Robinah Kamya Guweddeko
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Somerset County Council, you;
1) on 23 October 2014, at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court were convicted of:
(a) dishonestly failed to promptly notify the Department for Work and Pensions in the prescribed manner of a change of circumstances which you knew would affect your entitlement to income support benefit;
(b) dishonestly failed to promptly notify a local authority, namely Southampton City Council in the prescribed manner of a change of circumstance which you knew would affect your entitlement to Council Tax benefit;
2) In or around November 2014, did not declare the convictions outlined at paragraphs 1a and 1b, when you renewed your registration with the HCPC;
3) The matter described at paragraph 2 above was dishonest;
4) The matters described at paragraphs 2 and 3 constitute misconduct;
5) By reason of your convictions and the misconduct set out at paragraphs 1-4, your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by First Class post on 23 March 2016, to the address shown for Miss Guweddeko on the HCPC register. The Notice of Hearing had also been sent to Miss Guweddeko by email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules and that the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to bring notice of this hearing to Miss Guweddeko’s attention.
Proceeding in Absence
2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in Miss Guweddeko’s absence, as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct & Competence Rules. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.
3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:
a) Miss Guweddeko has not engaged with the regulatory process, other than to telephone Kingsley Napley Solicitors on 22 April 2016 to request the password in order to access the hearing bundle sent to her on 18 April 2016. Having been properly served with the Notice of Hearing, the Panel was satisfied that her non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend.
b) Miss Guweddeko has not made an application to adjourn and there is no indication that even if the case were to be adjourned she would attend on any future date.
c) It was in the public interest that this Final Hearing commences and proceeds expeditiously.
4. The Registrant resided in Southampton for around five years until March 2014. Whilst at university, she claimed housing benefit, tax credit and council tax benefits as she was a full time student and a single mother at the time.
5. After a period of separation from her partner, they reunited but neither informed anyone of the change in circumstances although they knew they were not entitled to benefits they continued to claim. In October 2013, the Registrant received a letter asking her to go to the benefits agency for an interview conducted under caution. At the interview, the Registrant accepted that she had claimed benefits that she knew she was not entitled to.
6. In January 2014, the Registrant interviewed for a social worker role at Somerset County Council. The Registrant accepted the social worker role and took up the post in March 2014. She subsequently received notification from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to prosecute her in September 2014.
7. On 23 October 2014, the Registrant was convicted of two counts of dishonestly failing to notify the relevant authorities of a change in circumstances which affected her entitlement to income support benefit and council tax benefit. The total amount of benefit claim for which she was prosecuted amounted to £7,000. At a further hearing, the Registrant was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and fined £145.
8. In September 2014, the HCPC sent the Registrant a reminder to renew her professional registration as a social worker. The Registrant then renewed her registration via an online portal in November 2014 but failed to disclose her conviction. The Registrant then self-referred to the HCPC in her letter dated 19 November 2014.
Decision on facts
9. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the statement of Witness 1 and the documentary evidence, including the written submissions Miss Guweddeko made in her self-referral letter to the HCPC dated 19 November 2014. The Panel also took into account the oral submissions of Ms Hastie on behalf of the HCPC.
10. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. Miss Guweddeko did not have to prove anything and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved, if the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities. The Panel accepted the advice from the Legal Assessor, which included advice that a Certificate of Conviction is admissible as proof of that conviction and the findings of fact upon which it is based.
11. The Panel noted that Miss Guweddeko made certain admissions in her self-referral letter to the HCPC dated 19 November 2014. However, as she had not engaged with the regulatory process the Panel proceeded on the basis that the allegations were not formally admitted.
12. The primary stem of Particular 1 alleges that ‘During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Somerset County Council you:… and the sub-paragraphs allege specific convictions on 23 October 2014 at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court relating to Income Support benefit and Council Tax benefit. The Panel was satisfied based on the investigation report prepared by Somerset County Council and the letter to Miss Guweddeko, dated 12 February 2015, confirming the outcome of her disciplinary hearing that Miss Guweddeko had been employed by the Council as a social worker. The Panel went on to consider the convictions in turn.
Particular 1(a) – Found Proved
‘Income Support benefit’
13. The Panel accepted the signed Certificate of Conviction from West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court as conclusive evidence that on 2 October 2014 Miss Guweddekko entered a guilty plea and was therefore convicted of dishonestly failing to promptly notify the Department of Work and Pensions of her change of circumstances, knowing that it would affect her entitlement to Income Support. The Panel noted that Miss Guweddeko confirmed in her self-referral letter to the HCPC dated 19 November 2014 that she had pleaded guilty.
