A guide to writing your first mental health tribunal report

What are social circumstances reports and how should you go about completing one? A mental health social worker offers advice

By Jane Naik

Photo: Jeff Tzu-chao Lin/imageBROKER/Rex


The first thing is, don’t panic.

Hopefully you’ll get plenty of notice but in reality you probably won’t. You may not even have even met the person you’re writing about. Do not fret: help is at hand.

For guidance about the specific headings and information you need to include in your report look at the latest practice direction on tribunal reports produced in 2013.

Statutory reports for a mental health tribunal or hospital manager’s hearing usually include a medical report, a nursing report and a social circumstances report. A community-based social worker (or community psychiatric nurse) will always be expected to complete this report, even if there is also a hospital-based social worker. This includes reports for service-users subject to community treatment orders or guardianship.

It may also be that a report is submitted by the hospital social worker in addition, though this is a non-statutory report. A lot of this depends on local custom and practice but the relevant mental heath administrator will be able to advise further. Mental health administrators oversee the day to day administration of the Mental Health Act and they are usually based in hospitals and health settings. Their role is to ensure MHA section expiry dates are dealt with within statutory timeframes and they coordinate mental health tribunals and hospital manager reviews. They identify key staff and request reports, usually with a deadline date. If you receive a request but you don’t know who to contact, first locate the hospital or unit the patient is in, contact their administration team and ask for the mental heath administrator.

Purpose of report

The main purpose of a social circumstances report is to inform the mental health review tribunal (or hospital manager panel) what medical, social care and other after-care support would be available in the community in the event of a discharge. The panel will want to hear about accommodation options, support and care and how quickly this can be put into place upon discharge. If it’s the case that there is no accommodation arranged and that support would be dependent on a needs-led assessment, don’t be afraid to state that.

Find out when the report’s due and where you need to send it. If you are on leave or unable to submit it in time, contact the relevant mental health administrator as soon as possible and ask for an extension.

Do not assume you’ve got the extension until it’s been confirmed. If you can’t attend the hearing, arrange cover and let the mental health administrator know. A late submission of a report is frowned upon.

Speak to everyone involved in the case: consultant, nursing staff, occupational therapists and other professionals to gather their views. When did they last see the service user? Is the service user engaging with them? Have there been any incidents, episodes of aggression, assault or other behaviours of concern? Check with the professionals that they understand that anything they state might be recorded in your report – are they happy for you to include their comments?

No cutting and pasting

Don’t just cut and paste from the patient’s old tribunal reports, tempting though it is. By all means use them as a template but you should avoid unattributed statements, information or opinions for which you do not have evidence. You may wish to identify the source of the statement, information or opinion (eg daily nursing notes, previous psychiatric or social circumstances reports) with the date and the name of author. Be wary of simply repeating information which has not been checked. This is especially the case if you don’t know the service user yourself. If you are hospital-based, accessing old reports should be quite straightforward. If you are community-based, contact the relevant ward to ask about accessing patient records

It sounds obvious but try and meet the person you’re writing about, even if it’s just once. Ask them for their views, what their hopes from the tribunal are, and their plans for the future. After the report’s been submitted get an update on that person’s situation just before the hearing. That shows the judge that you are as up to date as possible.

Make sure you number each page, and that you’ve spell checked it twice. Read it too as spell checks doesn’t always show up mistakes. Judges notice these things. Use the same font throughout (Arial is good), space well and use paragraphs appropriately. You want your report to be easy to read.

Be clear in your concluding paragraph. What are you recommending and why?

Last things last. Mental health review tribunals are courts of law and a part of the judicial process. So dress smartly and professionally, no turning up late, no mobile phones and no talking without permission from the judge.  And good luck. It’ll be fine.



Jane Naik is a social worker who has worked in mental health for seven years.




Credit: Community care



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