NCS | Complaints Process
  • Our Approach to Complaints & Concerns

    As a professional association, and holder of an Accredited Register for counsellors and psychotherapists, the NCS is committed to promoting and providing high standards in the practice of counselling, psychotherapy and associated therapies.

    We understand that the people using the services of counsellors and psychotherapists, who are members of the NCS, may have a range of different issues and a range of experiences of working with our members.

    We encourage constructive feedback about these experiences, and we invite people, especially including our members’ clients, to tell us about their experiences.

    We believe in listening to the voices of both clients and of therapists and in the sharing of these viewpoints and opinions. We believe that each group has much to learn, both from the positive experiences of therapy as well as from times when things have not worked out as planned or hoped.

    We are aware that the professional therapeutic relationship in some forms of counselling and therapy necessarily involves the exploration of difficulties and lapses within the relationship itself. We therefore seek to avoid an unnecessarily ‘legalistic’ approach to dealing with complaints.

    We are also aware that therapists can overstep therapeutic boundaries and breach our Code of Ethics, and this needs to be addressed proportionately, fairly, and transparently and in a way that protects the public.

    Ideally every effort should be made to resolve the issue with the member before raising a formal complaint, but only if the circumstances are appropriate and you feel comfortable in doing so.

    We are also aware of the stress caused by any party involved in a complaints process. In addition, processes which become formal can be time consuming and last many months due to the need to follow proper evidential procedures. Where possible, therefore, we will see whether an informal resolution of your complaint or concern is appropriate. This could include our informally discussing your concern or complaint with the member, or a referral to mediation.

    In addition, we employ in many complaints something called ‘Consensual Disposal’. This happens where one of our Panels looks at the evidence and offers the member the chance to admit they have breached our Code of Ethics and accept appropriate sanctions. It should be stressed that this is not a ‘plea bargain’. The member is only offered those sanctions which the Panel believes would have been imposed at a formal complaints hearing. Consensual Disposal is offered purely to allow both parties to reach an appropriate ending to the proceedings in the least stressful way possible.

    Of course, there is still the possibility for certain complaints that a full, formal process is required and for this we use an Independent Complaints Panel. More details about that can be found below.

    You don’t have to understand our Code of Ethics or procedures to make a complaint or raise a concern. Our Professional Conduct Officers are here to listen to you and discuss with you what kind of steps are likely to happen. If appropriate, you will be given choices, such as trying an informal resolution or mediation.

    Let’s set out the steps in our process. Of course, your complaint may not follow all of these steps.

  • Step 1: Contact Us

    A. Contact a Professional Conduct Officer

    Our Professional Conduct Officers deal with all aspects of raising a complaint or concern. In the first instance, they are here to listen to what you have to say. It’s up to you whether you write to the Society, or phone. If you have any difficulties communicating, or even wish another person to act on your behalf or support you, that’s fine. You don’t have to fill in a particular form.

    You can phone a Professional Conduct Officer on 01903 213683 during normal working hours or email conduct@nationalcounsellingsociety.org . Alternatively, you can post a letter to Professional Conduct Department, National Counselling Society, 19 Grafton Road, Worthing, BN11 1QT

    B. The Professional Conduct Officer will perform a basic membership test.

    We can always consider complaints or concerns where the person you’re wishing to complain about is a member of the Society, and also if that person was a member at the time your complaint covers. (For example, if you wish to complain about something that happened in March but the member only joined us in August, we can’t hear your complaint).

    We may be able to consider complaints if the person you’re wishing to complain about is no longer a member, but was at the time your complaint covers. For this to happen, we have to decide that it would be in the public interest to pursue your complaint and that there was a reasonable chance of being able to gather evidence given that person is no longer a member.

    We can’t consider a complaint which is relating to anything over three years old. That’s because there’s little possibility of being able to conduct a fair process.

    Lastly, if the person you’re complaining about isn’t a registrant (a fully professional member of the Society), but another kind of member, for example, a student, we may follow a different process – for example, by referring your complaint to their training school. We’ll talk about this more at the end of this document.

    C. The Professional Conduct Officer will record the basic details of your concern or complaint.

    Either by talking with you or in writing, the Officer will listen to your complaint and take down the basic facts. It’s a good idea if you’re able to provide us with basic details like name, dates, location, and the basic information about what you feel went wrong. At this stage you don’t have to write in a detailed complaint, but you can do so if you wish.

    Here the Officer will also determine your ‘standing’ in relation to the complaint. Are you a client of the member, a colleague, for example a supervisor, manager or work colleague, or a third party?

