Social work & registration

Social work & registration Social Workers Registration Board

New Zealand is in the process of shifting to mandatory registration. This means all social workers need to be registered by Feb 27, 2021.

Who needs to register

You will need to register if

  • you call yourself a social worker
  • you are known as a social worker or
  • you are held out as a social worker

As of 27th February 2021, the title “social worker” will become protected. That means only social workers who are registered by the SWRB can use the title “social worker”.

If you have a social work qualification and work in social services, the SWRB’s expectation is that you would be registered or become registered.  You are in all likelihood using social work skills and knowledge in your role, no matter what its title might be.  It’s our role to protect the public and enhance professionalism – being registered is part of having the system in place to make that happen. 

What will happen if I’m not registered by 27th Feb, 2021?

You will no longer be able to call yourself a social worker or practise as a social worker, and employers will not be able to hold staff out as social workers unless they are registered.

Please note: The SWRB is currently experiencing a high volume of applications for registration. The team is working hard to process applications as efficiently as it can, however, you can expect it to take 12-14 weeks as we have to wait for police vetting results to come back and for approval from the SWRB Board.

Step 1: apply for registration

Applying for registration

To apply for registration you must:

  • have completed a recognised New Zealand qualification (recognised New Zealand qualifications are listed here) OR
  • have overseas qualifications equivalent to a NZ qualification which you can find out more about here OR
  • have extensive practical social work experience in New Zealand, (10-15 years or longer) but don’t have an SWRB-recognised social work qualification, you may be eligible to apply for the SWRB experience pathway: S13

Applications can be submitted in Te Reo Māori.

Apply to register here

Registration FAQs

Registration process and what you need

How do I become registered?

It’s an online process through the SWRB website but before you apply to become a registered social worker, you must first have one of the following:

  1. a recognised New Zealand social work qualification (listed here) OR
  2. an overseas social work qualification equivalent to a NZ qualification –  find out more here OR
  3. extensive practical social experience in New Zealand (10-15 years or longer) if you don’t have an SWRB-recognised NZ social work qualification. You may be eligible to apply to register through the  Experience Pathway: S13

Check our eligibility tool before you begin the application process.  You can find it on the home page of the SWRB website – swrb.govt.nz.

How long does it take?

There is a small team and currently it takes around 12-14 weeks to process an application as we need to get back police vetting results and the application then goes to the SWRB Board for approval.  There are a couple of things that can influence the length of time it takes:

  • Sending in ALL the required documents will mean your application progresses more quickly
    • Once you’ve completed the online application, we will provide you with a checklist to help make sure you have included what is needed
    • When we receive your application, if a document is missing, we will let you know
    • Processing will not continue until we have received what is missing.
  • The application fee (non-refundable) must be paid before we begin the application process.

Can I fast track my application?

Applications are processed in the order they are received by the SWRB office, so the sooner you send us all the information required and pay the fee, the sooner it can be added for processing.

We don’t fast track applications as we treat everyone in a fair and consistent way.

Once an application is completed, it goes forward to the next available SWRB Board meeting where it is considered for approval.

Why can’t you process faster?

We are committed to processing applications as quickly as we can, however, we also need to make sure we follow a fair, consistent, and robust process.

Ultimately, the SWRB’s primary role is to protect the safety of members of the public, which means that when we are assessing an application for registration, we take the time required to ensure we have all the information we need to confirm that an applicant is competent and fit for registration.

What documents will I need?

Please see the Apply to register page here.

My employer has already run a police check on me. Can I use this for my application?

Unfortunately, we can’t use police vetting results that have been run by someone else.

It’s a requirement of the Social Work Registration Act (2003) that we run this check ourselves and it’s also a NZ Police requirement that their police vetting results cannot be shared.

Once I am registered, how long will my registration be ‘valid’ for until I need to re-apply?

Your registration does not expire but you are required to renew your Practising Certificate each year.

How much does registration cost?

See the fees page[LS1] .

Once I am registered, what will I then need to do?

  • renew your Practising Certificate every year
  • pay the Disciplinary Levy,
  • undertake supervision and
  • maintain a continuous, up to date and accurate record of your Continuing Professional Development activities in a CPD log

Why do I need to be registered and hold a Practising Certificate?

