Miss Robinah Kamya Guweddeko
(The following allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence and Committee at the substantive hearing on 06 June 2016)
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. [Found not proved];
4. [Found not proved];
5. By reason of your convictions…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 posted on 8 May 2017 by First Class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
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 the Registrant’s absence. 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 the absence of the Registrant”.
3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:
a) The Registrant confirmed in an email, dated 7 June 2017, that she would not be attending today’s review hearing. The Registrant attached her written submissions and two references which indicated that she anticipated that the review hearing would proceed in her absence. Although the Registrant made reference to a health condition in her written submissions there was no indication that she was unable to attend the hearing for medical reasons. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that her non-attendance was deliberate and demonstrates a voluntary waiver of her right to be present.
b) There has been no application to adjourn and therefore re-listing this review hearing would serve no useful purpose.
c) As this is a mandatory review hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously.
4. 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.
5. The Registrant referred herself to the HCPC on 19 November 2014. On 6 June 2016 at the Final Hearing the Registrant’s fitness to practise was found to be impaired on the basis of her criminal convictions. The Final Hearing panel imposed a 12 month Suspension Order and suggested that the reviewing panel may be assisted by the following:
• Evidence that you are repaying the £7,000.
• A reflective piece on the seriousness of your actions.
• References from persons of good standing in relation to voluntary or paid work.
6. Mr Demissie, on behalf of the HCPC, outlined the information the previous panel invited the Registrant to provide to assist this reviewing panel. Mr Demissie submitted that despite the Registrant’s recent re-engagement her fitness to practise remains impaired. He further submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate.
7. The Registrant provided the Panel with written submissions which included her reflections. She described her previous behaviour as ‘inexcusable’ and stated that she has ‘come to appreciate the importance of honesty and integrity in both [her] private and professional life and as an individual.’ The Registrant informed the Panel that she has ‘struggled’ to find any employment relevant to her profession, including voluntary work, as a consequence of her criminal record. However, she has been working in a voluntary capacity for a Christian charity organisation for two years and is involved in a variety of community services through that church. She stated that she was ‘not about to give up on [her] dream of being a social worker despite all the obstacles that lay ahead.’
8. The Registrant informed the Panel that she has been repaying the debt and has a payment plan in place which she hopes she will enable her to repay the debt in full but ‘it is going to take a very long time.’ She stated that she has been making ‘minimal payments’ but on occasion she has missed payments due to financial hardship. The details of these payments were not provided.
9. The Registrant stated that she has had periods where she has been unwell and made reference to extensive counselling she has been receiving from the Christian charity where she works.
10. In undertaking this review, the Panel took into account the documentary evidence and the submissions from Mr Demissie, on behalf of the HCPC and those of the Registrant.
11. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:
• The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of her insight, whether her criminal convictions have been sufficiently and appropriately remedied and the risk of repetition.
• In terms of remediation, relevant factors include whether the Registrant:
(i) fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;
(ii) has maintained her skills and knowledge;
(iii) is likely to place patients at risk if she were to return to unrestricted practise.
• The Panel should have regard to the HCPC Practice Note: Finding that Fitness to Practice is impaired and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:
(i) the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
(ii) the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
• It is only if the Panel determine that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.
12. Although within her written submissions the Registrant provided her reflections with regards to her dishonesty convictions the Panel took the view that the content was limited and superficial. The Registrant had focused upon the impact the convictions have had on her from a personal perspective and there was only one sentence which mentioned the wider profession. There was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant fully appreciates the gravity of her convictions and there is no evidence that she has reflected on the impact of her dishonest behaviour on the profession and the public’s trust and confidence. There was no explanation as to how she would behave differently in the future and no assurance that such serious behaviour would not be repeated.
13. In the absence of meaningful and well developed insight and any steps she has taken towards remediation since her conviction in 2014, the Panel concluded that the risk of repetition remains. Whilst the Panel recognised that it is difficult to demonstrate remediation in cases involving dishonesty, there is no evidence at all that the Registrant has taken any steps to remedy her failings. In particular she has not taken the opportunity, provided to her by the previous panel, to consider its findings and develop meaningful insight to demonstrate that her previous conduct is firmly in the past. As a consequence, the Panel determined that there is a current and ongoing risk of harm to the reputation of the profession.
14. The Panel noted that the Registrant does not appear to have practised social work since 2014 and there was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has taken any steps to keep her skills and knowledge up to date. The Panel considered that public confidence in the social work profession would be undermined if there was no finding of impairment in this case where the Registrant has failed to provide sufficient information which would indicate that lessons had been learned and appropriate steps taken to remedy her previous conduct and behaviour.
15. The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.
16. The Panel then considered what sanction, if any, should be imposed. The Panel bore in mind that the purpose of a sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public.
17. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonesty convictions and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate to take no action. Furthermore it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
18. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 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.”
19. Although the Registrant’s conviction may on one level be an isolated course of conduct the implications are far-reaching and a conviction for dishonesty cannot properly be described as minor in nature. Furthermore, the Registrant has not demonstrated any meaningful insight and therefore the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.
20. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that paragraph 33 of the ISP states:
‘Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:
• where the registrant …lacks insight…;
• which involve dishonesty...’
21. The Panel considered that, given the nature of the Registrant’s previous conduct and the limited information available regarding her willingness or ability to comply with such an order, there were no conditions it could devise which would be appropriate, workable and measurable.
22. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order for a further period of time. A Suspension Order would send a further signal to the Registrant, the profession and the public re-affirming the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising during the extended suspension period, which would therefore protect the wider public interest. A Suspension Order would also provide the Registrant with the opportunity to develop the insight which is essential if she intends to return to practice.
23. The Panel took into account paragraph 41 of the ISP states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.’
24. The Panel took the view that the above paragraph applies to the Registrant. The Panel determined that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to consider carefully the decision of the previous panel and this Panel and properly focus on the issues that have been identified.
25. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be imposed for a period of 6 months. The Panel was satisfied that this period would be sufficient for the Registrant to demonstrate an appropriate level of insight into her failings. If she is unable to demonstrate insight within that time frame it is highly unlikely that she will ever be able to do so.
26. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Suspension Order. A Striking Off Order, at this point in time, would be disproportionate as there remains a possibility that the Registrant is willing and able to demonstrate remediation.
27. The extended Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. A future reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by the following:
• Attendance by the Registrant;
• Letter from Southampton City Council and/or the Department of Work and Pensions confirming amount the Registrant has repaid.
• A further reflective piece fully addressing the impact that the Registrant’s behaviour has had on the profession and public confidence in the profession;
• Up to date testimonials from persons with knowledge of the voluntary or paid work the Registrant may have undertaken in the previous 6 months.
The order imposed today will apply from 14 July 2017.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 14 January 2018.