    They will also want to know if you’ve raised your complaint or concern elsewhere, for example with another Accredited Register, or at work.

    D. The Professional Conduct Officer will talk to you about informal resolution, if appropriate.

    You’ll have the chance to discuss whether you would like to try to resolve things with the member informally. This could involve, for example, you requesting an apology or a refund, and being happy to leave the matter there if the member agrees. This could also involve the Society facilitating an external mediation process.

    However, we certainly recognise that this may not be appropriate to your circumstances, and it’s entirely your choice. Also, there may be some circumstances where the Professional Conduct Officer doesn’t believe that an informal resolution would be appropriate even if you’d like to try one. This could be, for instance, because the Officer believes that our member could have conducted a serious breach of our Code of Ethics and so this should go before a Panel.

    E. The Professional Conduct Officer will ask you about anonymity.

    We recognise that it takes a lot of courage to come forward and make a complaint, and that often complainants request to remain anonymous. Remaining anonymous is to be respected, but it can often mean that a complaint cannot proceed, or if it does proceed, has little chance of succeeding. This is because the member has the right to see the evidence against them and respond to it accordingly. Either coming forward or remaining anonymous is your choice, and the Professional Conduct Officer will discuss with you the implications.

    F. The Professional Conduct Officer will determine what you want to do and how you wish to proceed.

    Lastly, you’ll be asked if you want to proceed to the next step of the process, assuming that the basic membership test (Step 1 B) has been passed. If you do, the Professional Conduct Officer will tell you what further information they need to go on to the next step, whether that’s going to be informal or formal.

    It’s likely that you’ll be asked to provide a detailed written statement if you can and provide any supporting evidence for your concern or complaint as well.

    You’ll also be asked to give your signed permission to proceed. Your complaint will then move on to Step 2.

    Appealing Step 1

    There’s no right of appeal to Step 1. This is because at this stage of the process, the Professional Conduct Officer is simply gathering information and helping you decide what to do. The only decision the Officer is making at this step is whether or not the person you’re complaining about is /was a member and whether the complaint is under 3 years old. As these are matters of objective fact there are no grounds to appeal them

  • Step 2: We’ll screen your complaint

    In this step, the Professional Conduct Officer will review your complaint or concern in more detail, to make sure that it can proceed further. This might take a little time. The Professional Conduct Officer will apply a number of tests to determine whether or not the Society can go forward with your complaint.

    A. Has a criminal offence been committed, or likely to have been committed?

    If there is evidence of criminality, the Professional Conduct Officer may advise you to contact the Police. In certain circumstances they will also do so themselves. As part of this process, the Professional Conduct Officer may immediately apply an interim Suspension Order on the member to protect the public quickly. They then have to have their decision to suspend the member ratified by an Assessment Panel within 2 weeks.

    If criminal proceedings are likely or on-going, our complaints procedure will await the outcome. In some cases the member will then be removed from our Register on conviction as they will no longer meet the terms and conditions of registration.

    Custodial Sentences

    Where a member is given a custodial sentence this means that they no longer meet the requirements for registration or membership, and both their registration and membership will be revoked. Disclosure of any custodial sentence being served to the Society is required by any member so convicted. On receipt of evidence that a member is serving a custodial sentence, the Professional Conduct Officer shall immediately suspend the member, and then shall provide this evidence to the Chair of the Assessment Panel who will authorise the permanent removal of registration and membership. A member serving a custodial sentence may not appeal this decision as they no longer meet the requirements for Society membership.

    B. Should another process be followed first, or instead?

    The Professional Conduct Officer will determine if there are other processes that should be followed before the Society’s complaints procedures. This is because it might not be appropriate for the Society to get involved in a complaint before another process is complete. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:

    i. A complaint has already been made to another Accredited Register or professional association. It would not be appropriate to run two complaints processes at the same time. In the case where complaints are submitted simultaneously, the Professional Conduct Officer may decide to allow another process to complete first, and to talk to the other organisation about how best to proceed.

    ii. A complaint has been, or should be, made to a statutory authority. If a complaint has already been made to such an authority, then the Society will await the outcome of that process. If it should be, the Professional Conduct Officer will advise you accordingly.

    iii. A complaint has been, or should be, made to an employer, agency, EAP, line manager, or similar. If a complaint has been made then the Society will await the outcome of that process. If it should be, the Professional Conduct Officer will advise you accordingly.

    iv. The member is a student and the matter should be referred to their placement provider and/or training provider first.