Becoming registered means you have met all the criteria to be recognized as/ be call a social worker, i.e. you have been assessed as being competent, fit to practise, and will be held accountable for the way you will practise. Once registered, you will remain on the register unless the SWRB Board takes action to de-register you or you ask to be taken off.

The Practising Certificate is the document that shows you are legally able to practise as a social worker in New Zealand for that year. 

Each year, when you renew your Practising Certificate online, you are declaring that you are still competent, fit to practise, and you have informed the SWRB of any serious health issues or convictions.  You are also declaring that you are being held accountable for the way you practise, i.e. you have undertaken Continuing Professional Development, including supervision.  The Practising Certificate is a demonstration of your commitment to being a professional. 

Do I need to pay the full amount for a Practising Certificate if I apply part-way through the year, ie Feb when it expires in July?

The answer is yes.  Once you are registered and practising you need a Practising Certificate and it’s not something you can delay.

We are mindful of the costs faced by social workers and we work hard to keep them as low as possible.   It may be helpful to know that the Practising Certificate fees contribute towards the costs to run the SWRB as a safety regulator all year, and have to be charged no matter what part of the year you apply.  After the initial fee, it becomes an annual fee which is charged in July.

We want to assure you that our fees are at the lower end of the scale for regulators, and we’ll continue to work hard to keep it that way.

Can I start practising while the registration process is taking place?

Yes, currently you can, however, as of February 27th, 2021, you will need to be registered before you can practise.

Can I be employed as a social worker while the registration process is taking place? Will I be able to use the title ‘social worker’ while the registration process is taking place?

You can be employed as a social worker and use the title ‘social worker’ up until 27th February 2021.  After that, the title ‘social worker’ becomes protected and you will only be able to call yourself a social worker if you are registered by the SWRB.

I’m now registered but have been told it is provisional, and that I need to do 2,000 hours of supervised social work practice in NZ. How long do I have to complete my 2,000 hours to become fully registered?

You have up to 8 years to complete the required 2,000 hours of supervised social work practice in New Zealand.

What happens if I don’t complete my 2,000 hours during this time?

If you do not meet the required 2,000 hours within the given time, you may risk your registration being cancelled.

What happens if my registration isn’t approved? What do I do then?

If your registration is declined, you have the right to appeal to the District Court within 20 days of being notified of the SWRB’s Board decision.


Experienced but lack qualifications or SWRB-recognised qualifications

I’ve got lots of social work experience but not an SWRB-recognised social work qualification.  Can I still apply to be registered?

If you have extensive social work experience in New Zealand (10-15 years or longer) but no SWRB-recognised social work qualification, you might be eligible to apply through the Experience Pathway: S13.

We want you to know we value your experience, your networks, and your contribution to the lives of those you work with. Please contact the SWRB if you need help or advice with this.

  • Check the SWRB website first and then contact the SWRB to discuss the application process. 
  • If a number of you in an organisation want to apply through Experience Pathway: S13, we can set up conference calls or a Zoom session with a member of our staff who can provide help and practical examples

I have a NZ social services qualification that is not on the approved list of SWRB-recognised social work qualifications and I want to register. What are my options?

A social services diploma/qualification is not the same as a four-year social work qualification.

All social work qualifications in New Zealand are recognised by the SWRB but not the social services diploma.

If you have a social service diploma and a lot of social work experience in New zealand (at least 10-15 years or longer), your option would be to look at the Experience pathway: S13 application process. 

I have a NZ social service diploma/qualification that is not on the approved list of SWRB-recognised social work qualifications.  I have applied for registration but have been turned down by the SWRB Board. I have looked at the Experience pathway: S 13 criteria and I don’t have 10-15 years of experience as a social worker. What are my options and what can I do?

You would need to complete a recognised social work qualification and then apply to be registered once completed.  You won’t, however, be able to continue to work as a social worker after 27 February 2021 until you are registered. 

Information around convictions

If you have a criminal conviction/s, you can still apply to become registered.

All applications which include convictions are considered on a case by case basis, and a criminal conviction will not necessarily stop you from becoming registered. 

