Organisations always argue that they want to be self-sufficient, but that should not come at the expense of the people whom they actually regulate. I am not an expert on the regulations that some of these bodies govern, but we should be very careful when thinking about changing regulations or reducing their amount. We would need to test that.
Altogether, the HCPC has not given a strong reason for this huge increase, leaving affected workers frustrated and angry. In addition, the Government’s response to the fee change has been very disappointing: in answer to written questions, they have just repeated the HCPC’s weak defence of the fee rise. Ministers have argued that the registration fees remain the lowest of any health regulator, but that does not change the fact that the rise is disproportionate and unfair. The Government should be concerned over the threats to staff levels in the affected professions, but Ministers say they have made no assessment of the impact on staffing of this rise. That is a complete dereliction of duty, with staff openly talking of leaving due to the rise.
It is an irresponsible move by the Government to hide behind the HCPC’s independence. They must take steps to prevent fee rises from being the norm for the HCPC, and for all regulators, and help to build bridges between healthcare professionals and the HCPC, as trust is breaking down. HCPC members are understandably angry, believing that it is exploiting a stranglehold over their jobs. The rise amounts to nothing less than a tax on practising, and it has had little scrutiny or debate. I would like the HCPC to reverse the decision to increase registration fees by 18%. The Government and the HCPC must change the way fees are decided on, to prevent such a huge change happening in the future. The HCPC must operate in a fairer and more transparent way, and the Government must play a role in ensuring that that happens. It is time that the Government and the HCPC stopped taking advantage of those who take care of us all.
In response to the rise in fees, Unison conducted a survey of affected members and found that 99% of respondents did not back it. Importantly, it found that 76% did not see the current £90 fee as good value for money. Members feel that the HCPC offers no real benefit except for allowing them to practise. They are also critical of the justification given by the HCPC for the fee rise.
First, it must be pointed out that the 18% rise completely outstrips inflation. If the HCPC was genuinely concerned to cover inflation, it could implement smaller, year-on-year rises. I doubt whether the staff could afford those, frankly, but it is one way to look at it. Secondly, it is unfair for members of other professions to cover the costs of transferring social workers to a new regulator. The HCPC faces upheaval because of the change, but it is wrong for other professionals to pay the price.
Thirdly, the case for needing more funding after the transfer of social worker regulation is dubious. Social workers make up a quarter of members, which is a substantial number of registration fees. We all know what a difficult job they do. Often they are put in a situation where they cannot win, and they bear the brunt of some of the ills of society, to say the least of it. However, they also account for more than half of all fitness to practise cases. That is the HCPC’s largest area of expenditure. Despite a loss of income, the HCPC will face a sharper fall in costs at the same time. That fundamentally undermines the case for an 18% rise, and proves that it is unnecessary.
Unison also highlighted several changes that the HCPC should implement to reduce spending. First, it must take steps to make its complaints process more efficient. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care found in 2018 that the HCPC’s investigation committee refers cases too readily to the fitness to practise panel and that more than 20% of complaints are found at final hearings to be “not well founded”. Overall, members are funding a system that handles complaints against 0.64% of registrants and sanctions just 0.09%. No wonder so many members are left feeling that they gain nothing from their registration.
The fee rise comes on top of many years of wage freezes and below-inflation wage rises. Although £106 might not sound much to the Government or to some higher-earners in the health sector, the rise will be a real hit to part-time workers and those on lower wages. Professionals are left doubting their trust in the HCPC after being ignored in the consultation. The HCPC is facing growing unrest and resentment among its members. Many are now moving to non-regulated posts, and part-time working will become a lot less attractive, inevitably causing a fall in the number of workers in the sector.