Advice and Guides

What kind of person becomes a locum social worker?

Thinking of becoming a locum? Find out if you would be suited to the role.

Published on 17th December 2014

What kind of person becomes a Locum social worker?

If you are thinking about becoming a locum social worker, there are a few things to think about, and as with most career decisions, there are pros and cons to becoming a locum social worker – you just have to weigh up what is the best option for you.

If you are thinking about becoming a locum social worker, there are a few things to think about, and as with most career decisions, there are pros and cons to becoming a locum social worker – you just have to weigh up what is the best option for you.

A locum social worker tends to earn more money than a full time employee of an organisation. This is because you will be taken on for short periods of time and you don’t have the same security. While your hourly rate and weekly salary may be higher than a full time employee at the same organisation, you do not receive some of the perks they do such as paid holiday, sick pay and pension.

“Permanent workers often raise the issue of money and the fact that I am getting paid more and I have to explain that I don’t get sick pay or holiday pay and I have to pay for my own training,” – Shannon, locum social worker.

Flexibility v uncertainty

Social workers are always in demand but as a locum you may find that there are times when there are fewer jobs around. Because you are taken on for short contracts usually, you may have gaps in between contracts or time when you are not in employment and so you need to bear that in mind and plan accordingly. There is an element of uncertainty as a locum and so if you are a steady person who likes to know that you will have the same money at the same point every month to cover the bills, then the uncertainty of being a locum is probably not for you.

Being a locum social worker however offers you more flexibility. You are paid by the hour and so therefore you have no guilt about leaving on time and having your evening free. You are in control and get to select the placements that are good for you and suit your requirements. Also as a locum, if you are not happy in a role, you don’t have to keep slogging away day in day out, you can simply ask your agency to keep an eye open for a new role for you.
“My start time is very flexible but I tend to work 9am until 5pm and if I work earlier or later I can claim time back through TOIL,”- Declan, YOT locum social worker.

Honing frontline skills

Being a locum is an ideal way to hone your frontline skills whether you are relatively new to the profession or whether you have been in a more senior role and are keen to experience life at the cutting edge of social work again to ensure your skills are knowledge are tip top. Being a locum is also a good way to test working in a different area of social work. For example, you may work in adult services but want to try working specifically with older people. Taking a contract as a locum allows you to gain the skills you need and get a good insight as to whether that area of practice is really for you.

“The best thing about the job is contact with people, encountering unexpected problems and learning new experiences. The worst part of the job is when you get tired and don’t perhaps realise how much you need a break,” – Livia, practice manager and locum social worker.

Say no to office politics

You may want to work for a short period of the year, say for four months, if you know you have a big event coming up later on that year or are moving away or you may want to fit contracts between travelling. You may take on agency work to fit around another role, for example some social work lecturers may take on contract work during the summer holiday. Being a locum may work better for parents who can and can’t work at certain times, so if you need to be free during the summer school holidays then you just don’t take a contract during that period.

Some people just don’t want the office politics of being in a full-time job and want a role where they can go to work, do their job and go home. However it is worth noting that some of the full-time employees working alongside you may be envious that you are earning more money than them for doing the same job which could cause friction. Indeed, it is often expected that locums take on the difficult cases in a team because they earn more money. Locum social workers are also expected to hit the ground running and get to grips with new systems quickly as bearing in mind most places of employment will operate different databases or computer systems so you will need to be a quick learner.

“You have to be very adaptable as a locum, you have to develop professional relationships, get to know the geographical area well, know the processes and get to grips with different systems quickly,” – Shannon, locum social worker.

Not only will you miss out on some of the perks such as holiday pay and sick leave, some locums say they have difficulties accessing training and are not offered the same training opportunities that full time staff are entitled to and have to arrange for their own training in their own time. However other locums say their authority encourages them to go on training courses so it varies from employer to employer and it is worth just checking what you are entitled to before you start.

“I consider myself lucky, as the authority I work for encourages locums to go on training courses to benefit them now and other councils or boroughs we might work for in the future. It encourages good practice and keeps us abreast of the latest procedure,” – Livia, practice manager, locum social worker.

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.

Key skills needed to be a locum social worker

  • Adaptable
  • Able to hit the ground running
  • Flexible
  • Calm
  • Organised


  • Higher salary
  • More flexibility and control
  • Allows you to hone frontline skills
  • Can try different areas of social work


  • No holiday, sick pay or pension
  • Job insecurity
  • May be expected to take on difficult cases
  • Accessing training and supervision can be more difficult in some areas.

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