14. Accordingly, this particular was found proved.
Particular 1(b) – Found Proved
‘Council Tax benefit’
15. The Panel accepted the signed Certificate of Conviction from West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court as conclusive evidence that on 2 October 2014 Miss Guweddekko entered a guilty plea and was therefore convicted of dishonestly failing to promptly notify Southampton City Council of her change of circumstances, knowing that it would affect her entitlement to Council Tax benefit. The Panel noted that Miss Guweddeko confirmed in her self-referral letter to the HCPC dated 19 November 2014 that she had pleaded guilty.
16. Accordingly, this particular was found proved.
Particular 2 – Found Proved
‘In or around November 2014, did not declare the convictions outlined at paragraphs 1a and 1b, when you renewed your registration with the HCPC you;’
17. The Panel was satisfied based on the evidence of Witness 1, the HCPC registration print-out and Miss Guweddeko’s self-referral letter, dated 19 November 2014, that Miss Guweddeko application for renewal of her registration was made online. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 that the online portal does not have the option to include any information about a conviction or caution. The Panel was satisfied that in accordance with the evidence of Witness 1, had Miss Guweddeko selected the tick box confirming that she had a declaration to make, the system would have informed her, by default that she would need to complete the renewal application in paper form.
18. The Panel was also satisfied based on the evidence of Witness 1 that it was only possible to submit an online application by making a number of professional declarations, including a declaration regarding any changes to character. The Panel noted that the HCPC guidance entitled ‘How to renew your registration’, is sent to all registrants when an initial renewal reminder is sent to them. The guidance states that by making a professional declaration the registrant is confirming, amongst other things, that there has been no change to their good character, which includes any conviction or caution, if any, that they are required to disclose.
19. As Miss Guweddeko submitted her renewal application online the Panel was satisfied that she declared that there were no changes to her good character.
20. Accordingly, this particular was found proved.
Particular 3 - (Dishonesty) – Found Not Proved
21. Although the Panel noted and accepted that it is likely that Miss Guweddeko had been sent the guidance on completing her renewal application form, there was no evidence before the Panel that it had in fact been sent to her.
22. The Panel was satisfied that Miss Guweddeko’s non-disclosure of her convictions was deliberate, as her renewal application could not be submitted online without declaring that there was no change to her character. However, the Panel was also satisfied that it could be characterised as an error. Shortly afterwards she prepared a letter to the HCPC, dated 19 November 2016, in which she acknowledged her error. In that letter she confirmed that she had been convicted of two criminal offences and set out the mitigating circumstances. The Panel formed the view that by the standards of ordinary and reasonable people a momentary decision to complete a form in a particular way in order to be able to send it off online followed shortly thereafter by full disclosure would not be regarded as dishonest.
23. Accordingly, this particular was found not proved.
Decision on Grounds
24. In considering the issue of misconduct, the Panel bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2)  1 AC 311 where it was stated that:
“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances… The professional misconduct must be serious.”
25. The Panel firstly considered Miss Guweddeko’s non-disclosure of her convictions on her online renewal application. It took the view that Miss Guweddeko should have completed the online renewal application correctly. Had she read and carefully considered the guidance, she would have realised that the expectation was that applications requiring declarations had to be submitted on paper. In effect Miss Guweddeko did both. The online declaration was untrue and therefore, the Panel was satisfied that this amounts to misconduct. However, the Panel took the view that given the circumstances as a whole, particularly Miss Guweddekko’s prompt submission of a self-referral letter, the non-disclosure in her online application did not amount to serious misconduct.
26. Having found misconduct the Panel went on to consider whether Miss Guweddeko’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the HCPC Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
27. In determining current impairment the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:
• The ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
28. The Panel considered Miss Guweddeko’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.
29. The Panel recognised that Miss Guweddeko is capable of demonstrating insight. The Panel noted that in her self-referral letter she accepted her wrongdoings, expressed remorse and apologised for her actions. Miss Guweddeko also appeared to appreciate the significance of her actions on her role as a social worker and the wider impact on the profession as a whole.
