What type of person becomes a locum social worker?

Thinking of a move to locum work? Find out if it would suit you.

Published on 17th January 2015

Thinking of becoming a locum social worker? Here is an honest guide to the type of people suited to locum social work including advice from locum social workers doing the job.

To be a locum social worker, you have to be qualified and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Other than that there is no test or certain amount of experience required to become a locum social worker (also known as an agency social worker), it is down to the individual person and their personality and preferred way of working. Some employers will specify that they require a certain amount of experience for some posts whereas other positions will be available for newly qualified social workers.

Becoming self-employed

As a locum social worker, you will be self-employed and will need to set up as a limited company or a sole trader and this can be off-putting for some people. There are guides and books available on this issue and further information here.

Job security: Steady Steve or Risky Rachel?

The main difference between permanent work and agency work is the nature of the contract. You are looking at permanent full time work versus short-term contracts and with the best planning in the world, sometimes there may be gaps in between placements. If you like going to work Monday to Friday, knowing what to expect and having an element of ‘safety’ and job security then you are probably more suited to permanent contracts. If you don’t mind having gaps in between contracts (where you can recharge your batteries) or you actually see this as a positive, then locum work could be for you. Often it comes down to your personality and financial situation. If you are reliant on a certain wage each month or are the breadwinner in the family you may prefer to know there is going to be a set wage packet each month. If your partner earns a good salary and could cover you if you had a gap between placements given that you’ll be earning a higher wage when you are in work, you may be happier be a locum.

Locum social workers are in high demand as a result of high turnover in some organisations, high rates of stress and burnout in social work and geographical areas and sub sections of social work where it is difficult to recruit and retain staff and more and more social workers are becoming locums. However, there could be days, weeks or months where you are not working and if you are the sort of person who likes consistency and certainty then locum work may prove stressful. Having said that, some locums may argue that given the climate of cuts, it is possible that even permanent staff may be under threat of redundancy at any given point meaning there is no such thing as ‘job security’. But, certainly as a permanent member of staff you will have more rights and more of a sense of permanency and consistency than you would as a locum social worker and so that is a big thing to consider – possibly your main consideration.


Team player

Many people enjoy the whole team spirit part of any job and enjoy the interactions with other people as much – or more – than the work itself. However, as a locum social worker, it may take time to gain trust from other team members and feel part of the team. Locum YOT worker Andrew Barnett said he had to develop a thick skin as a locum social worker and said in some placement he experienced colleagues setting up appointments for him to attend that deliberately clash “for a laugh”. However on the other hand locum social worker Helen Mitchell said at the authority she works at (Barking and Dagenham), locums are treated no differently from permanent staff members. “You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a regular worker and a locum. At the end of the day we are all working under the same pressures,” she said.

Also as a locum, you may have different rights ie you may not be able to attend certain meetings or training courses because some employers expect locums to arrange their own training although this is not always the case. Some people don’t mind this division whereas more sensitive people may take offence and again you need to think about this and realise that you may be treated differently as a locum and that’s part of it.

At the same time, the nature of short term contracts means you have to meet people and become part of the team quickly, but at the same time you may have to leave them and walk away at the end of the contract equally quickly and some people struggle with this.



Taking control or taking orders?

Most locum social workers engaged with Locum Today tell us that the best part of being a locum social worker for them is taking control of their own destiny. Being their own boss, taking on the work and placements they want and walking away from ones where they are not happy is the best thing they have ever done. It’s not for everyone. Some people like to go into work where someone else has the responsibility. However locum social workers often like the flexibility the work provides them with and find it suits their lifestyle whether that is working around family life or trying different areas of social work before specialising. As an agency social worker, there are high expectations of you, and this means locums are forced to be on top of their game which can often be appealing for those people feeling stuck in a rut. Knowing you can leave a placement and get another job relatively quickly is empowering and attractive for many good social workers. And sometimes, social workers are just fed up of the BS and office politics: they want to go to work, do their job to the best of their ability, get paid good rates of pay for their work, and go home at the end of the day without being drawn into office politics.



You do have to be adaptable and you do need to go into an organisation and hit the ground running as a locum social worker. Many organisations operate different IT packages which you will need to become confident in quickly, you need to step into the team and become one of them on day one – as you are being paid more, there are high expectations on locum social workers – and you will need to get up to speed with a caseload quickly. There is no ‘easing yourself into the job’ in locum work, it’s expected that you are there to do a good job from day one and so it helps if you are a quick learner.

Some locum social workers have told Locum Today that because they are paid more, they are allocated more caseloads than permanent staff or face handling the more complex cases: again the expectations are higher.



Not only is this useful in general in social work, but particularly so in locum social work as on top of the stressful role, the nature of short term contracts means there is no ‘job security’ as such as so if you like stability or become easily anxious, you may be better suited to permanent work rather than the perceived unstable nature of agency work.



Many people see the flexibility of locum social work as one of the greatest pulls for them meaning they can pick and choose placements and work more on their own terms. However, it is good to be flexible as a locum social worker: if you are flexible with the type of placement you are interested in, it opens up more options to you. At the same time if you are only willing to travel 10 minutes to work, it will reduce your options whereas a degree of flexibility will work in your favour and open up more options for you.


Taking a Challenge

Most of all, locum social work is good for those wanting a challenge whether that is trying a new area of work, honing frontline skills or facing the whole aspect of becoming self-employed. For some people, embarking on the exciting journey of becoming a locum social worker is the best choice for them and in which case, you can find more information here about what you need to do to get started.


Here’s what locum social workers say:

Helen Mitchell: “Just do it. Go to different teams, get more strings to your bow. If you don’t like it you can always go back to permanent work.”

Jonathan Lewis: “If you are fed up and feel in the doldrums at your current placement and are not being challenged, take a break and try it, try different experiences and you might find something that fits. It’s not that much of a risk – the jobs are there – so try something new.”

Andrew Barnett: “As a locum you know it’s going to be tough and you have to develop a thick skin.”

Sophie Monique: “Go in there with an open mind, work with excellence to a high standard and just be open.”


Do you agree? We want to hear from you, in the comments below or email editor@locumtoday.co.uk with what makes you a good locum social worker and the essential skills required.

If you want to read BASW’s Top 10 Tips on things to think about before becoming a locum social worker, read more here.


If you want to find out more about setting up as a locum, you can find more details here.

Pros and Cons to locum work here.

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