a solicitor. The hearing will be split into three different stages: findings of fact, findings on impairment and decisions on sanction.
- Findings of fact: If the facts are in dispute, the panel will ask for evidence from the SSSC and from you in support of your case. Evidence may also be from witnesses or documents. The panel will then decide if a fact is proved and will do this by looking at whether it is more likely than not to have happened. If the facts cannot be proven, the case against you will be dismissed. If the facts are proven, the hearing will progress to stage two.
- Findings on impairment: If impairment (i.e. the conduct, professional practice or health issues affecting fitness to practise) is in dispute, the panel will ask the SSSC and you for evidence. The panel will then decide if impairment is proved.
- Decisions on sanction: The panel will then consider a decision on sanction, which can be wide ranging. They can impose no sanction, a warning, a condition, a warning and condition, a suspension order, a suspension order and condition, or a removal order. The panel will take into account a range of factors, including mitigating factors, when deciding what sanction is appropriate in the circumstances.
It is possible to appeal against a decision made by the SSSC but there are very limited grounds on which to do so. Any appeal has to be made to Dundee Sheriff Court within 14 days of the Notice of Decision, so it is important you obtain legal advice as soon as possible if you believe you have grounds to appeal.
Our specialist regulatory solicitors are highly experienced in representing workers when action has been taken against them by the SSSC, with our Dundee office only a short walk from the SSSC. Our in-depth knowledge of the SSSC Codes of Practice and Rules allows us to provide you with effective legal advice, assistance and/or representation at any stage of the procedure.
If you are facing an SSSC investigation or hearing, call us on 03330 430350 or complete our enquiry form and we will contact you. Our Solicitors will discuss your situation with you, advise you on your options and can represent your interests throughout the investigation and hearing process.