Bianka Antonia Grant
While registered as a Social Worker, between December 2012 and August 2013, you:
1. While employed by the Royal Borough of Kingston used the Zip Car business account for your personal use:
a) between 1.30 am and 9 am on 1 June 2013;
b) between 10 pm on 1 June 2013 and 10.30 pm on 2 June 2013;
c) between 11 pm on 7 June 2013 and 9 pm on 9 June 2013;
d) between 9 pm on 14 June 2013 and 2.30 pm on 16 June 2013;
e) 9 am on 21 June 2013 and 1.30 pm on 23 June 2013;
f) between 11.30 pm on 28 June 2013 and 9.30 am on 29 June 2013.
2. Used Royal Borough of Kingston Zip Car business account for your personal use during the period set out in paragraph 1 (f) after you had been informed by Colleague A that an investigation was to be carried out into your use of the business account for personal use.
3. On or around December 2012, declared on your application form to the Royal Borough of Kingston for a position as a Social Worker
(Safeguarding) that you had never been convicted of a criminal offence.
4. The matters described in particular 1, 2 and/or 3 are dishonest.
5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct.
6. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
Notice of Service
1. The Panel was aware that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address on 11 October 2016. Notice of these proceedings was also sent to the Registrant by email at her last known email address. The Panel was shown documents which established both the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered address. In these circumstances the Panel accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant.
2. Ms Chaker, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that the Panel should consider the case in the absence of the Registrant.
3. The Panel had seen the email correspondence which passed between the Registrant and the HCPC in December 2016. This exchange established that the Registrant was aware of the present hearing date and that all relevant documents had been sent to the Registrant. She did not indicate whether she did or did not intend to attend this hearing. She did not seek an adjournment of these proceedings. The Panel had also seen the written representations from the Registrant dated 12 December 2015.
4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
5. The Panel was aware that a decision to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one to be taken with the utmost care and caution. However the Panel decided to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel’s reasons are as follows:
• Service of the appropriate notice of this hearing had been properly effected.
• It was clear that the Registrant was aware of this hearing and that all the relevant documents had been sent to the Registrant.
• There was no reason to suppose that an adjournment would result in the future attendance of the Registrant and the Registrant had not applied for an adjournment.
• There was a public interest in proceeding as the allegation related to matters that occurred in 2013 and the issues should be disposed of as quickly as can justly be done.
• There was one witness in attendance.
• In all the circumstances the absence of the Registrant should be treated as voluntary.
6. The Panel decided to consider the facts, misconduct and impairment as a single stage. Sanction, if appropriate, would be considered as a separate stage.
7. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker in the Child Protection Team at the Royal Borough of Kingston [RBK]. She commenced that employment on 04 March 2013. At that point of her career the Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker going through the assessed and supported year in employment.
8. It was discovered that, when the Registrant had applied for employment with RBK, she had failed to disclose a previous conviction. This matter was investigated at the time by Colleague A when the explanation of the Registrant was accepted and the matter was concluded.
9. On 21 June 2013 it became apparent that the Registrant had incurred a parking ticket whilst using an account for Zipcar, a car rental firm, for personal use.
10. The matter was investigated by Colleague A, Associate Director for Safeguarding for RBK. This investigation involved investigatory meetings on 12 July and 19 July 2013 and led to a disciplinary meeting on 23 August 2013.
11. The Zipcar business account was in the name of RBK. On further investigation it came to light that the Registrant had, on a number of occasions in June 2013, used the RBK account with Zipcar for her personal use. This was not permitted as stated under RBK’s ‘Staff Travel Options’, a document on its intranet and accessible to staff.
Decision on facts:
12. The Panel took into account the bundle of documents produced by the HCPC and the Registrant’s ‘Statement of Account’ dated 05 August 2013 and her written representations, dated 12 December 2015. The Registrant also provided a letter, dated 30 May 2013, written to her by RBK and relevant to the matters set out in Particulars 3 and 4 of the allegation.
13. The Panel heard oral evidence from Colleague A, who was called by the HCPC. Colleague A was the Line Manager for the manager of the Registrant. The Panel regarded Colleague A as a credible and fair witness who was not prone to exaggeration. Whenever he was unsure of the correctness of an answer to any question put to him, he indicated that fact. However there were matters on which he was unable to help the Panel and in some respects the investigation was somewhat limited in scope.
14. The Panel considered the submissions as to facts, misconduct and impairment made by Ms Chaker on behalf of the HCPC.
15. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor as to facts, misconduct and impairment.
16. The Panel was aware that on matters of fact, the burden of proof rested on the HCPC and that the standard of proof was the civil one, namely on the balance of probabilities.
Particulars 1a - 1f
17. The Panel found these Particulars proved. In reaching its decision, the Panel accepted the oral and written evidence of Colleague A incorporated within the Management Report and Appendices. The Panel noted the admissions made by the Registrant during the investigatory interview and contained within the Management Report along with her admissions in her ‘Statement of Account.’
18. The Panel found this Particular proved. The Panel accepted the evidence of Colleague A in that he had met with the Registrant on 28 June 2013 and had informed her that an investigation was to be carried out into her use of the RBK business account for her own personal use.