    (Standard 10e of the Professional Standards Authority’s Accredited Registers programme means that the Society is required to take into account the decisions of other registers. If your complaint is heard by another register, it is unlikely that we will also be able to hear the complaint. Instead, we will follow the decision of the other register.)

    C. Does this fall under our Code of Ethics?

    The Professional Conduct Officer will make an initial decision on whether or not our Code of Ethics may have been breached. It’s not their role to decide that there has been a breach or that this has been proved– that would be for our complaints process to decide. The Officer will give due consideration as to whether your complaint would be the kind of thing which falls under our Code of Ethics.

    Our Code is primarily designed to deal with the member’s actions with a client. There are limited times when we could consider hearing a complaint not connected with client work, for example, something ‘likely to bring the profession into disrepute.’ We do not however, as a general rule, follow a complaints process unless there has been direct impact on a member’s actual client work, other than in specific circumstances.

    ‘Bringing the profession into disrepute’ is a high threshold. What we mean by this is, for example, just because a member was rude to you in their personal life does not mean that they would ‘bring the profession into disrepute’. It generally means that their actions, if known, would be considered to be so seriously inappropriate for a counsellor that it would undermine how the public views counselling as a profession. An example of this might be domestic abuse.

    D. Would this be an ‘excluded category’?

    There are some issues which our complaints process does not handle because it is not equipped to do so, or because it would not be appropriate to do so. Examples of excluded categories include, but are not limited to:

    i. Adjunctive Therapies. This is where the complaint is about a member, but there was no element of counselling, psychotherapy or one of the therapies we register in your experience as a client. For example, if you went to see a member for aromatherapy treatment, we could not hear your complaint about the quality of that treatment. If, however, your client sessions involved both aromatherapy and counselling, we could. The only exception to this rule would be if the member’s aromatherapy work would ‘bring the profession into disrepute.’ For example, if you saw them for pure aromatherapy work but they crossed significant professional boundaries. We would normally expect under such circumstances for your primary complaint to be to the professional association for the treatment you received.

    ii. Private Life. We do not normally hear complaints about a member when they are acting outside of their professional role. If for example, you have a legal or custodial dispute with a member, we would refer you back to use the appropriate legal remedies. Again, ‘bringing the profession into disrepute’ would be relevant here.

    iii. Financial Disputes and Debts. Whereas we may be able to act as an informal ‘go-between’ if you feel, for example, that you deserve a refund for poor services from one of our members, and are happy to discuss that with them, we are not able to hear complaints relating to financial matters, disputes or debts. Our complaints process can’t rule, for example, that you should get a refund. Our Professional Conduct Officer can discuss other approaches you could take.

    iv. Disputes between therapists. Our process is not designed to deal with disputes between therapists; for example, an argument over how another therapist is running their practice. The exception to this is where, as another therapist, you have evidence of client harm.

    v. Third Party Complaints. We cannot hear complaints made by or on behalf of another professional body, as part of a professional dispute, or where complaints are made as part of wider litigation. Complaints about clients who do not agree with the complaint proceeding or who have no knowledge of the complaint may fall into this category on a case by case basis.

    vi. On-going custody disputes. Complaints made about members working with minors in the context of an on-going custody or access dispute will be referred back to the Court.

    vii. Family disputes without a legal element. We cannot hear complaints based upon family disputes over therapy provided to another family member; for example, where parents are in dispute over therapy provided to a minor in their care.

    viii. No client impact. We cannot hear complaints which have no direct impact on past, present or future clients, with the exception of ‘bringing the profession into disrepute.’

    ix. Overseas practice. We cannot hear complaints where the member is based overseas under this process; there is a separate process for that eventuality.

    x. Advertising. We deal with member advertising issues by approaching the member and, if advertising appears to be inaccurate or misleading, giving them a set time to change their advertising. If your complaint is about a member’s advertising, this is what we’ll do. We may also advise you to report the advert to the Advertising Standards Authority. If a member knowingly and repeatedly conducts false advertising then the Society could suspend their registration.

    xi. Group/Couples therapy without consent of/evidence from all parties We cannot hear complaints regarding group or couples therapy without being able to obtain consent and evidence from all parties.

    xii. Freedom of Speech. Our Code of Ethics protects our members’ rights to free speech.

    xiii. Vexatious. A complaint is ‘vexatious’ when it is being done in bad faith; for example, by a complainant who submits multiple complaints against members they don’t know, or where there is evidence that the complaint is submitted as part of a wider picture of harassment.

