Advice and Guides

The pros and cons of locum social work

We take a look at the pros and cons of agency work and the reasons why people become a locum social worker.

Published on 14th July 2015

Smiling social workers

There are many pros and cons to agency working or becoming a locum social worker. We take a look at a few here. Plus we want to hear from you - contact us in the comments box below or email with your thoughts on what the pros and cons to locum social work are.


Jessie J says, it’s not about the money, money, money

But it kind of is really. One of the main reasons social workers become locum social workers is money. Financially, one of the big pulls of locum work is that as you are working on short term contracts, you get higher rates of pay than a permanent member of staff. This is attractive to many people wanting to earn the most they can in their role and there are rates of pay geographically outlined in our Paywatch map here. This enables some people to work less hours/days than they would if they were in permanent positions and let’s face it, we all have bills to pay right?

However, it is important to remember that as a locum you won’t have some of the rights that permanent staff get such as sick leave, holiday pay, maternity pay so you need to factor that in when and in some organisations you don’t get training and so would need to pay for that yourself and so this should be factored into your decision and it is probably a good idea to ensure you have a bit put aside for those times you are not working.


Being in control – and having flexibility

Locums tell us that they like to be their own boss, taking on the placements they like, walking away from the ones they don’t and generally feeling like they have control over the work they do every day. As a locum, if your job is becoming too stressful, or you are not getting enough supervision, or the caseloads are too high, you get another placement. As a permanent staff you are more likely to put up with issues for longer in the hope they will get better. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Also you may want a flexible working pattern. You may want to go travelling for certain months of the year. You may want to have the six weeks school holiday off work. You may want to work like crazy then go travelling for a year. Locum work allows you to do just that.


Honing frontline skills

Whether you are a newly qualified social worker starting out in the world of social work and unsure which area of social work you want to specialise in, or a social worker whose role has taken them away from frontline duties, locum work is the ideal opportunity to focus on frontline issues – which let’s face it change so frequently. Unsure about Child Sexual Exploitation? Get on the frontline as an agency worker for six months and get the experience you need.


Avoiding office politics

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.


Work/life balance

As an agency worker, you can do your 9-5 hours that you are contracted to do without fear of reprisal. You get home at a decent time, you see your family, you can go out and see your friends, you are not stuck resentfully at your desk at 8pm. Want to take four months out and travel Asia? Do it! Work all you can before you go and keep in touch with your agency while you are away meaning you have placements lined up on your return. Think of the broader picture.



Your rights

Ok, you get better money as a locum social worker (and may well get it in the neck from your colleagues about the fact that you do, although, remind them, they have the same choices as you! It’s not an elite club…) but you don’t have the same rights as full time staff. This means you don’t get sick pay, annual leave, maternity/paternity cover.



As a locum you get better pay and you have more choice over your roles. Yet wit the best planning ever, you may have times when you are not working and gaps between contracts. Placements may fall through and you may not have the certainty of getting up every day and doing a day’s work. Some relish this challenge, others struggle, so it’s worth being clear from the off.


Training? DIY…

Some local authorities are very forward thinking and open up their training opportunities to locum social workers. Indeed, Livia, practice manager and locum social worker told us: “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 procedures.” But this is not always the case. Often as a locum, you are expected to arrange your own training and CPD. Some organisations will allow you to access their e-learning modules, others say the emphasis is on you. In the same way, you may find it difficult accessing good quality supervision but find difficulties challenging this as a locum. Fore -warned is fore-armed and all that.


Staff dynamics

Sometimes, you start a placement and the team are lovely: they welcome your experience, your opinions, the fact you are there to help, to make life easier. Sometimes, this is not the case. Locum social worker Andrew Barnett told us that some colleagues would set up appointments for him that clashed ‘for a laugh’ and Sophie Monique said she felt the apprehension from other permanent staff, as she was a locum social worker. Then Helen Mitchell told us you wouldn’t notice the difference between a permanent member of staff or agency worker in her team going to show that every placement is different. It is worth us mentioning though that it is probably best to have a thick skin on entering the locum social work field in case.


High expectations

Employers and team members have high expectations of you: You are earning well, and they want the proof of that. They also expect you to take on tough cases – and more of them! It’s not necessarily a down side – but worth being aware of.


Things you need to know as a locum here.

Plus see our Paywatch map for what you could be earning.

Like the sound of it – check out our CV tool here to get the best placements.

Or check out jobs here.




Share this article:

Back to top
Subscribe to Locum Today
Post a comment

Receive the latest interviews, features and news stories in the Locum Today monthly email newsletter, designed and produced for locum social workers in the UK.

Type in your email address below and click Subscribe.

Leave a comment

Latest articles

10 things you should think about before becoming a locum social worker

10 things you should think about before becoming a locum social worker

Published on 07 January 2016

BASW professional officer Sue Kent and Tricia Gbinigie, business development officer for Independent and Locum Social Workers at BASW provide their Top 10 Tips on things to consider before becoming a locum or independent social worker.

10 Top Tips for successful report writing

10 Top Tips for successful report writing

Published on 10 December 2015

Sue Kent, professional officer at BASW, provides locum social workers with 10 Top Tips for successful report writing.