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Social worker who received over-payment of £20K housing benefit suspended from register

HCPC suspends social worker for six months after she failed to inform her council of a change of circumstances which she knew would affect her entitlement to housing benefit.

Published on 8th October 2019

A social worker who was convicted of failing to inform her council of a change of circumstances which she knew would affect her entitlement to housing benefit has been suspended from the social work register.

 

Ms Yendamo B Kasomekera was convicted of failing to declare her partner’s employment and her own employment when claiming housing benefit over the course of approximately three years at Reading Magistrates Court on 26/10/2017.

The alleged overpayment of housing benefit between 02 September 2013 and 28 November 2016 amounted to £19,999.36. Ms Kasomekera was sentenced to a Community Order of 12 months duration, with a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement in respect of all the offences. She was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £85 and costs of £85.

However, Ms Kasomekera failed to inform the HCPC that she had been convicted of the offences until 28/03/2018.

Ms Kasomekera was first registered with the HCPC on 7 June 2017. She was appointed as a newly qualified social worker at Hampshire County Council, working within the Test Valley Children in Need Team, in July 2017. Three months later, on 26 October 2017, during the course of her employment, she appeared before Reading Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to the three social security offences.

The certificate of conviction showed that the case related to her failure to declare her partner’s employment and her own employment when claiming housing benefit over the course of approximately three years. She was interviewed under caution in relation to these matters on 1 November 2016 and answered ‘no comment’ on legal advice. She did not disclose this to her employer when she started her employment in July 2017.

Four days after the court hearing, Ms Kasomekera informed her employer on 30 October 2017 of her conviction. It was decided that it was not necessary for her to be suspended at that stage, but that she would be closely supervised pending an internal investigation.

Ms Kasomekera attended a disciplinary meeting on 23 November 2017. She said that she had not disclosed the alleged offences when she was first employed by the council in July 2017, having been arrested in November 2016, because she had understood that no further action was being taken at that stage and a repayment plan was in place.

A formal disciplinary hearing took place on 10 April 2018. Ms Kasomekera submitted a detailed written statement in which she apologised for her ‘mistakes and errors that led to the overpayment and the court case’. She acknowledged errors in her communication with her employers. She set out mitigating factors in relation to her personal and family circumstances and asked her employer to allow her the opportunity to continue in her post. She also submitted positive character references and evidence of good progress in relation to the court order from her probation officer.

Ms Kasomekera was subsequently dismissed from her employment. She appealed against the decision on 14 June 2018 but her appeal was unsuccessful. Save for the final outcome, the specific findings and conclusions of the disciplinary hearing and the subsequent appeal hearing were not placed before the Panel. It was however necessary for the Panel to know that the Registrant had been dismissed from her employment in order to make sense of the written ‘Reflective Account’ that she sent to the HCPC and to comprehend the overall sequence of events, including her recent employment history.

Standard 9.5 of the applicable HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2016 states that Registrants must provide the HCPC with important information about their conduct or competence as soon as possible: “You must tell us as soon as possible if you accept a caution from the police or you have been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence”.

Giving evidence, Ms Kasomekera said that she had reflected on and accepted the consequences of her actions and relied on a written ‘Reflective Account’ dated 30 November 2018, in which she repeated her apology for her mistakes and errors that led to the court case. In private session, she gave evidence of her personal health and family circumstances around the time of her offending.

Ms Kasomekera told the Panel that she pleaded guilty to all the offences because she was aware that she had done something wrong. She was asked in cross-examination whether she accepted that she had acted deliberately and dishonestly when claiming housing benefit. She answered that the dishonesty was not deliberate in her particular personal circumstances. She accepted that she had claimed benefits for a persistent and prolonged period. She maintained that she did not know that her husband was working as he was not present at the address for extended periods of time. In addition, she accepted that she had failed to disclose some of her own part-time employment as well as her husband’s when claiming housing benefit. She agreed that this was a misuse of public funds and that a social worker has to be trustworthy.

With hindsight, she recognised that she should have told her employer that she had been interviewed under caution for these matters in November 2016 when she applied for her job with Hampshire County Council in June-July 2017, but she had thought the matter had been concluded by the agreed repayment plan and she understood that no further action would be taken.