The SWRB will take into consideration the following around convictions;

  • length of time since it/they happened
  • what you have done since
  • the severity
  • whether it/they carried a sentence of three months or more

When writing your reflective declaration, the SWRB will want to understand your journey and growth from where you were at the time of the conviction(s) to where you are now.  If you have been on courses or received support, it is useful to have some evidence around this, such as a certificate of completion or a letter of support.

You will also need to include how the conviction(s) has impacted on your decision to become a registered social worker and how it has enhanced/hindered your practice.

Depending on the nature of the conviction(s), the registration team may ask you for additional information.  This is usually in regards to a safety plan (how you can practise safely), rehabilitation information, confirmation of supervision, and additional references. 

Your application then goes to the SWRB Board for a decision on registration.

Employers/employees/job titles

We know the value of the social work profession and the work that they do – and as employers of social workers you will recognise this also. As the sector goes through this shift to mandatory registration you can show your support by ensuring your social workers are registered.

Who will need to be registered?

Your staff will need to register if they:

  • call themselves a social worker
  • are known as a social worker or
  • are held out as a social worker

As of 27th February 2021, the title “social worker” will become protected. That means only social workers who are registered by the SWRB can use the title “social worker”.

What will happen if they are not registered by 27th Feb, 2021?

They will no longer be able to call themselves a social worker or practise as a social worker, and employers will not be able to hold staff out as social workers unless they are registered.

Why do my social workers need to be registered?

From 27 February 2021, it will be mandatory for all social workers to be registered, following changes to our legislation.

We see mandatory registration as being vital and a step forward for the social work profession.

It reassures the public that social workers work within a code of conduct and are part of a fully professional workforce. That means tamariki, whānau, communities, and employers can be confident in the care, advice and support from social workers. It will bring greater transparency and help build trust, and enable social work to take its place alongside other regulated professions such as teaching, law, accounting, and health.

How will it benefit my organisation?

It shows your organisation supports and stands behind a fully professional workforce which ultimately shows the public that you take your obligations to public safety seriously.

It’s in all our interests that this profession is successful and robust. By supporting a registered social worker, regardless of whether the position is called social work, you know your staff are meeting professional standards, including ongoing professional development.

What steps do I need to take?

You need to make sure that the social workers you employ, who are practising social work, are registered by 27th February 2021, and hold a Practising Certificate (if they are practising).

  • We will help your staff through the process of registration – there’s information on our website about what they need to do. For those who don’t have a qualification they may be eligible for our experience pathway (s13). If you are covering the costs, we will work with you on how payment works.
  • As an employer you cannot ‘hold someone out’ or present an employee as a social worker if they are not registered, once mandatory registration comes into effect. 
  • Your staff who are registered social workers and practising social work will need to hold a valid Practising Certificate, which they must renew each year, in order to practise legally.
    • The Practising Certificate is a declaration from each social worker that they are competent and fit to practise.
  • We need you to tell us about any issues that could affect the ability of your social work staff to practise safely.
    • As a regulator, public safety is paramount for us.  As an employer you need to inform  the SWRB if you have any concerns about any of your social workers re:
    • serious misconduct
    • health issues which impact their practice
    • their competence.
  • You can find more information here about when you need to talk to us – swrb.govt.nz/public-and-employers/employers-mandatory-reporting/

What roles will need to be filled by registered social workers, and how will I know?

If the role is called social work and/or requires the person to practise social work, and/or you or your employer hold you out to be a social worker, then that role can only be filled by registered social workers.

Practising social work can include:

  • working directly with individuals, whānau, hapū, and communities
  • being involved with casework decisions at any level
  • if you call yourself a social worker or have a job title as a social worker
  • if you apply your social work values, skills, ethics and knowledge in your role
  • managing and/or supervising other social workers
  • teaching social work practice or theory
  • developing policy that impacts upon social work practice

From 27th Feb 2021, if you are not registered, you and/or your employer cannot claim you are a social worker.

Recommended best practice: if you are in a role that uses your social work knowledge, skills and experience but is called something else, we recommend that best practice is to be registered.

The SWRB recommends that all people who have, and are using their social work qualification, are registered.  Employees who have a social work qualification and were employed because of that, use those skills and knowledge in their employment.  Employers should recognise that by encouraging registration which shows a commitment to the profession and accountability.

