England.  Change location

Social work law

This module discusses the legal context of social work, reviewing legal frameworks, principles, structures and processes, which shape and regulate social work practice. It considers how social work can use the law in a positive way, examining the value of law from the perspectives of service users, carers and professionals. The module deals with a range of legal issues related to social care and social work in three main areas: adults and the law, children and the law, and criminal justice.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

Browse qualifications in related subjects


Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 9 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

Student Reviews

I found this module so interesting, and as it was different to traditional law modules I'd previously studied, it was...
Read more

Tough but worth every minute of effort. Of all my modules on my degree, this has been the most useful...
Read more

Request your prospectus

Explore our subjects and courses

Request your copy now

What you will study

This course is made up of three separate but interrelated blocks. Due to differences in the legal frameworks for social workers in each of the four nations of the United Kingdom, you may study material that is nation specific law for the area in which you intend to practice as a social worker.

Block 1 addresses the legal context. This is essential preparatory knowledge for practice, to ensure that you are aware of the opportunities, responsibilities, and constraints of the professional social work practice environment. 

The nature of law: the definitions and classifications of law; the UK constitution; and the role of law in society. You will also explore particular issues associated with social work and the law and the position of the social worker themselves, in relation to law.

Sources of law: this includes an historical overview of the development of legal principles and provisions, and parliamentary sources of law. You will also review the legal sources and provisions underpinning professional social work, including the nature of professional accountability.

Human rights and equality law: this presents the main principles, effects, and current relevance of human rights and equality law to social work and social care practice.

Professional judgement: this allows you to consider the nature and range of professional judgement in social work practice.

The courts and the legal system: considers the structure and working of the law in a practical context, including reviewing the key legal principles and the role of the court system in the management and administration of the law. Tribunals, and the roles and duties of the various personnel in the legal system, are explored, concluding with a specific consideration of the responsibilities of social work and social workers in the courts.

Criminal justice: this incorporates an evaluation of the guiding principles of criminal justice systems in general, with an overview of the adult criminal justice system, the law regarding mentally disordered offenders, and youth justice.

Block 2 provides you with a comprehensive exploration of law relating to adults. This is set against the background of social work values and ethics, highlighting legal approaches that promote empowerment, human rights, and autonomy.

Social work with adults: you will evaluate the legal and practice elements that emerge in social work and social care with adults.

Adult care and support: you will examine the frameworks of the primary adult care statutes, and then consider the principles of the statutory responses to adult health and social care, including issues of eligibility, assessment, and the provision and regulation of services.

Adult safeguarding: you will examine the social worker’s legal duties and responsibilities, along with how professional judgement is exercised in practice.

Mental capacity: you will address from the practice context, issues of competence and the capacity to make autonomous decisions.

Mental health: you will consider the principal provisions of mental health legislation, including informal and formal treatment, and after-care of adults and children.

Asylum and immigration: This is an increasingly important area of practice and you will have the opportunity to gain a practical understanding of the factors that may inhibit or enhance wellbeing for individuals, where their legal status in the UK may be fragile or in doubt.

Block 3 provides you with a concise but comprehensive introduction to the major legal provisions concerning children. This will allow you to gain an overview of child law, the provisions for family support and child protection, and a review of the measures available and the role of the various professionals when family situations have broken down.

Social work with children: provides you with a general overview of the subject and examines the definitions of childhood and the historical emergence of policy and legislation for families and children. Parental Responsibility and children’s rights are considered, as is the central importance of the children related legislation governing and regulating much of the social work role.

Children and private law: here you will consider a general review of the responsibilities of local authorities, and then examine legal aspects of three significant areas relating to the care of children: family finances; education; and children with mental health needs.

Children and public law: you will explore the law relating to issues relating to children who come to the attention of local authorities and care agencies.

Child protection: will allow you to gain an overview of the specific legal measures for child protection.

Children and the courts: here you will consider what social workers can do when the preventative and protective systems and structures around the child have broken down, or have become severely compromised, including making representations to the court, or in Scotland through the Children’s Hearings system, to consider the facts and authorise intervention if necessary.

Permanency planning: here you will examine the legal structure of looked after children, including residential and foster care, permanency planning and adoption, and leaving care.

You will learn

This module examines the role of law in regulating the complex range of tasks and issues raised by modern social care and social work. It aims to provide you with an understanding of how legal principles have evolved and are incorporated into law and interpreted in social work policy and in social work practice.

Vocational relevance

This module is a compulsory component of the social work undergraduate qualifying degree programme. The degree provides students with the nationally recognised qualification allowing them to practice as professional social workers.

Outside the UK

The subject matter of K271 is specific to law in the four nations of the United Kingdom. However, it may be of interest to students not resident in the United Kingdom.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll be allocated to a tutor who will provide support and guidance throughout your studies and mark all of your assignments.

In addition you'll be allocated to a tutor group online forum led by your tutor and comprising all students within your tutor group. You will also have the opportunity to attend 6 learning events during your studies. These will be online tutorials and may be delivered by your own tutor or other tutors from the module team.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Social work law (K271) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2025.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module, so you should have already completed your work at OU level 1, including developing your academic and writing skills. It is not expected that you will have prior knowledge of law in general or the legal social work frameworks, but being aware of developments in social work practice and policy, will be of great value.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2025.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 25/06/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You will have access to a module website and study materials which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials about social work law in the 4 UK nations
  • audio and video content
  • assignment materials and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K271 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.