    E. Is there a reasonable prospect of gathering evidence?

    The Professional Conduct Officer will make sure that there is a reasonable prospect of gathering the evidence they would need for your case to go ahead. This is because, for example, should your complaint go to an Assessment Panel they will want to see what evidence there is and whether this is sufficient for them to make a decision. A complaint can proceed just with a written statement, but the Professional Conduct Officer will need to make sure the basic facts are sufficient should your complaint go ahead.

    F. Is this affected by anonymity?

    If you wish to remain anonymous, the Professional Conduct Officer will decide what to do. If your anonymity would prevent there being a reasonable prospect of the case proceeding then your complaint may not be able to proceed. For example, if a member can’t ask who the client was or be able to ask questions in a complaints hearing, it is unlikely that the hearing could uphold the complaint.

    We can still take anonymous concerns forward under a different route, which we call Acting on Evidence (AOE). This is where you are no longer the complainant because you wish to remain anonymous. However, this might risk disclosing information to the member that reveals your identity and the Professional Conduct Officer will discuss the implications of this with you, especially any safeguarding concerns.

    G. Are there Equality Act implications?

    If your complaint involves being discriminated against for a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, religion, age or ability, we will ensure you are supported. You may be advised to contact the Equality Advisory Support Service on 0800 800 0082 for further advice on the options available to you, and we will make sure that this aspect of your concern or complaint is dealt with properly.

    H. Is this suitable for an informal resolution?

    The last test which the Professional Conduct Officer will apply is to determine whether or not your complaint would be appropriate for informal resolution. This would only be done with your consent and could involve an informal discussion between the Professional Conduct Officer and the member, or an external mediation process.

    I. Should the Member be suspended?

    In cases where the Professional Conduct Officer has received evidence of a very serious breach of our Code of Ethics, and forms the view that continued registration risks causing public harm, they may issue an interim Suspension Order to the Member and remove them temporarily from the Society’s Register. Issuing a suspension order does not mean a member has been found guilty of any breach of the Code. The Professional Conduct Officer will need their suspension order ratified by the Chair of the Assessment Panel within 2 weeks of their decision, in which case it will remain in place until the conclusion of the complaints process. (The Professional Conduct Officer may issue an interim Suspension Order at any step of this process.) A suspension may also occur where a member has been practising as if they are a registrant (fully professional member) when they’re not – for example, where they hold student membership but are seeing private clients as if they’re a registrant.

    After performing these screening steps, the Professional Conduct Officer will contact you to explain their decision about if, and how, your complaint or concern can proceed. This concludes Step 2.

    Appealing Step 2

    There’s no right of appeal to Step 2. This is because, at this stage of the process, the Professional Conduct Officer is applying a series of standard tests to determine whether or not your complaint falls under our remit, whether it’s relevant to our Code of Ethics, and whether or not it should be held elsewhere, or falls into an excluded category.

  • Step 3: We’ll contact the Member

    A. If your complaint does now proceed, the Professional Conduct Officer will contact the member and disclose the details of your complaint. They will be required to respond to your complaint in writing, even if you just want an informal resolution. This is because if the informal resolution isn’t successful, their response can be included in further steps.

    B. The Professional Conduct Officer will tell the Member if you wish to attempt an informal resolution to your complaint (if appropriate), and talk to them about whether they wish to accept an informal resolution or whether they wish to use a formal process. (Both parties have to agree to an informal resolution)

    C. If both parties do not agree to an informal resolution (or one is not appropriate) then your complaint will proceed to Step 4.

    Informal Resolution

    In case of an informal resolution, the Professional Conduct Officer will discuss with both parties what might be an acceptable resolution which enables both sides to move on. If you and the member can agree an informal resolution, then you’ll be asked to agree that that is the end of the matter.

    In some cases a third party or trained mediator may be employed, for example, in cases where there are particular complexities.

    If no informal resolution can be reached within a reasonable time frame, then the Professional Conduct Officer will decide to move the complaint to Step 4.

  • Step 4: The Assessment Panel

    What is the Assessment Panel?

    The Society’s Assessment Panel usually consists of three people who weren’t previously aware of your complaint, and who have no connection with you or the member. The Chair of the panel is normally a very experienced counsellor or psychotherapist, and there will usually be at least one ‘lay member’ of the panel – someone who isn’t a practising professional therapist and so who can bring a different perspective.

