FCS TOIL and Workloads Survey

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In May 2024 Cafcass announced there had been a further reduction in average caseloads across the organisation. While this news was welcomed by Napo, we were conscious that our members  were continuing to report very high caseloads, they were struggling to find time to complete all the expectations that Cafcass had of them and were still working significantly above their contracted hours.

In 2021 Napo completed surveys of our members in respect of their caseloads, and what they thought they could safely manage, asking to what extent they were working above their contracted hours and any difficulties they encountered taking  time off in lieu (TOIL). These surveys revealed that staff faced significant difficulties and were enduring unmanageable caseloads while completing substantial amounts of unpaid overtime.

To assess the extent of the current difficulties we repeated the 2021 surveys in the first two weeks of June 2024. To obtain an accurate picture, we asked staff to respond even if TOIL or workloads were not a problem for them.

We asked a series of questions and gave staff an opportunity to add additional comments [See Appendix for the survey questions]

Although responders were assured of anonymity, some did not give permission to have their words used in the report. Service Managers and Assistant Service Managers were proportionally overrepresented among those who did not want their comments recorded in the report.

Many members in Early Intervention Teams (EIT) commented that a focus on the number of cases overlooked the actual time it took to manage each case, as there was seldom any national discussion about numbers of safeguarding letters or court duties workers in their teams should complete.


Findings in relation to TOIL

93% of staff said that they had worked extra hours in the last four weeks that they had not been able to take back.

Of these 86% said that this happened frequently while 14% said that it occurred occasionally.

77% of staff said that they did not keep a record of the extra hours that they worked.

Of those that did count the extra hours they worked; they had an average of 20.5 hours owing.


A frequent response from FCAs ASMs and Service managers was that they did not have time to take back the extra hours that they worked, so there was little point in counting them. For example:

  • “I work extra hours every day and I can't take them all back anyway.”
  • “Most of the time I do not keep a tally as there is no hope of getting it all back.”
  • “There is no point - I won’t be paid for them or get them back.”
  • “I work most nights and most weekends – I would be even further behind if I tried to take TOIL.”
  • “If I counted the hours I work my hourly rate would actually be below the minimum wage.”

There was also a significant minority of responses, across all social work grades, indicating that their managers presented barriers to taking TOIL. For example:

  • “They make it so difficult for you to take the time back. You are questioned as to how the time was accrued and who gave permission for the additional time to be worked.”
  • “If I say I am working over my hours, I am made to feel it’s my fault for not working efficiently.”
  • “I am told it’s an expectation of the role.”

Findings in relation to number of cases

FCAs in non EIT teams had an average of 21.5 active cases.

The average number of cases FCAs and their ASMs and Service Managers thought they could safely manage in their working hours was 17.4.

The figure for those who did just public law work was 17.


Some members expressed dissatisfaction that senior management had not done more to ensure that workloads were equitable across the organisation. For example:

  • “It doesn’t feel fair that in Manchester we have much  higher caseloads due to the volume of work received being more  than some other areas and in relation to the averages mentioned by higher management and that the burden falls on the workers here to manage all that extra work, rather than allowing the managers  to consider using the resources of Cafcass (be that associates, bank or overtime)  to address the issue and make a fairer and safer case load for all.”


  • “The lack of parity and consistency across Cafcass in terms of workloads is particularly annoying when you have a SMT that repeatedly tells us that the micromanagement of our work is to achieve consistency. Cafcass is no longer seen as a good place to work, SMT need to accept this and stop telling overworked staff how lucky we are to work for an Outstanding organisation. It is only Outstanding because of all the unpaid work by all employees.”

A recurring theme expressed by many members was that the workload pressures were not just about the number of cases, but also about the expectations placed upon staff by Cafcass to complete an increasing number of tasks, many of which were seen by practitioners as overly bureaucratic.

  • “All the form filling and drop-down boxes we have to complete on the case files takes so much time. It may provide data for the senior managers, but it does nothing to help the families we are trying to work with.”
  • “When I started working at Cafcass we were told about proportionate working. However, we are now expected to do more and more. Introduction letters, mid-point letter, goodbye letter, screening document, case plans, direct work with children, life story boards, direct work with parents, observing family time, attending all court hearing as most Judges don't want to excuse guardians, this includes long final hearings for 5 or more days. Keep contact log up to date, child seen up to date, liaise with all professionals and now extended family. Write analysis for CMH and IRH, previously I was told to write a PS for CMH but this appears to be frowned upon now.”
  • “There is an ever-increasing demand for new tasks to be completed, whilst there may be new recruits, I don't see the volume of work going down, if anything it seems busier.  Management oversight, i.e. QAs, PLR, observed practices etc place a lot of pressure on workers.  There seems to be no recognition when QAs etc are done, that you have worked over and beyond what you should to get the basic tasks done.  It's frustrating and demoralising.”
  • “There are constantly new processes that are implemented alongside ever increasing caseloads with no consideration from Cafcass as to the actual time it takes to complete and that my workload far exceeds my paid hours. There has been no decrease in my workload, and it only ever goes up.”
  • “The level of bureaucracy is beyond a joke. The outcome of each case has to be recorded FIVE different times in three different sections of the case file.”
  • “I feel Cafcass senior managers have lost sight of what is important - there are too many so-called mandatory tasks that you have to complete, which distracts you from having a focus on the child and promoting their welfare.”
  • “All of the senior managers should have to have a case and see it through and then maybe they would understand how all of the endless form filling and bureaucracy impacts upon the workers.”