I have an experienced social worker who has no social work qualification –  what can they do?

We are keen to support those social workers who have significant experience but do not have a social work qualification. If they have lots of social work experience in New Zealand (at least 10 – 15 years or longer) they can apply to become registered under the Experience Pathway: S13.  Please see here.

What about employees who do social work but their job title is not a social worker and they aren’t registered?

They will need to apply to become registered and apply for a Practising Certificate. This is the case even if they aren’t called a social worker. As long as they are doing social work, they will need to be registered and have a valid Practising Certificate, (renewed annually).

If you employ someone based on their social work qualification and the social work skills that come with the qualification are an important part of their job, we would encourage you to register those staff. You cannot present any employee as a social worker unless they are registered, once mandatory registration comes into effect.

I don’t have a social work qualification and I am in a social worker position and I need to become registered. What do I do? What if I don’t have 10-15 years of experience to pursue the Experience pathway: S13?

You would need to complete a recognised social work qualification and then apply to be registered once completed.  Please talk to your employer as soon as possible.

You won’t, however, be able to continue to work as a social worker after 27 February 2021 until you are registered.

I am a senior manager with a social work qualification. Some staff I manage are social workers and some are not. Do I need to be registered and hold a Practising Certificate?

Your position sounds like a role that includes you using your social work skills and experience. If you do not hold yourself out as a social worker, you are not legally required to become registered. If you or your employer hold you out to be a social worker, then you do have to be registered. 

Recommended best practice: We would strongly encourage those who have social work qualifications to become registered to claim your professional identity as all New Zealanders benefit from a fully professional, fully registered, and fully accountable social work workforce.  It is an important discussion for you and your employer to have.

We strongly encourage employers to support those who hold social work-related positions to be registered and hold a Practising Certificate. They are influencing and directly affecting those practising social work.  Additionally, registration connects employees to the profession and a strong profession will ensure better social services.  Practising social work can include:

  • working directly with clients, including whānau, hapū and community
  • being involved with casework decisions at any level
  • managing and/or supervising other social workers
  • if you call yourself a social worker or have a job title as a social worker
  • if you apply your social work values, skills, ethics, and knowledge in your role
  • teaching social work practice or theory
  • developing policy that impacts upon social work practice

I have a social work qualification but I am employed as a community support worker. This is a role that does not require a social worker, being described in the funding contact as a “non-clinical FTE”. Will I need to register while I am in this role?

If you are employed as a community support worker and you are not holding yourself out as a social worker, you don’t have to be registered. If, however, your employer presents you as a social worker or your clients would assume or believe you to be a social worker, then yes, you need to become registered under the new legislation.

Recommended best practice employer policy: We strongly encourage employers to support the registration of all staff who hold recognised social work qualifications.  Employees who are qualified in social work should be recognised for their skills and knowledge, and the contribution that brings to the workplace.

The work of an employee is underpinned by the skills, knowledge, and qualifications they bring to the workplace. A highly skilled employee will have a recognised social work qualification and they should be registered.  This would be a good conversation to have with your employer to be able to talk about why it’s important for you to be able to claim your professional identity.

I have a social work qualification and provide counselling in my private practice. I regard myself as a counsellor but do not have a counselling qualification. If I don’t mention social work on things like business cards, advertising etc will I need to be registered?

If your private practice is as a counsellor and you call yourself a counsellor then you do not have to be registered.

We strongly support the regulation of professions and advise that anyone practising in any profession is registered and accountable to the professional regulatory body and or association for that profession.

Employers and payment of registration & PCs

Do I have to pay for my social workers’ registration and Practising Certificate?

Many organisations do pay for their social workers’ registration and Practising Certificates as part of their employment agreement and to support their professional staff.  However, it is the social worker’s responsibility to apply to become registered and to hold a valid Practising Certificate.

Employers can pay for both their employees’ registration and Practising Certificates, if they have agreed to, and there are a number of ways of doing this:

  • When the social worker gets to the payment page on the SWRB website, the fees can be paid for via a company credit card.
  • The social worker has the option of requesting an invoice from the SWRB which can then be handed to the employer for payment.

Do you have options, i.e. part payment, bulk billing etc.?