    It’s the role of the Panel to examine what both you and the member have said about the case, and to examine any evidence either of you has submitted. They can then make a decision about whether or not the member has breached our Code of Ethics, and if so, offer a solution. Neither you nor the member have to accept their solution – you can both appeal it.

    The Assessment Panel process lays, in a sense, half way between an informal and formal process. The Panel assesses the evidence ‘on the balance of probabilities’ and gives an expert decision as to what they think happen. However, unlike an Independent Complaints Panel hearing, there is no ‘cross examination’ of each others’ evidence or live hearing where either side could, for example, bring legal representation.

    In using an Assessment Panel system, the Society hopes to be able to bring many complaints to a successful conclusion more quickly, and so prevent prolonged stress for both parties.

    The way this works is as follows:

    A. The Professional Conduct Officer may audit the member.

    As part of the way in which the Society maintains our Accredited Register, from time to time we conduct random audits to confirm that the member is meeting our standards. These standards can be about things like supervision, CPD (‘continuing professional development’, for example, regular top up courses that therapists should be doing), and holding valid insurance. When a complaint goes before an Assessment Panel, the Professional Conduct Officer may audit the member to check whether they are meeting our terms of registration or membership.

    There is a threshold test for whether or not the Professional Conduct Officer will audit the member. The test is whether or not an audit would assist a Panel in understanding any public assurance risk in the member’s practice, given the nature of your complaint. For example, if your complaint states that the member didn’t seem to understand your particular issues during therapy, an audit may help us decide whether the member was properly trained and supervised to deal with your particular concerns, or whether they should have referred you to another therapist.

    B. The Professional Conduct Officer will send your complaint and the member’s response to the Panel, together with any supporting evidence.

    The Panel will then consider both sides very carefully. You won’t see the member’s response to your complaint. This is because, if you wished to reply to that response, the member may wish to reply further and so the complaint could last an unreasonable amount of time with each party wanting to respond to the last thing which was written by the other side.) (Should your complaint progress to a full formal hearing, both sides will have further opportunities to respond.)

    C. The Panel may ask for further information or clarification, or may seek an expert opinion.

    After reading your case file, the Panel may decide to ask either you, the member, or both, for more information before they can reach a decision. In addition, they may delay proceedings while asking for an expert report – for example, on whether the member had the expertise to treat your condition.

    D. The Panel will then make its decision, which can be one of the following outcomes:

    i. Complaint Upheld: Consensual Disposal

    The Assessment Panel often seeks to reach a decision called Consensual Disposal. This is where a Panel finds that the member did breach our Code of Ethics, sets out what these are, and applies sanctions. Sanctions are consequences for breaching our Code of Ethics and can range from removal or suspension from our register, to things like being instructed to do some retraining or undertake more supervision. The Panel then asks the Member to admit that they breached the Code, and accept the sanctions offered. (A full explanation of sanctions can be found in our Indicative Sanctions Policy)

    As we’ve already stated, Consensual Disposal is not like a ‘plea bargain’ where, if you admit to something, you get a lesser sentence. The job of the Assessment Panel is to ask the question, “what would the outcome be if this went to a full ICP hearing and the ICP panel found the member had breached the Code of Ethics in this way?”. They then offer what they believe to be the same outcome, but without the necessity of a full formal process.

    The member may reject the Panel’s offer of Consensual Disposal, in which case your case will be referred to full Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) hearing. A Panel may uphold all, or only part, of your complaint.

    ii. Complaint Not Upheld.

    The Professional Conduct Officer will indicate to the Panel which areas of the Code of Ethics and/or Terms of Registration may have been breached. The Panel is free to amend any of these indications at its discretion.

    The Assessment Panel may decide, having looked at both sides, that the complaint should be declined. This is because they believe that the member did not breach the Code of Ethics. They will give their reasons for this.

    A Panel may not uphold all, or just part, of your complaint.

    iii. Membership Terms breached.

    The Panel may find that the member was not meeting the terms of membership (for example, not being adequately supervised) and may impose appropriate sanctions. This can happen whether or not all or part of your complaint is upheld.

    iv. Refer Back.

    The Assessment Panel may decide to ask either party if they would like to consider if there is still any chance of informal resolution or another way of resolving the issue, in which case they will refer the case back to the Professional Conduct Officer, who would then speak to both parties. Just like before, you’d have to agree to this (as would the member). If either side doesn’t want the case referred back, the Panel will look again and make a different decision.

    v. Referral to a full Independent Complaints Panel Hearing.

    The Assessment Panel may decide that they cannot reach a firm decision over your case, or that your case for other reasons requires a full ICP hearing, at their discretion.

