A locum or agency social worker is exactly the same as a social worker who is employed by a local authority, but just for a short term period. A locum has to have the same qualifications as a full-time employed social worker, and also needs to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.
Locums work with private sector, statutory and voluntary organisations, and usually alongside social permanent staff. The only real difference is that a social worker will have a different contract, with separate terms and conditions, and will probably not be entitled to benefits such as sick pay and holiday leave.
Any qualified, registered social worker can set up work as a locum, and more and more social workers are leaving their employed social care jobs to go it on their own as a social care locum while councils are certainly very happy to spend money on locums at the moment.
Social care work can be tough, and may people are looking for a better work-life balance. Some social care workers turn to locum work to give themselves more freedom and independence. It could be a good time to start considering alternatives to pursuing social care jobs full time and consider going locum as councils are increasing the amount they are spending on agency workers.
When you start as a locum social worker, you’re legally self-employed, which means that you need to either set yourself up as a sole trader or a limited company. If you choose to set up as a limited company, you should get specialist legal and financial advice, as the tax man is currently clamping down on locum social workers who work for just one employer under the IR35 tax rules.
As a locum, you can either find your own social care jobs or work through a specific social care agency who find you short or long term placements in local authorities and other organisations. Most locums do tend to join social work recruitment agencies, so that they can be matched to ‘placements’ that fit their specialisms and requirements. Many locums find that a recruitment agency is helpful as they can act as a middle man and make all the necessary arrangements for placements.
If you work through an agency, you might find that you are paid less than if you find your own contracts, but many social care agencies offer flexible hours and benefits that you don’t get when completely independent.