If you would like to pay on behalf of your social worker/s, please contact us to arrange this.  Email: accounts@swrb.govt.nz

It’s difficult for us to pay for these costs – is there government funding to help out with the costs of registration or Practising Certificates?

We are mindful of the many challenges facing organisations, particularly in the NGO and community sector, and we work hard to keep our fees as low as possible.

The SWRB is at the lower end of the scale for fees of regulators across the country and we will continue to work at keeping it that way.

Currently there is no government funding to subsidise these costs but the Minister is aware of the many challenges facing the sector, including the costs of fees.

Students and next steps

Now that I’m newly qualified, what are my next steps?

If you plan to practise social work, please apply to become a registered social worker, and then apply for a Practising Certificate.

What if I don’t want to start practising immediately after graduating?

It is up to you to choose to practise or not after graduating. However, you will need to be registered before you can practise as of February 27th, 2021.

What happens if I want to go overseas for a year after studying before practising?

You do not need to hold NZ Registration/Practising Certificate if practising outside of New Zealand.  You can go overseas but on your return, you will need to apply to become registered and/or apply for a Practising Certificate before you begin practising.

I have a social services diploma but I’ve been told I cannot become a registered social worker – why?

A social services diploma is not the same as a four-year social work qualification. Currently, there are 18 recognised social work programmes at tertiary institutions around the country – and each of those has applied to the SWRB for their courses to be accepted.

The SWRB sets the standards for those qualifications and we hold the institutions to account for meeting them.

We think it is important students understand whether the courses they take will provide them with a recognised degree to become registered.  Find the list of recognised social work qualifications at the end of this section.

I am in a social worker position and I was studying a course at a tertiary institution that was cancelled, so I couldn’t complete it.  What are my options for registration?

You would either need to re-enrol at an institution that offers an SWRB-recognised social work qualification (see below) and complete this before applying to be registered or if you have enough practical social work experience in NZ (10-15 years or longer) you may be eligible for the Experience pathway: S13 process.

SWRB-recognised social work qualifications


Step 2: apply for a Practising Certificate

Applying for a Practising Certificate

As a registered social worker, you are required to:

Apply for a Practising Certificate here.

Why you need to be registered and hold a Practising Certificate

Becoming registered means you have met all the criteria to become a social worker, i.e. you have been assessed as being competent, fit to practise, and will be held accountable for the way you practise. Once registered, you will remain on the register unless you ask to be taken off or the SWRB Board takes you off.

The Practising Certificate is the document that shows you are legally able to practise as a social worker in New Zealand that year.

Each year, when you renew your Practising Certificate online, you are demonstrating your commitment to being a professional and declaring that you:

  • are competent
  • fit to practise
  • are being held accountable for the way you practise, i.e. you have undertaken Continuing Professional Development, including supervision
  • have informed the SWRB of any serious health issues or convictions.

Provisional registration

You will be provisionally registered until you have completed 2,000 hours of supervised social work practice in NZ. Find out more here.

Experienced but lack qualification

If you have extensive practical social work experience in New Zealand, (10-15 years or longer) but no SWRB-recognised social work qualification, you may be eligible to apply for registration under our Experience pathway: S13. Find out more here.

Overseas-qualified social workers

If you’re an overseas-qualified social worker, find out what you need to do here.

Return to practice

How to return to practice

The SWRB is currently finalising a policy for social workers returning to practice.

Until that’s in place, registered social workers who wish to return to practice following a break in practice of less than three years* can apply for a Practising Certificate.

Registered social workers who have not held a Practising Certificate for three years or more should contact the SWRB at practisingcertificate@swrb.govt.nz.

You may be required to complete a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) log, practice study, and a self-reflection, and a fee will apply.

*The Social Workers Registration Act 2003[SA2]  requires an application for a Practising Certificate to be referred to the SWRB Board[SA3]  if the SWRB Registrar believes or suspects the applicant has not held a Practising Certificate in the previous three years.

Been living overseas?
Have you been living outside of New Zealand for the past 12 months or more? If yes, then you will need to submit a police certificate from the countries you have been living in for 12 months or more.

Competence

Competence measures

We will be changing the way we measure competence over the next couple of years to line up with best practice.

The competence of social workers is vitally important to the SWRB, and we will be introducing a range of measures. Find out more here.