    Appealing Step 4

    You have the right to appeal the Assessment Panel’s decision. You can appeal the following decisions provided that you contact the Professional Conduct Officer within 7 days of receiving the Assessment Panel’s decision to say that you want to appeal:

    A. Consensual Disposal – Complaint Not Upheld.

    While you can’t appeal the Panel’s decision to offer Consensual Disposal, you can appeal the sanctions that have been offered to the member, if you feel they are inappropriate. For example, the Panel may have offered the member the opportunity to do some retraining as part of your case, but you believe that the member should have been removed from the register and that the Panel did not take matters seriously enough.

    You don’t have to have any expertise in ‘sanctions’ to appeal, and the Professional Conduct Officer can help you if you wish to appeal.

    B. Complaint Not Upheld.

    You can appeal any part of your complaint which the Assessment Panel didn’t uphold. For example, the Panel found that the member didn’t do anything wrong, but you believe that they did.

    You don’t have to be an expert in the Code of Ethics to appeal, and the Professional Conduct Officer can help you if you wish to appeal.

    Things you can’t appeal:

    You can’t appeal a Panel’s decision that membership terms have been breached or not breached. This is because this is an internal matter for the Society and our conditions of membership.

    You can’t appeal the Panel’s decision to refer the matter back for informal resolution. You can, however, just decline the invitation to try informal resolution.

    You can’t appeal the Panel’s decision to refer the matter to a full, formal complaints hearing.

    If there is no appeal:

    If neither side appeals, your case comes to a conclusion at Step 4.

  • Step 4A: Appealing the Assessment Panel’s decision

    If the member appeals the Assessment Panel’s decision, then this automatically triggers a full Independent Complaints Panel hearing (Step 5.) If you wish to appeal the decision then we will take the following steps:

    A. You have to say you want to appeal within 7 days of receiving the Panel’s decision. NB you don’t have to provide anything for your appeal by that time. You need to communicate this with the Professional Conduct Officer.

    B. You should write in your reasons for appeal within 21 days of the Panel’s decision. You should set out why you believe an offer of Consensual Disposal was too lenient, or why you believe your complaint should have been upheld if it wasn’t. You can include further evidence if relevant, but if this should have been submitted earlier, it may not be taken into account. (For example, you may have originally complained about something that happened over 3 sessions of therapy, and now wish to talk about a 4th session. This wouldn’t be about appealing the Panel’s decision as they were not originally told about the 4th session.) You should do this to the Professional Conduct Officer.

    C. Your Appeal submission will be shared with the member and they may respond. They will normally be given 14 days to do this.

    D. An Independent Assessment Appeals Officer will examine your Appeal. The Society will appoint an independent person who has not seen your case before and is independent of all parties. They will carefully consider the decision of the Assessment Panel and try to reach a decision within 28 days. They may ask either party or the Assessment Panel for additional information if required.

    E. The Officer will make a decision. The following outcomes are possible:

    i. Assessment Appeal Upheld – Amended Consensual Disposal Offer

    The Appeals Officer may uphold all or part of your appeal. For example, they may decide that the sanctions imposed by the Assessment Panel were too lenient, or that the Assessment Panel did not find that there was a breach of the Code of Professional Conduct when there was.

    ii. Assessment Appeal not Upheld

    The Appeals Officer may decide to not uphold all or part of your appeal. For example, they may decide that the Assessment Panel imposed the correct sanctions, or that that the Assessment Panel was correct when they did not find there was a breach of the Code of Professional Conduct.

    iii. Refer to ICP

    The Officer may not be able to reach a decision, or, at their discretion, refer the case to a full ICP hearing.

    What happens after an Assessment Appeals Decision?

    If your Appeal isn’t upheld, your case will finish at this point and the Society’s processes will be concluded.

    If your Appeal is upheld, the Officer will make an Amended Consensual Disposal Offer to the member. For example, if the original Assessment Panel offered the member the opportunity to admit to a breach of the Code of Ethics and receive a six month suspension from the register, on Appeal, this offer may be amended to a 2 year suspension.

    The member will be able to either accept this Amended Offer or choose a full ICP hearing. If they accept the offer then your case will finish and the Society’s processes will be concluded.

  • Step 5: The Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) Hearing

    What is the ICP?

    The Independent Complaints Panel exists to hear complaints via a fully formal process, in cases where informal resolution or consensual disposal have not been successful.