30. However, since November 2014, there has been no engagement by Miss Guweddeko. The Panel recognised that demonstrating remediation following a finding of dishonesty is particularly difficult, as probity issues are reliant on attitude, which can often only be inferred from conduct. However, Miss Guweddeko’s dishonest conduct relates to a discrete set of circumstances, which is capable of remediation, provided that appropriate steps are taken. Miss Guwedekko has provided no information that would assist the Panel in this regard. The dishonest failure to notify the Benefits Agency and Southampton City Council persisted for nearly a year resulting in an overpayment of £7,000. Miss Guweddeko accepted in her self-referral letter that she knew that failing to declare that she was living with her partner was wrong and stated that she ‘decided against cancelling [her] benefits in case he walked out on [her] again’. Her dishonest conduct demonstrated a conscious and deliberate decision to mislead the Benefits Agency and Southampton City Council for personal gain.
31. The Panel noted that Miss Guweddeko was under financial pressure at the time. There is no evidence that she has paid the money back or is currently paying the money back in instalments. Furthermore, in the absence of any evidence of remediation the Panel took the view that there is a risk of repetition.
32. The Panel concluded that for these reasons Miss Guwedeko’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.
33. In considering the public component the Panel had regard to the critically important public policy issues which include the need to maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
34. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a social worker had dishonestly claimed benefits, as this clearly has the potential to undermine public confidence. Colleagues and service users would also be concerned by her actions. A significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. Miss Guweddeko’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a registered practitioner and the Panel take the opportunity to declare that it is not acceptable for social workers to dishonestly withhold information for personal gain. The Panel took the view that Miss Guweddeko has brought the profession into disrepute, has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession by putting her own interests above those of the public and repeatedly demonstrated a lack of integrity. There is a risk that all of these features are likely to be repeated in the future. Furthermore, the Panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made.
35. The Panel concluded that Miss Guweddeko’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.
Decision on Sanction
36. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish Miss Guweddeko, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and by upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing Miss Guwedeko’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.
37. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and took into account the submissions made by Ms Hastie on behalf of the HCPC.
38. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:
• The significant length of time Miss Guweddeko failed to notify the Department for Work and Pensions and Southampton City Council of her change of circumstances;
• The criminal convictions are for dishonesty offences.
39. Although, there has been no significant engagement from Miss Guweddeko, when she self-referred to the HCPC, on 19 November 2016, she referred to a number of mitigating circumstances. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:
• An early guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court;
• Challenging personal and financial circumstances.
40. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that in view of the nature and seriousness of Miss Guweddeko’s dishonest behaviour over a significant period of time and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, to take no action on her registration would be wholly inappropriate. Furthermore it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
41. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 22 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”
42. In view of the Panel’s findings that Miss Guweddekko has provided no evidence of remediation, any steps she has taken towards remediation and the likelihood of repetition, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.
43. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel took the view that the convictions are not amenable to conditions, as the basis for this type of conduct, is an attitudinal failing. The Panel was unable to formulate conditions which would be workable, measurable or proportionate. Furthermore, conditions would not adequately address the serious nature of Miss Guweddeko’s conduct and so would undermine public confidence in the profession and undermine the need to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour.
44. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel took into account Miss Guweddeko’s expressions of regret and remorse. The Panel noted that at the time of her conviction Miss Guweddeko was at the very early stages of her career as a social worker. The Panel was satisfied that a Suspension Order would not undermine public confidence in the profession. The Panel concluded that a Suspension Order would send a signal to Miss Guweddeko, other members of the profession and the wider public re-affirming the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Panel had regard to the impact a Suspension Order would have on Miss Guweddeko, but concluded that her interests were significantly outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the significant public interest concerns raised by this case.
45. Having made a preliminary determination that a Suspension Order should be imposed the Panel went on to consider whether removal of Miss Guweddeko’s name from the Register would be more appropriate. The Panel noted that a Striking Off Order is a sanction of last resort and should be reserved for those category of cases where there is no other means of protecting the public or the wider public interest. The Panel decided that despite the nature and gravity of Miss Guweddeko’s conduct and the risk of repetition such an order is not the only means of protecting the wider public interest. The Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate and punitive.
46. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a 12 month Suspension Order. In determining the length of the order the Panel considered that this period of time would provide Miss Guweddeko with the opportunity to fully reflect on her conduct and behaviour.
47. Shortly before expiry the Suspension Order will be reviewed. The reviewing panel may be assisted by the following to be provided at least 14 days prior to the review:
• Evidence that Miss Guweddeko has repaid or is repaying the £7,000.
• A reflective piece by Miss Guweddeko on the seriousness of her actions.
• References from persons of good standing in relation to any voluntary or paid work that Miss Guweddeko may have undertaken in the previous 12 months.
This Order starts on 04 July 2016 and expires 04 July 2017.
The Order will be reviewed on or before its expiry 04 July 2017.