The impact of workloads on people’s health and well-being was highlighted by many responders. For example:

  • “I know of so many people who have left or suffered stress due to workloads.”
  • “Health and wellbeing is simply lip service. There seems a genuine disconnect between what senior leadership say is important like wellbeing and how line management offer support. Line managers and the next level up, just don't seem to have the knowledge or experience or knowhow for actually supporting staff.  ADs don't care about individual staff just whether cases are getting worked.”
  • “The role is absolutely relentless, extremely isolated and not sustainable for me. I did speak to my managers about my situation, but it seemed to be dealt with as a personal problem about the way I work. I feel I am not the only one who was finding it hard to manage the workload and expectation.
  • “I have been signed off sick with work related stress and have now handed in my resignation”

Another theme in many of the comments was how high workloads impact on the quality of work that practitioners can do. For example:

  • “I don't feel listened to. There is no room or time for reflection when making decisions.”
  • “I have felt that in conversations with senior managers, if you struggle with 25 cases, it is a problem with you, not the system or high caseloads.  There is very little consideration for the impact on practitioners despite it being raised regularly in team meetings.”
  • “I am a very experienced social worker, and I am used to ‘front door’ / fast paced work. I care deeply about offering a really good service to children and families but the only way I think people can do what is being asked is to cut a lot of corners and provide work that is not the standard I would expect if I was a person needing the support of Cafcass.”
  • “There is no thinking time, we are being expected to make such important recommendations for the children we work with, yet we have no time to reflect and think. We are told to complete training and attend discussions, but I have no time for this.”
  • “It seems that all they are interested in is allocating the work and us ticking the boxes rather than giving us the space and time to do work with families that will make a difference to children’s lives.”

Comparison to 2021 Survey

The overall figure for the number of cases that practitioners said they could safely manage remained unchanged at 17.4.

In respect of TOIL, the 2024 survey revealed that 93% of our members had worked extra hours that they had been unable to take back in the last 4 weeks. The equivalent figure in 2021 was 88%.   Of those, 86% of staff said that it was a frequent occurrence compared to 89% in 2021.

The percentage of staff who did not count their hours was 65% in 2021 but has risen to 77% in 2024.

In 2021 the amount of time owed raged from 0 to 70 hours with the average number of hours being owed being 25 hours.

In 2024 the amount of time owed ranged from 0 to 60 hours with the average hours owed being 20.5 hours.


The most remarkable aspect of the survey was the similarity to results obtained in 2021.

The amount of extra hours  being completed by staff remains at an extraordinary high level with an indication that overworking has become even more embedded as normal and expected, with only 7% of staff reporting they had not worked extra hours they couldn’t take back in the last four weeks, and over three quarters of staff not bothering to count the hours they worked mainly because they saw no prospect of getting these hours back.

The comments made by Cafcass staff show that this is not a situation that they feel is acceptable, but most feel powerless to do anything to change the situation, save for deciding to leave Cafcass or alternatively having to leave because they have become unwell because of the relentless workloads.

Although workloads have been said to have come down, the average number of cases held by staff was 21.5 which is 23.5% higher than the average safe workload that Cafcass staff have consistently expressed of 17.4.

While Napo welcomes efforts to ensure that caseloads do not exceed an average of 20 cases per practitioner, it can be seen that a reduction to this level  will not be sufficient to address the difficulties that Cafcass practitioners face.


What Action is Required?

While the efforts made by Cafcass to promote health and wellbeing have been welcomed by Napo, the responses we have received suggest that further initiatives in this area will have only a marginal impact upon the day-to-day difficulties faced by staff because of the continuing levels of high caseloads and the problem of overworking.

We ask Cafcass to take steps to reduce the average number of cases held by staff to between 17 and 18.

However, while we have utilised the preferred method in Cafcass for measuring workloads, we believe that this is a somewhat crude measure and our view remains that Cafcass needs to progress work on establishing an effective way to measure staff workloads, which in our view should be informed by time measurements of key tasks.

As the survey has highlighted, the problem does not just relate to the number of cases held by staff, there is also the expectations placed on staff to complete certain tasks and record data in a way that staff find cumbersome and unrelated to their aspirations to provide an outstanding level of service to children and their families.

Whilst acknowledging that the collection of data can aid performance management and guide strategic decision making, the level of bureaucracy in Cafcass has grown to a level that impacts on practitioners’ ability to work effectively with children and their families.

There needs to be a rebalancing of priorities to give practitioners more time to work with families and increase managers availability to provide effective support and supervision. In the view of Napo there needs to be more reliance on professional decision making and effective supervision and less on responding to prompts that are driven by data.

Napo stands ready to work in partnership with Cafcass  management to address the difficulties we have outlined, to improve the wellbeing of staff, improve rates of recruitment and retention and ultimately to retain the outstanding service that we provide to children, without staff having to prop up the service through many hours of unpaid work.

Ian Lawrence                   Adam Harmsworth & Steve Hornby

General Secretary           Napo Vice-Chairs - Family Court Section


Appendix – Survey questions


1. Name (optional).  Also please indicate in which “A” area you work  and which Local Team e.g. A14 LT2.


2.Please indicate if you work in a business support role/EIT/public law team/ private law team/ mixed workload and if you are part time what your contracted hours are.



3. What is your job title?


4. In the last four weeks have you worked extra hours that you've not been able to take back as part of a flexible working arrangement or toil?



5 If yes, would you say this is the situation happens a) frequently; b) occasionally; or c) rarely ?



6. Do you count the hours you work? If not, why not?



7. If yes, how much toil (if any) do you currently have accrued?



8. How many cases, that have outstanding work to complete, are currently allocated to you?


9.  How many cases  could you  manage within a 37-hour working week, taking into account your health  and wellbeing,  being able to make safe recommendations for  the children and families you  work with and fulfilling Cafcass expectations.


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