    The Panel consists of a ‘Lay Chair’ – i.e. someone who is not a counsellor or psychotherapist, but who usually has other expertise, for example, a legal background – and two other Panel members, usually experienced therapists. The Panel cannot have any previous connection with your case.

    The Panel will usually hold a live hearing in which the Society’s Professional Conduct Officer will present the case and in which you, the member, and any other appropriate parties will be asked to attend, give evidence, and be cross-examined. The hearing may be ‘in the room’ or via video link if an in the room hearing is not possible.

    If there is a good reason to do so, for example, repeated delays or parties saying they will not attend the hearing, the ICP may choose to hold a paper hearing instead of a live hearing.

    The ICP proceeds in the following way:

    A. The Professional Conduct Officer will review and prepare the evidence.

    As part of this step, the member’s response to your complaint will be disclosed to you alongside any other evidence upon which they wish to rely. You may respond to the information that the member supplies and your response will be disclosed to them. The Professional Conduct Officer will then create a case file for the ICP. The Officer will apply some rules of evidence; for example, they may withhold evidence from the Panel which breaches third party confidentiality, or which is repetitive. This work will involve laying out which sections of the Code of Ethics may have been breached.

    B. The Professional Conduct Officer will set a provisional hearing date by liaising with you, the member and the ICP. This hearing date may change – for example, if extra evidence is required or if someone falls ill.

    C. The ICP reviews the case file. This is usually done initially by the ICP Chair, who will check everything before discussing the case with the wider panel. They may ask either you, the member, or both, for additional information, or ask either party to clarify anything you have submitted. The Chair will then inform the Professional Conduct Officer they are reading for the hearing.

    D. The ICP holds its hearing. Full guidance as to what to expect can be found HERE. The Panel will not reach its decision on the day of your hearing, but will meet later in private.

    E. The ICP will make its decision, which can be one of the following outcomes:
    i.Complaint Upheld.

    The Panel finds that the member has breached the Code of Ethics for either part of, or the whole of your complaint. If your complaint is upheld, the Panel will impose sanctions on the member which could range from removal from the register to ‘action points’ such as make different supervision arrangements. Where an Assessment Panel has previously made a ruling, the ICP may decide to uphold that decision, in which case the original offer of Consensual Disposal will become mandatory sanctions. (For a full explanation of sanctions, please refer to our Indicative Sanctions Policy.)

    ii. Complaint Not Upheld.

    The Panel may not uphold all, or just part, of your complaint, in which case, no further action will be taken against the member.

    iii. Membership Terms breached.

    The Panel may find that the member was not meeting the terms of membership (for example, not being adequately supervised) and may impose appropriate sanctions. This can happen whether or not all or part of your complaint is upheld.

    Appealing Step 5

    You have the right to appeal the ICP’s decision. You can appeal the following decisions provided that you contact the Professional Conduct Officer within 7 days of receiving the Panel’s decision to say that you want to appeal:

    1. Sanctions Insufficient

    You can appeal the sanctions that have been offered to the member, if you feel they are inappropriate or insufficient. For example, the Panel may have offered the member the opportunity to do some retraining as part of your case, but you believe that the member should have been removed from the register and that the Panel did not take matters seriously enough.

    You don’t have to have any expertise in ‘sanctions’ to appeal, and the Professional Conduct Officer can help you if you wish to appeal.

    2. Complaint Not Upheld.

    You can appeal any part of your complaint which the Assessment Panel didn’t uphold. For example, the Panel found that the member didn’t do anything wrong, but you believe that they did.

    You don’t have to be an expert in the Code of Ethics to appeal, and the Professional Conduct Officer can help you if you wish to appeal.

    The member can also appeal the Panel’s decision on sanctions and on any parts of the complaint that were upheld.

    Things you can’t appeal:

    You can’t appeal the Panel’s decision that membership terms have been breached or not breached. This is because this is an internal matter for the Society and our conditions of membership.

    If there is no appeal:

    If neither side appeals, your case comes to a conclusion at Step 5.

  • Step 5A: Appealing the ICP’s decision

    If the member appeals the ICP’s decision, then your case will go to an Appeals Panel.

    What is the Appeals Panel?

    The Panel will consist of a Lay Chair and two experienced practitioners who have not previously seen your case. They will provide a paper ruling and there will be no further hearings. If you wish to appeal the decision then we will take the following steps:

    A. You have to say you want to appeal within 7 days of receiving the Panel’s decision. NB you don’t have to provide anything for your appeal by that time. You need to communicate this with the Professional Conduct Officer.

