Court fees for social workers below all other professions

Independent social workers (ISWs) faced further insult last month when a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation on legal aid reforms failed to mention social work in a comprehensive list of hourly court fee rates payable to expert witnesses of all professions.

Despite advanced proposals to cap ISWs fees at Cafcass rates of just £30 an hour outside of London and £33 in the capital, the MoJ document reveals that nurses can expect to receive £81 per hour of court work, occupational therapists £68 an hour, a doctor £99 and a child psychiatrist £135.

Plans to introduce the cap for social workers were included in the original plans for legal aid reform but this latest consultation document, produced in November 2010 and out to consultation until February 2011, fails to mention the profession at all.

The latest consultation was produced after the Law Society won a judicial review quashing the outcome of the tender round for new family legal aid contracts after the High Court declared that the Legal Services Commission family legal aid tender round was unlawful and severely hindered access to justice for vulnerable children and their parents.

BASW is part of a coalition campaign group, alongside Nagalro and two private independent social work companies, ISWA and WillisPalmer, which is fighting the proposed cap.

Managing director of WillisPalmer Mark Willis said: “They have produced a document with guidelines on expert fees and notable by their absence is any reference to ISWs.

“If you look at the guidance for hourly rates outside London, all expert witnesses would earn more than independent social workers, which is outrageous,” he added.

Mr Willis continued: “The coalition group is writing to justice secretary Kenneth Clarke and education secretary Michael Gove calling for them to urgently review the LSC decision on the plans to cap ISWs fees, particularly in light of the ham fisted way in which the LSC is continuing to address the issue of ISWs in public law.

“We maintain it is erroneous to compare Cafcass officers with ISWs, particularly in light of a Cafcass decision to recruit newly qualified social workers who could not under any circumstance be considered to have expert status,” concluded Mr Willis, adding that the decision to list ‘enquiry agents’ and ‘photographers’ as witnesses without mentioning ISWs is “utterly illogical”.

The letter from the coalition will be sent to the ministers imminently.