Frequently asked questions

There have been changes to the Social Workers Registration Act which affect all social workers. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers. If you have any other questions, please contact us

1.     What is the purpose of the changes?

The changes to the Act are intended to protect the safety of the public by requiring all social workers to be registered, and to be competent, and accountable for the way they practice.

The changes will enhance the professionalism of the social work sector.

2.     What is the main change?

Under the changes, all social workers will have to be registered, and if practising, must hold a valid Practising Certificate, which must be renewed each year.

3.     Why were changes made?

The social work sector and the Social Workers Registration Board have been wanting change for some time, including the need for all social workers to be registered.

A voluntary registration system is not enough to ensure the level of professionalism needed.  At the moment, anyone can call themselves a social worker, whether or not they’re qualified or registered, which causes confusion and devalues the profession.

Non-registered social workers are currently:

  • not subject to the SWRB’s complaints and disciplinary processes
  • not required to have professional supervision or to undertake continuing professional development

This makes it very difficult for non-registered social workers to be held accountable for their conduct, competence, and/or fitness to practice.

4.     What’s the benefit of all social workers being registered?

It will help to increase trust and transparency in the sector, and ensure public safety by having more professional, qualified, and registered social workers.

It will put social work on an equal footing with other similar professions, ie health, teaching and law, which all have mandatory registration.

The SWRB believes having all social workers registered is vital for building the standard of the profession and being able to provide the public with assurances around social work quality and accountability.

5.     When do I have to be registered by?

You must be registered by 27 February 2021  – you can APPLY TO REGISTER here.

You will need to register if you want to keep practising as a social worker, if you call yourself a social worker, or if you are known as a social worker.

Processing of your registration application could take several months. To streamline the process, please ensure you have all the necessary paperwork in order before you submit your application.

6.     What are the changes for registered social workers?

There are a number of changes, including:


  • There is no longer a competence assessment required for New Zealand-qualified social workers when you apply to be registered
  • Educational institutions will be required to sign off on the competence of each graduate.
  • Social workers who hold overseas qualifications will still be required to complete a competence assessment
  • The way competence is measured will be changed over the next couple of years to line up with best practice. As a result, there will be no need to do a competence re-certification every 5 years.

Audits of CPD logs

  • There will be audits of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) logs each year
  • It is very important social workers keep their logs up to date and ready to be audited each year
  • We will provide more information on the process once the new system is in place.

Reporting health issues

  • It’s now a requirement to let the SWRB know if a social worker may be unable to satisfactorily perform the functions required to practise because of a health issue.

7.     What are the changes for employers?

Your support of social workers is appreciated, and as the sector goes through these changes, you can show this support by encouraging social workers to become registered and to hold their annual Practising Certificate.

It’s important any current non-registered social workers apply to register and any newly-employed social workers are registered.

Under the amended legislation, employers are required to report to the Board if they have any concerns about any of their social workers in regards to:

  1. Serious misconduct
  2. Health issues impacting their practice
  3. Competence

Serious misconduct

If an employer believes on reasonable grounds that a social worker has engaged in serious misconduct they must report that to the SWRB. 

  • The report must be in writing,
  • state the grounds for the belief and
  • describe what action they have taken

Health issues impacting their practice

If an employer believes on reasonable grounds that a social worker is unable to practice satisfactorily because of a mental or physical condition they must report that to the Board. 

  • The report must be in writing,
  • state the grounds for the belief and
  • describe what action they have taken


If an employer believes a social worker might not be competent to practise satisfactorily, they must:

  • first investigate and provide assistance to improve competence
  • If after providing assistance, the employer believes on reasonable grounds that a social worker is still not competent, they report that to the Board:
    • The report must be in writing,
    • state the grounds for the belief and
    • describe what action they have taken

8.     What is the Scope of Practice referred to in the Act?

A Scope of Practice will be developed which will provide guidance on what constitutes practising social work.

The sector and SWRB worked together to include this in the amended Act.

This will be the starting point for consultation with the sector about a scope of practice which will set out a social worker’s area of practice, competencies, responsibilities, necessary qualifications, and any conditions limiting their practice.

The final Scope will be determined by the SWRB’s Board.  Most of the Board’s members are registered social workers.

Specialist scopes may be developed over time, in consultation with the sector.

9.      Why do I/we have to pay for a practising certificate if there are only a couple of months to go until a new financial year?

We appreciate that paying close to the end of the practising year and again in July is difficult for social workers and organisations, especially those in the community and voluntary sector.

The fee for a social worker’s initial practising certificate contributes towards the costs to run the SWRB as a safety regulator all year, and has to be charged no matter what part of the year you apply.  After that, it becomes an annual fee which is charged in July, as per the financial year. This is a common approach taken by other similar regulators.

The SWRB has recently undertaken a review of the fees we charge. As a result, we’ve kept the fees for the practising certificate at $368, (the fee has not increased since 2010), and removed the competence assessment ($255) and re-certification ($155) fees for NZ-qualified and registered social workers, as we are changing the way we measure competence.

As the regulatory authority, we work to ensure that registered social workers are competent and fit to practise. This means we:

  • ensure social workers that come on the register have all the necessary qualifications and are fit to practise social work
  • investigate the practise of social workers where there have been complaints about their competence, where they have been convicted of criminal offences, and where those whose fitness to practise is in question

It may be helpful to know that the SWRB uses registration and practising certificate fees to cover the costs of reviewing application forms and templates, responding to enquiries, and the running of the SWRB.  We are mindful of the costs faced by many in the sector and work hard to keep our costs down as much as we can.

9.     How quickly will the changes happen?

Some changes will come into effect immediately and others will be phased in, up until 2021.

There will also be a period of transition while we work through new processes and update our policies. There will be an information campaign to inform the sector of the changes and what they mean.