    B. You should write in your reasons for appeal within 21 days of the Panel’s decision. You should set out why you believe the sanctions imposed by the ICP were too lenient, or why you believe your complaint should have been upheld if it wasn’t. You can include further evidence if relevant, but if this should have been submitted earlier, it may not be taken into account. (For example, you may have originally complained about something that happened over 3 sessions of therapy, and now wish to talk about a 4th session. This wouldn’t be about appealing the Panel’s decision as they were not originally told about the 4th session.) You should do this to the Professional Conduct Officer.

    C. Your Appeal submission will be shared with the member and they may respond. They will normally be given 14 days to do this.

    D. An Appeals Panel will examine your Appeal. The Society will appoint an independent Appeals Panel who have not seen your case before and is independent of all parties. They will carefully consider the decision of the ICP, and try to reach a decision within 28 days. They may ask either party or the for additional information if required, and may also commission an independent expert report if necessary. The Panel will reach a paper decision and there is no need for a further hearing.

    E. The Appeals Panel will make a decision. The following outcomes are possible:

    i. Appeal Upheld – Amended Outcome and/or amended Sanctions

    The Appeals Panel may uphold all or part of your appeal. For example, they may decide that the sanctions imposed by the Assessment Panel were too lenient, or that the Assessment Panel did not find that there was a breach of the Code of Ethics when there was. They will then make a new, final ruling with a new outcome and new sanctions, if appropriate.

    ii. Appeal not upheld

    The Appeals Officer may decide to not uphold all or part of your appeal. For example, they may decide that the Assessment Panel imposed the correct sanctions, or that that the Assessment Panel was correct when they did not find there was a breach of the Code of Ethics.

    What happens after an Appeals Panel Decision?

    The decision of the Appeals Panel is final and binding on both yourself and the member. The Appeal ends the complaints process for both parties.

  • The role of the Professional Standards Authority

    As an Accredited Register holder, the Society is bound by the standards of accreditation as determined by the Professional Standards Authority.

    If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of our complaints process, you can take this up with the Authority. The Authority can look at what the Society is doing to determine whether or not we are following our procedures correctly. However, the Authority cannot overturn a complaints decision and is not a further step of appeal.

  • Miscellaneous Issues

    What happens if the member resigns from the Society or refuses to cooperate or attend hearings?

    If the member resigns or refuses to cooperate, the complaints process will continue if it is in the public interest to do so. By resigning or refusing to cooperate, the member will have breached their terms of membership and the Society’s public register will reflect this.

    What happens if I want to withdraw my complaint, or no longer want to participate or am unavailable?

    If you wish to withdraw your complaint once made, or no longer wish to participate in the process or can’t be reached, then it is likely your complaint file will be closed. However, the Professional Conduct Officer may decide to proceed under our Acting on Evidence protocol if it is in the interest of public protection to do so.

    How long will all this take?

    Complaints vary enormously in terms of length and complexity, and often either party requests more time, for example, to gather more evidence or to take legal advice. Our process is designed to be as quick as possible within the boundaries of reaching fair, ethical decisions. At each step of the process, the Professional Conduct Officer will give you an indication of how long your particular case will take, and also let you know about any deadlines you need to meet.

    As a normal practice, the Society lists Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which give an indication as to how long we would reasonably expect processes to take. KPI’s however are currently suspended during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


    Is your process reviewed?

    The Society has all cases reviewed annually by an Independent Assessor, who may at their discretion interview our Professional Conduct Officers or Panel Members. They will highlight areas for improvement in our processes. Their report is disclosed to the Professional Standards Authority.

    The Authority may also review our processes to ensure that we are conforming to the conditions of registration for an Accredited Register.

    What’s the difference between a ‘registrant’ and a member, and how does this affect this process?

    Registrants have been assessed by the Society via a formal process to confirm that their qualifications and practice meet our conditions of registration. They are the only Society members who we state are approved by us to practice as counsellors or psychotherapists.

    Alongside registrants we have other categories of membership such as student members or associate members.

    If a non registrant member has been seeing clients and representing themselves as suitable for practice, they may be in violation of our terms of membership, especially if they advertise their membership to their clients without having first gained registration. (There are exceptions to this – for example, an experienced counsellor who is applying for registration is perfectly entitled to see clients – just not to advertise their membership until registered.)

    Depending on the circumstances, we may or may not use this process. For example, a student member seeing private clients would likely have their case heard under this process. A student member on a placement as part of their training course would likely see their case referred back to their placement provider and/or training provider.

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