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How to become a self-employed social worker: the 8-step plan

4-minute read

How to become a social worker
Rosanna Parrish

Rosanna Parrish

19 May 2023

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Communication. Patience. Advocacy. If these values are important to you, a career as a social worker could be your calling. If you’re interested in taking the step to help change lives, read our eight-step guide to learn how to become a social worker.

How to start an independent social worker business

Starting a new career can be a scary step – especially a career where so many people will be depending on you for support. To help break it down for you, we’ve listed the top eight areas you need to focus on to launch your career as an independent social worker.

  1. What does a social worker do?

1. What does a social worker do?

Social workers are here to make a difference. But in terms of day-to-day tasks, the role of a social worker is to protect vulnerable people from harm and support people to live independently.

Social worker responsibilities include visiting clients and assessing their needs. You’ll then arrange the necessary support for them, which could include referring them to other services. You’ll be responsible for recording their progress and may be required to attend meetings with or on behalf of your client.

Depending on your specialism, you can make expert recommendations to your client. Sometimes you may even be required to give evidence in court.

Many people think of social workers as working only with children, but this isn’t true. Social workers are available to help the vulnerable ranging from children all the way up to the elderly.

2. Going self-employed: working as an independent social worker

If you enjoy the benefits of working for yourself, such as choosing your own hours and the type of work you take on, you can work independently as a freelance social worker.

Independent social workers find cases through local authorities or through relevant social work organisations. Most people who work as an independent social worker already have experience working as a social worker for local councils and move into self-employed work once they’re more experienced in the role.

3. Choose your social work specialism

The benefit of working for yourself as an independent social worker is that you have more control over the type of clients you work with. You may prefer working with children or teenagers or even adults and the elderly.

However, the type of work you can choose as a social worker isn’t only dependent on the age of your clients. Perhaps you have a passion or interest in supporting your clients with a particular problem. Here are some of the areas you may find yourself working in as a self-employed social worker:

  • young offenders
  • people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or mental health problems
  • alcohol and substance misuse
  • carers
  • children at risk of abuse
  • foster and adoptive families
  • refugees and asylum seekers

4. What qualifications do I need to be a social worker?

To be a self-employed social worker, or work for an agency or council, you’ll generally need a relevant university degree in social work. This can be either an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the subject and will include work experience opportunities.

If you have an undergraduate degree in a different subject, there are programmes you can join which offer training and work experience in social work:

  • the government-run step up to social work is a 14-month programme combining work and study
  • Frontline is a two-year programme which trains you in child protection
  • Think Ahead offers training if you want to specialise in mental health social work

No matter which route you take, you need to make sure it’s approved by the relevant local organisation. This will differ on where you live, but could be Social Work England or Scottish Social Services Council.

5. What does an independent social worker salary look like?

Social worker salaries differ based on location and experience. A traditional social worker who’s directly employed by a local authority on their payroll and is just starting their career can earn between £24,000 to £30,000. According to Prospects, more experienced social workers in senior roles could earn up to £45,839.

As a self-employed independent social worker, you can decide what you charge for your services. And as independent social workers often have more experience than many traditionally employed social workers, you can expect a higher salary than you would have employed directly by a council or agency.

6. Becoming a self-employed social worker

Once you have the relevant industry experience, you can choose to work as a self-employed independent social worker. As with any social worker role, you’ll need to be qualified and registered with your country’s social work authority. You’ll often have to renew this membership yearly.

You’ll then need to officially register as self-employed. How you do this will depend on how you plan to work. You can register as a sole trader, which involves telling HMRC that you’re self-employed. It’s important to do this as you’ll need to pay your tax through Self Assessment and pay Class 2 and 4 National Insurance contributions.

However, you may choose to be a self-employed employee of another company. If you’re an independent social worker taking contracts with local councils, this might be how you’re paid. This technically means you’re both self-employed and employed by someone else – so you’ll be paying tax through PAYE and Self Assessment.

7. Do I need insurance as an independent social worker?

Business insurance is important to have when you’re working for yourself. As a social worker working with clients, it’s a good idea to purchase public liability cover. You may also need insurance to cover legal costs, employees (if you employ a team of other social workers), and personal accidents that may occur when you’re working.

Simply Business offers tailored insurance for social workers, letting you combine all the covers you need into a single policy.

8. Growing your business: finding work as a self-employed social worker

The best way to find work as an independent social worker is by building up your network of contacts. The main way you’ll find cases and clients is by working with local councils and social work agencies. Once you work a few cases assigned by a particular organisation, you are more likely to be offered repeat work with them.

No matter which route to a career in social work that you take, you’re sure to have a fulfilling career which helps change the lives of others.

Have you taken the leap to work as a self-employed social worker? Let us know in the comments below.

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Rosanna Parrish

Written by

Rosanna Parrish

​​Rosanna Parrish is a Copywriter at Simply Business, specialising in legal and HR content. Trained at London College of Communication, she has been creating content professionally for eight years at publications across the UK and Spain. Starting her career in health insurance, she also worked in education marketing before returning to the insurance world. Rosanna also writes about wellbeing in the workplace. She lives by the sea and does her best writing in coffee shops.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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