Under the provisions of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 there is a two-year transitional period from the date on which the register of the members of that profession is established during which existing practitioners may apply for registration. The transitional period in the case of social workers ends on 31 May 2013.
The Health and Social care Professionals Council is an independent statutory body and is responsible for setting the level of fees. The Council has set a registration fee of €295 for existing practitioners and a fee of €100 for new graduates. An annual retention fee of €295 for all registrants, including those who paid the lower rate on graduation, is payable on the annual renewal date.
I am conscious that these fees represent a new cost to health and social care professionals who have already seen reductions in their incomes. However, all health regulators must be self-funding by way of annual fee income. Their operational costs are determined by the complexity and breadth of the statutory functions specified in the relevant legislation. Also, the greater the registrant base the lower the annual fee charged. For example, given the very large registrant base in teaching and nursing, the annual fee charged to registered nurses and teachers amounts to less than €100 per annum. Health regulators are single profession regulators whereas the Council is charged with regulating twelve disparate professions which can add significantly to operating costs. The twelve designated professions to be registered by the Council range in number from under 50 clinical biochemists to 5,550 social care workers, which amounts to about 20,000 registrants in total across all twelve professions. This is an extremely low registrant base when compared to a registrant base of well in excess of 60,000 for nurses.
The Council, together with the registration boards, has extensive statutory functions under the 2005 Act and considers the annual fee of €295 the minimum required to enable it to operate. The fee charged by the Council, which takes account of the requirement to become self funding as soon as possible, is on a par with that charged by other health regulators and less than some in certain cases. The State is currently funding the Council in its establishment phase (€1.5 million in 2012) to offset the current shortfall in income from registration fees and will continue to do so for the next few years.
In response to concerns about the level of fees, the Council has reviewed the regulatory structure to establish what scope exists for controlling registration fees and operational costs and has adopted the following measures:
- The registration fee of €295 paid by existing practitioners with the necessary experience and recognised professional qualifications, or equivalent, who are granted registration during the transitional period, will cover them for the remainder of the transitional period and one full year of retention of registration after expiration of the two year period.
- The Council has proposed significant restructuring of the way in which the designated professions will be registered and regulated to provide a more cost effective operating system and to keep costs to a minimum. This will require the enactment of primary legislation in due course.