In relation to her failure to disclose her conviction to the HCPC as soon as possible, Ms Kasomekera reiterated what she had said in her email to the HCPC of 28 March 2018, namely that she delayed disclosure to the HCPC until five months after her conviction in October 2017 because her manager had advised her to await HR (human relations) advice on the point. She said that she contacted her manager on many occasions about this. She told the Panel that she did not hear back from HR, but she disclosed the conviction when she was advised to do so by her union representative and then later by the chair of the panel at her disciplinary hearing.

Ms Kasomekera has been repaying the overpayment since December 2016 and has complied with her probation requirements. She was unable to say how much had been repaid to date. She estimated that she had repaid £4,000-£5,000 and she had not missed any repayments. Her probation officer applied to the Court to revoke the Community Order in July 2018 because she had made good progress. The Court granted the application.

Since her dismissal, Ms Kasomekera has applied for and been offered other roles in care work. A local authority had offered her a position as a newly qualified social worker, but that offer was subsequently withdrawn because HCPC proceedings were pending. She had informed them of her conviction from the outset.

Ms Kasomekera was employed as an Assistant Service Manager for Jigsaw Creative Care between May 2018 and April 2019. She disclosed her conviction to her employer when she applied for the post. She stated that she has learned to be open and frank with her employers and has updated herself on HCPC Standards. She told the Panel that she had gained greater awareness and insight into the potential damage to the profession and its regulator when a Registrant is convicted of an offence and fails to declare that conviction.

She is currently working for the Margaret Clitherow Trust as a Family Support Worker, a role which involves challenging discrimination towards travellers and their beliefs. She also liaises with an NHS Project in East Berkshire in relation to arranging a mobile clinic at traveller sites. She supports traveller families in accessing local services. The Registrant is also working for the Independent Social Workers Partnership (ISWP) as a Support Worker and Key Worker with young people in various services. Her duties include quality checking contact reports, taking new referrals and monitoring assessment filing deadlines. She disclosed her conviction to the Trust.

Ms Kasomekera has also been active in organising charity work for Malawi, raising funds for health care and cyclone victims and in supporting women to access health services.

Although not currently working as a social worker, her employment is in a setting which enables her to use her social work skills. In addition, she has tried to maintain her social work skills by taking online training courses in relation to child protection and safeguarding adults. She has not performed a registered social work role since her dismissal from Hampshire County Council but she would wish to return to the profession.

The Panel accepted Ms Kasomekera's evidence that she had asked her manager whether she should declare her conviction and that she had persisted in making this inquiry. The Panel also had regard to her evidence and the evidence in the various testimonials that she had declared her conviction to all her subsequent prospective employers. Whilst her failure to declare her conviction to the HCPC in a timely fashion amounted to misconduct which was serious, the Panel was persuaded that she understood the gravity of this omission, that she had acted properly in relation to disclosure to subsequent employers, and that the risk of her repeating this misconduct was low. Accordingly, the Panel determined that Ms Kasomekera's fitness to practise was not currently impaired on personal grounds in relation to her failure to declare her conviction.

However, the Panel determined that a finding of impairment was necessary on public interest grounds in relation to her failure to declare a conviction for dishonesty to her regulator for a period of five months.

The mitigating factors are personal circumstances, including health concerns, evidence of remediation in Ms Kasomekera's efforts to re-engage with her profession and her regulator, evidence of her good character in her charity work, disclosure of her conviction to all prospective employers, admissions to the Court and the HCPC, ongoing repayment of the funds that were overpaid and the fact that there were no concerns about her competence as a social worker.

The aggravating factors are a prolonged course of dishonesty over approximately three years resulting in a conviction, the misuse of public funds of almost £20,000, limited insight, including a reluctance to accept full personal responsibility for her dishonesty.

The Sanctions Policy, states that ‘A suspension order is likely to be appropriate where there are serious concerns which cannot be reasonably addressed by a conditions of practice order, but which do not require the registrant to be struck off the Register.’ Such cases might involve a serious breach of professional standards, but a low risk of repetition, some evidence of insight, even if limited, and remediation.

The Panel determined that this accurately reflected the mitigating and aggravating factors in this case and accordingly that a Suspension Order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction. The Panel therefore determined that a Suspension Order of six months duration was the appropriate and proportionate sanction in order to maintain the confidence of the public in the regulator and the profession.

 

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