If you work within the social services or care sector in Scotland you are likely to come under the regulation of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), and as a prerequisite of your employment, you are likely to be required to be registered with the SSSC.
The SSSC is a regulatory body which regulates the social service workforce in Scotland and are responsible for ensuring there is a certain quality of service provided. They do so by setting national standards of practice (known as Codes of Practice) which registered workers must follow within their chosen profession and personal life. The Codes of Practice sets out the behaviours and values expected of social service workers who are registered with the SSSC. If you are a registered worker with the SSSC, and your conduct falls below the standards expected of you, and your fitness to practise is called into question, the SSSC can take action against you.
What is fitness to practise?
Fitness to practise is when someone can demonstrate that they have the requisite skills, knowledge health and character to practise safely and competently. Your fitness to practise may be called into question and someone (often an employer) may allege that you have done something that raises doubts about your ability to work within the sector. Examples of allegations might be:
- placing a service user at risk of harm;
- reckless behaviour;
- dishonesty; and/or
- involvement in criminal activity.
The investigation and action taken by the SSSC will be separate to any disciplinary action taken by your employer.
The SSSC investigation will be based on whether there has been a breach of the Codes of Practice and whether your pose a risk to others by continuing to work.
Investigation by the SSSC
You will be put on notice that the SSSC are investigating your fitness to practise. When you are notified of such, it is important that you engage with the investigations. It is likely that you will be asked by the SSSC to respond to the allegations against you. You should seek legal advice as soon as you are asked to respond to the allegations. You will usually be asked to respond to the allegations by completing a Personal Statement form and it is recommended not to submit the form without seeking legal advice first.
Your response will be crucial to the SSSC’s investigations against you and will help clarify whether there is a case to answer against you. The response will therefore be used to decide whether there has been a breach of the Codes of Practice, whether you pose a risk to others by continuing to work within the sector and whether the SSSC ought to take further action against you. If further action is taken against you, there will be a hearing assigned (known as an Impairment Hearing) and your personal statement will be relied upon at that hearing.
What response is required by you?
The response requested by the SSSC goes beyond simply responding to the allegations against you. You will firstly be asked whether you admit to the allegations against you. If legal advice is not sought, there is a risk that you may admit to the allegations, either in full or part, when you did not intend to do so. You will be asked whether the allegations against you are correct (which can sometimes be a difficult question to answer, depending on the factual circumstances). You will also be asked about any other factors which may be relevant (for example, whether you have shown insight or whether you have a health condition relevant to your ability to practise), together with asking whether you would do things differently in future and the impact your behaviour or conduct has had on service users and/or colleagues. It might be that there are other relevant documents you require to submit with your response, including personal references.
It is also open to you whether to respond to the allegations at all. However, if you decide not to respond, the investigation will still continue regardless and your lack of engagement will be founded upon should further investigation be necessary.
Interim orders whilst your fitness to practise is under investigation
The SSSC may also impose an interim order on your registration whilst conducting their investigations against you. My colleague Ling Deng will be publishing a blog on interim orders in the coming weeks but I would always recommend seeking legal advice before agreeing to any interim orders being put in place.
Sarah Cooper is a Senior Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution and Claims department specialising in regulatory law. Sarah is highly experienced in representing workers when action has been taken against them by the SSSC. If you have received notification by the SSSC that your fitness to practise is being investigated, or you have any question about the procedure relating to such matters, please contact Sarah on 01382 214905, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or alternatively contact a member of our Dispute Resolution and Claims team.