With permanent social work posts sitting vacant in large numbers across the UK, locum, or temporary social workers are much in demand to make sure workloads are kept relatively manageable and assessments are completed on time. More and more professionals are finding the flexibility of this kind of employment a tempting option.
Locum working can take a number of different forms. For example, some social workers may set up as self-employed sole traders or, more commonly, establish themselves as limited companies. Both options mean you’re responsible for your own tax affairs – and both are likely to be most popular with senior professionals providing consultancy-type services.
Others may join so-called ‘umbrella’ companies that take care of tax, and basic expenses, leaving you with a PAYE wage packet, just as you’d receive from a permanent contract. There’s been recent talk of the government cracking down on so-called ‘false self-employment’ among social workers (where someone is registered as self-employed but to all intents and purposes behaves like an employee). With the umbrella company route, you’re an employee so needn’t worry about this.
While a small number of social workers, again likely to be more senior ones, deal directly with employers as independent agents, most get their work via agencies. We’ll be looking in more detail about the ins and outs of agency work in the second article in this series.
There are advantages and disadvantages to working as a locum. Starting with the positives, temporary work gives you greater flexibility than being a permanent staff member. You won’t be tied into a lengthy notice period if you want to leave, and, unlike with staff roles, you’ll be paid for the hours you work rather than being stuck doing overtime.
While rates vary, that pay is also likely to be significantly higher than you’d get in a permanent role. It’s worth noting, however, that in some regions, such as the West Midlands and East of England, local authorities have jointly introduced rate caps to reduce the potential for haggling, and the risk of staff moving to a neighbouring authority for a little extra per hour.
The rise of locum work means temporary staff, who often make up a significant proportion of some teams, are more likely to be treated as equals. With this in mind, some local authorities now include locums in their employee development schemes – though in other cases, agencies will take full or part responsibility for training staff, which could be by providing it, or via an annual training bursary. If there’s an extra skill you’re after gaining though, remember you may have to fork out for it yourself.
Speaking of financial pitfalls, you should also keep in mind that holiday and sick pay is likely to be a far cry from the generous allowances on offer to permanent team members. And the same flexibility that some people love could equally be described as job insecurity.
Despite this factor, demand for locums remains strong in virtually all parts of the UK. While, perhaps predictably, it’s concentrated in urban areas where population is denser, temps are also very sought-after in many rural locations where qualified social workers are thin on the ground.
If you’re willing to relocate for the length of a contract, or perhaps use temporary accommodation during the week, and are happy to work in a role where you might be travelling between widely spread towns and villages, your skills could well be in demand.
Thanks to Debbie Smith of Caritas for her assistance with this piece.