Self-employed social workers
Experienced social work professionals may work independently as freelance social workers.
BASW’s Code of Ethics for Social Work Addendum: Additional guidance for Independent Social Workers sets out valuable ethical principles unique to running a social work business. BASW Independents are required to adhere to this policy.
The information below is brief introduction into independent social work. Join BASW to find out more. BASW offers a bespoke membership for self-employed social workers including enhanced professional indemnity and public liability insurance cover*.
Independent Social Work
Experienced social workers often move fully into consultancy work or offer these services in addition to other working arrangements.
Self-employed social work requires running a business in addition to delivering professional services so can be a huge learning curve.
Join BASW within one of our enhanced subscriptions for Independents for more information and support when navigating this exciting new stage of your career.
Understanding independent social work
Independent social work is where professionals will work through their own business such as sole-traders, Limited Companies, social enterprises and more.
Self-employed professionals are often contracted directly from clients using their services, organisations and/ or working though agencies.
This impacts tax arrangements and employment rights.
Benefits of self-employment
A healthy, work-life balance: self-employment often provides more flexibility to work around day-to-day commitments, take a break between contracts and have that flexibility to suit your lifestyle.
Rates of pay: independent professionals are able to negotiate their pay with all of their clients. Ideally at a rate that recognises their experience and expertise.
Choosing your specialism: working independently allows professionals to focus on delivering services within their area of expertise. Very experienced professionals that have progressed to senior management roles often welcome the opportunity to deliver direct social work again in a self-employed capacity.
Professional development: setting up and running a business is an exciting learning curve. From budget setting and marketing to developing a business plan and policies, running a social work business requires learning new skills.
Considerations before moving into independent practice
Cash flow: settling of invoices may rely on other processes. This, in addition to potentially unreliability of contracts may lead to delays or lack of income.
Rates of pay: negotiating pay with potential clients is not guaranteed. There are also capped rates such as those experienced by colleagues working in the family courts within England and Wales. BASW continues to campaign to bring changes to these restrictions.
Isolation: whilst some independents will have business partners, for those that don't it is important to nurture professional networking and arrange supervision. BASW's virtual local networks are a great way to connect and link with other self-employed colleagues within your region. Find your local network (BASW member only).
Pension: without a pension from an employer, it is important for self-employed social workers to plan for retirement. It is recommended to seek advice from a financial professional and incorporate this into your business plan.
This is not an exhaustive list.
Working with an agency vs locum work
Working with agenices: many social workers work with agencies in a variety of settings that may include the agency allocating cases to the worker. This arrangement can be as a self-employed professional or as an employee and will depend on the contractual agreement. If working with more than one agency at a time, it is possible to do so as both an employee and self-employed social worker.
BASW recommends seeking advice from an accountant to ensure you're in the correct tax arrangement as this is the responsibility of the worker.
Working as a locum through an agency: when working as a locum, social workers are often placed by an agency into an organisation on a temporary basis. This is often considered within IR35 and therefore subject to taxes as an employee which leads many locums to work through an umbrella company. Find out more on working through an umbrella here.
*Based on a working category of membership with the Independents Plus enhanced add-on