Leo Kirk, a social worker who was contracted to Warrington Borough Council, helped a service user win her £4,800 benefits appeal, then asked for money from the payout to help with his own mortgage.
A social worker has been suspended for convincing a vulnerable woman to lend him money – and failing to pay it all back.
Leo Kirk, an agency worker contracted to Warrington Borough Council at the time, had taken on the case of the woman who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression after a “severe bereavement.”
Kirk, who worked for the Wisemove Consulting agency at the time of his actions, helped the unnamed service user win a tribunal decision against a benefits deduction decision. When his support resulted in a £4,800 back-payment, he saw this as an opportunity and began mentioning how he was struggling with his mortgage payments.
A report from the most recent HCPC hearing on the matter details how:
“(He) stated to Service User A that he had been a victim of fraud and about £3,000 had been taken from his bank account; as a result he was unsure whether he could make his next mortgage payment of £450 and Service User A then gave him a loan of £450, on about the 4th of November 2016”
Leo Kirk then left his position with the council just four days later.
The HCPC’s investigation into the matter found that the elderly woman was allocated a new social worker the following month. In initial conversations during the transition period, the newly-allocated social worker discovered that their new client had given money to Leo Kirk and only received £100 of it back.
The service user then showed her new social worker a text from Kirk which said: “I won’t forget (the money taken) and here is my personal number.”
The matter was treated as a serious safeguarding concern by the council, who reported it to Kirk’s agency.
The Wisemove agency conducted an internal investigation of their own and, on after initially denying he had borrowed the money, Leo Kirk admitted the incident and “expressed regret he had let down Service User A and Warrington Borough Council.”
Warrington council paid the woman back as soon as possible and were then reimbursed by Wisemove.
Leo Kirk was suspended by Wisemove and the matter was referred to the HCPC for investigation.
In a letter that he wrote to the HCPC panel before this latest hearing, Leo Kirk explained that: “from the outset I have acknowledged and accepted that my behaviour was unprofessional and out of character. I also accept that I had caused one of my clients to be upset and distressed which I apologised unreservedly. (The time off while suspended) has been used constructively for self-reflection and help me look at the unfortunate incident in terms of my practice and how I allowed the professional boundaries to become blurred and subsequently crossed.”
In a final hearing last year, the HCPC panel ruled that: “The Panel finds that the Registrant has demonstrated a lack of integrity and abused his position of power in respect of a vulnerable Service User by reason of the misconduct arising from the allegations.”
He was initially suspended for 12 months but this has now been extended for another six months, after the panel concluded Kirk had displayed remorse but had offered “limited insight” into his behaviour as he has since suggested that he did not feel he needed retraining.
The panel stated: “In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that (Leo Kirk) had not discharged the persuasive burden upon him to demonstrate that he had acknowledged why his past professional performance was deficient and there remained a risk that he could repeat the behaviour. The Panel concluded, therefore, that his fitness to practise remained impaired on public protection grounds.”