19. The Panel noted the admission made by the Registrant at the disciplinary hearing on 23 August 2013 that she had had a discussion with Colleague A and admitted to her subsequent personal use of the Zipcar later that same evening.
20. The Panel found this Particular proved. The Panel accepted the oral and written evidence of Colleague A. The Panel noted the Registrant’s application form for a job with RBK in which she declared that she had not been convicted of a criminal offence. The Panel also noted the Registrant’s written representations, dated 12 December 2015, in which she admitted her criminal conviction. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant did not disclose a criminal conviction when completing her application form.
21. The Panel found this Particular proved in relation to the matters set out in Particulars 1a - 1f and 2 of the allegation. The Panel found this Particular not proved in the matters relating to Particular 3.
22. The Panel noted Ms Chaker’s submission on behalf of the HCPC that, in relation to Particulars 1a – 1f and 2, the representations and explanations advanced by the Registrant were not plausible, or consistent and were incompatible with the information provided to the Panel, including the evidence that had been obtained from Zipcar.
23. The Panel noted the Registrant’s assertion:
• That she was not acting dishonestly.
• That she had attempted to set up a personal account with Zipcar but had encountered “glitches” in the system when she presented her bank card.
• That she believed that Zipcar could differentiate between business and personal use and that she would be invoiced at the end of the month.
• That she believed that RBK operated a Salary Sacrifice Scheme with Zipcar by which the cost of her personal use could be deducted from her salary.
24. The Panel accepted the evidence of Colleague A that RBK did not operate a Salary Sacrifice Scheme. The Panel noted the emails from Zipcar which reminded the Registrant that she had not set up a personal account. The Panel also noted the document entitled ‘Staff Travel Options’ on RBK’s intranet which stated “under no circumstances should a Zipcar which is registered with RBK be used for personal use.”
25. The evidence in relation to Particulars 1a – 1f, along with the inconsistent explanations provided by the Registrant led the Panel to conclude that the Registrant had acted dishonestly and that she was aware that her actions were dishonest.
26. In relation to Particular 2, on the evidence provided, it was clear that Colleague A informed the Registrant on 28 June 2013 that he would be conducting an investigation. However, despite this, the Registrant failed to disclose to Colleague A the booking for Zipcar later that evening and went on to use the vehicle. The Panel concluded that the Registrant acted dishonestly and that she was aware that her actions were dishonest.
27. In relation to Particular 3 the Panel noted that, in respect of the non-disclosure of the previous conviction, the Registrant thought that by reason of the passage of time the fact of the conviction was “expunged” and that she was therefore under no obligation to disclose it.
28. The Panel further noted that the Registrant had previously disclosed the fact of the previous conviction to Havering University in 2009 and the General Social Care Council when she had registered with them in July 2011.
29. Although the Panel did not have the benefit of hearing live evidence from the Registrant, it heard evidence from Colleague A who had interviewed the Registrant as part of the investigation on behalf of RBK. Colleague A’s evidence was consistent with the decision in the letter dated 30 May 2013 and sent on behalf of RBK to the Registrant, in which it stated that the conclusion was that the Registrant “did not intentionally wish to deceive.” The Panel was persuaded by this evidence that the Registrant had been “naïve” rather than dishonest.
Decision on Grounds:
30. The Panel considered whether the matters found proved amounted to misconduct and, if so, whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
31. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Chaker. She submitted that, in respect of all the matters alleged in Particulars 1, 2, 3, and 4, they were sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct and that, by reason of that misconduct, the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired.
32. Ms Chaker relied in particular on the guidance given in the case of Roylance v General Medical Council No 2  1 AC 311. She submitted that findings of dishonesty on the part of a professional person were of particular significance.
33. In relation to current impairment, Ms Chaker referred to, and relied on, the guidance given in the case of Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council and Grant  EWHC 927 [Admin]. She submitted that the Registrant had shown neither insight nor evidence of remediation.
34. Ms Chaker further submitted that the Registrant was in breach of paragraphs 3 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics [The Standards]
Paragraph 3 of the Standards provides
‘You must keep high standards of personal conduct’.
Paragraph 13 of the Standards provides
‘You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession’.
35. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
36. The Panel was aware that any findings of misconduct and impairment were matters for the independent judgement of the Panel.
37. The Panel concluded that, in respect of the dishonesty that has been found proved, the Registrant was in breach of paragraphs 3 and 13 of the Standards.
38. The Panel determined that, having regard to the guidance given by the courts in the relevant authorities, the dishonesty that had been found proved was sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct. In coming to this conclusion the Panel took into account;
i. That the dishonesty occurred on a number of separate occasions.
ii. The cost of the personal use of Zipcar by the Registrant amounted to £751 of public money.
iii. In respect of the use of the vehicle on 28 June 2013, the dishonesty continued after the Registrant was made aware that her personal use of Zipcar was under investigation.
39. Given that the Panel had concluded that the Registrant was not dishonest in acting as set out in Particular 3, the Panel determined that the conduct is not sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct.
