In December 2016 the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) was criticised by the High Court for seeking to hold a hearing into a complaint that had already been determined by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). See our previous blog on the High Court decision for more about the outcome of that case.

The BACP is one of a number of voluntary bodies whose register is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) under its Accredited Registers programme. Each voluntary body is subject to an annual review, where the PSA reviews its compliance with the PSA’s standards for accredited registers.

The last time the BACP was accredited by the PSA was in July 2017 and that accreditation was valid until 5 March 2018. The last time the BACP was being accredited, the PSA’s panel had to adjourn whilst it sought further information from BACP for clarification. The clarification sought concerned three important PSA standards: being committed to protecting the public (standard 2), inspiring public confidence (standard 5) and managing complaints fairly and effectively (standard 11). In particular, the Panel were concerned about:

  • The number of complaints that were rejected by BACP as not meeting its criteria and the number of complaints that were resubmitted following advice from Case Managers
  • The support offered by the BACP to complainants going through the complaints process
  • The communications between the BACP and complainants
  • The difference in appeal deadlines offered to complainants following the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel decision and registrants following a hearing
  • The actions taken by the BACP following the High Court Judicial Review
  • The findings of the case review as presented in the team’s complaints review document.

The PSA’s Panel Decision shows that even though the BACP met with the PSA, the Panel were not content for accreditation to remain without restriction. Instead, the PSA imposed conditions on BACP and issued them with an instruction. The conditions focussed on the BACP presenting its amended Professional Conduct Procedure (PCP) to the Authority for assessment.

Some of the conditions placed on the BACP by the PSA related to concerns that were highlighted in the Judicial Review proceedings. The attempt by the BACP to proceed to hear a case already heard by UKCP was recognised by PSA to engage standard 10e which states:

"The organisation recognises decisions regarding professional conduct made by regulatory bodies and other registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority when deciding whether a person should be admitted, kept on or removed from their register.”

It is understood that the BACP, in response to these concerns, is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the UKCP.

Aside from delays to the revised PCP, the PSA Panel were also concerned that the BACP were hostile to complaints and that the tone of communication needed to be improved. Indeed in December 2016 the High Court described BACP as “dogged and obstinate” and “impervious to pleas to act reasonably and fairly”. It is no wonder then that BACP have confirmed to PSA that it is undertaking a rebranding exercise, part of which will be to change its ‘tone of voice’ as an organisation.

Conclusion

Weeks have now passed since the BACP’s last submission and the jury is still out as to whether BACP has done enough to satisfy the PSA that it is now adhering to its standards sufficiently. If not, they could face the same fate as the UKCP whose accreditation was suspended in November 2015.

The BACP first consulted on its revised PCP in 2015 and they have assured the PSA that it is intending to submit the revised procedure as soon as possible. That assurance was given in July 2017, but over nine months later, no amended PCP has been published. It is hoped that the new PCP is worth waiting for. It needs to address potential unfairness to registrants and narrow, not widen, the scope for potential inconsistency between its complaints handling and that of its sibling regulators the BPC and UKCP.