Concerns and complaints

The Code of Conduct sets out the professional standards social workers are measured against and expected to meet.

Concerns and complaints Social Workers Registration Board
The SWRB team assesses information received about a complaint

If you have concerns about the standard of social work service you have received, we suggest, that in the first instance you:

  1. discuss them with the social worker involved and, if that is not possible
  2. write to the social worker or their manager outlining your concerns.

This approach is usually the fastest way of resolving an issue.

The SWRB can only consider concerns about the conduct, competence, or fitness to practice of registered social workers. We do not usually investigate:

  • employment disputes
  • anonymous notifications
  • complaints that are currently being investigated by another body, such as the Health and Disability Commissioner or the social worker’s employer
  • concerns involving breaches of other legislation, which should be made to the Police or relevant agency in the first instance.

If you remain concerned about an issue with a registered social worker or if it has not been resolved, you can contact the SWRB by completing the online complaints form below.

The SWRB’s focus is on public safety and improving professional standards. We believe this is best achieved by focusing on education and other non-disciplinary means, where possible.

What happens when a concern is raised

When we receive a concern about a social worker, our approach is based on natural justice and procedural fairness, and we follow this process:

  1. Once the SWRB has received the notification, it will be acknowledged by the SWRB’s Professional Standards Team, assessed, and you may be asked for further information
  2. Our usual process is to forward the notification to the registered social worker for a response
  3. Typically the combined information, ie the response from the social worker and the person notifying us of their concern, is then given to the SWRB’s triage team to consider and decide what, if any, further action is required
  4. The SWRB’s decision will be sent to both the person notifying us of their concern and the social worker.

Depending on the nature of the concern, it may be addressed under our conduct, competence or health processes (see below).

Health process

With health issues, the SWRB’s Registrar will usually work with the social worker involved to ensure their health issues are not having an impact on their ability to practise.  Public safety will also be considered as a factor.

Reporting of health issues may be escalated to the SWRB Board, if necessary.

The Health and Disability Commissioner will be notified of any complaints that relate to health and disability services.

Competence process

If competence is in question, the SWRB’s Principal Advisor Social Work may contact the social worker.

The matter may be escalated to the SWRB Board if necessary.

The Board can decide whether the social worker needs to undergo a competence assessment.

Conduct process

Conduct concerns that appear to breach the Code of Conduct or warrant investigation are referred to the SWRB Board. The Board considers the matter and decides whether it:

1. does not need to be pursued or

2. needs to be referred to a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)


The PCC is an external body to the SWRB.

It  is comprised of two registered social workers and a lay person,  and their investigation is thorough and can take some time.

The social worker and the complainant will be invited to meet with the PCC and/or to provide it with submissions.

A PCC is able to make one of the following determinations:

  • to take no further action;
  • that the SWRB Board should review the registered social worker’s competence, or fitness to practice, or both;
  • to submit the complaint to conciliation or mediation
  • recommend that the SWRB Board:
    • direct the social worker to apologise to the complainant;
    • direct the social worker to undertake training, mentoring, and/or counselling;
    • censure the social worker;
    • refer the allegations to the police for investigation
    • to lay a charge before the Social Workers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal (this would be reserved for serious cases).

The Tribunal

The Tribunal is external to the SWRB.

It is comprised of a chairperson or deputy chairperson (who is a practising lawyer), five registered social workers, and a lay person.

When a charge is laid before the Tribunal, it will hold a hearing which will likely be conducted in public. Prior to the hearing, the Tribunal may impose restrictions on the social worker’s practice.

The social worker will be able to present their case to the Tribunal.

The Tribunal may make a penalty order against the registered social worker and the decision would be open to appeal to the District Court.

Complaints form