Decision on Impairment:
40. Having regard to its findings on the facts and to its determination on misconduct the Panel has concluded that a finding of current impairment is necessary to maintain proper standards and uphold public confidence in the profession of Social Work and also to protect the reputation of the regulatory process. Consequently a finding of impairment is in the public interest as described by Mrs Justice Cox in the case of Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council, Paula Grant  EWHC 927 [Admin]. The Panel took into account the following factors:
i. The Registrant has shown little insight in relation to her actions and has the potential consequences for the standing of the profession of Social Work.
ii. Whilst the Registrant’s failings are, in theory, capable of remediation, there is no evidence before the Panel that they have been remediated.
iii. There is a lack of remorse on the part of the Registrant although the Registrant has made some limited admissions, she has also attributed the blame elsewhere.
41. Having regard to all the circumstances set out above, the Panel cannot exclude the possibility that in the future the Registrant might act dishonestly, and for that reason too, her fitness to practise is impaired.
Decision on Sanction:
42. Ms Chaker made submissions on behalf of the HCPC.
43. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
44. The Panel kept in mind that the purpose of a sanction is not meant to be punitive but is designed to protect the public interest which includes protecting members of the public from possible harm, maintaining proper standards within the profession, the reputation of the profession itself and public confidence in the regulatory functions of the HCPC.
45. The Panel took into account the Indicative Sanctions Policy [ISP] that has been published by the HCPC.
46. In considering whether to make an order and the nature and duration of any order to be made, the Panel applied the principle of proportionality weighing the Registrant’s interests in the balance with the need to protect the public interest.
47. The Panel took into account both mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
48. Mitigating factors included the following:
• The Registrant has accepted that she acted in the manner set out in Particulars 1.a -f, 2, and 3 of the allegation.
• In June 2013 the Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker.
• There was no direct harm caused to any service user.
49. However the Panel also considered the following aggravating factors:
• The Registrant has shown little insight or remorse.
• There is no evidence that the Registrant has reflected on her dishonesty or has addressed it.
• The Registrant has not taken responsibility for her actions and has sought to put the blame elsewhere.
• The dishonesty did not occur on an isolated occasion but occurred over a period of a month.
• The Registrant’s personal use of the account on 28 June 2013 occurred after the Registrant was made aware that her personal use of the Zipcar account was under investigation.
• There is a risk that the Registrant will act dishonestly in the future.
50. The Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. In arriving at its decision the Panel applied the principles that are set out in the ISP.
51. The Panel concluded that having regard to the facts that have been found proven, to take no further action would be wholly inappropriate. The Registrant’s dishonesty is too serious to permit such an outcome, which would provide no protection to the public, would undermine confidence in the profession and in the regulatory functions of the HCPC and would not serve to uphold standards of conduct and performance within the profession.
52. The Panel concluded that mediation was not appropriate to a case of this kind.
53. For the same reasons as those just expressed with regard to taking no action, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would also be inappropriate. In coming to this conclusion, the Panel also noted that the Registrant has shown little insight or remorse and there is a risk that the Registrant might act dishonestly in the future.
Conditions of Practice Order.
54. The Panel considered making Conditions of Practice order. The Panel was aware that the conditions imposed by such an order must be relevant, workable, enforceable and proportionate. The Panel concluded that, in the circumstances of this case, appropriate conditions of practice cannot be formulated and in any event would not sufficiently safeguard the public interest or uphold appropriate standards of conduct within the profession. In coming to this conclusion the Panel took into account the following:
• The Registrant’s dishonesty was serious and continued over a period of a month.
• On 28 June 2013 she used the Zipcar account for her personal use, notwithstanding the fact, that earlier that day, she was made aware that her conduct was under investigation.
• The Registrant has shown little insight or remorse.
• There is no evidence that the Registrant has sought to address her dishonesty.
• The Registrant’s engagement with these proceedings has been limited.
• The Panel had not received any evidence as to what the Registrant is presently doing or as to her willingness to comply with a Conditions of Practice Order.
55. The Panel concluded that having regard to the Registrant’s dishonesty, a Suspension Order was the only appropriate and proportionate sanction. Such an order would provide proper and sufficient protection to the public and would help to sustain public confidence in the profession. The Suspension Order will be for a period of 12 months. This will provide sufficient time for the Registrant to reflect on and acknowledge her dishonesty and to seek ways to demonstrate that she has addressed it.
Striking off Order.
56. The Panel did consider a Striking Off Order. It was aware that such an order is a sanction of “last resort”. The Panel did not consider that at this stage such an order was either necessary or proportionate. In coming to this conclusion the Panel noted in particular the absence of any direct harm to service users.
57. This order will be reviewed prior to its expiration. A reviewing panel may be assisted by:
• The attendance of the Registrant.
• A reflective piece from the Registrant indicating a recognition of her dishonesty, what she has learnt from these events and her understanding of the impact that her dishonesty has had, or could have had, on the reputation of her profession.
• The Registrant’s career plans for the future.
• Evidence of the steps that she has taken to maintain her professional skills. Details of any work undertaken by the Registrant, whether paid or unpaid, since she left the employ of the RBK, together with relevant references and testimonials.
The order imposed today will apply from 2 February 2017.