© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. Accounting provides a distinctive conceptual lens to analyse how neo-liberal reforms in the public sector operate. Despite this, appreciation of the significance of accounting as a key neo-liberal instrument of organisational change is only embryonic in social work research. Against this background, this article presents the findings of an empirical study, conducted across children's services departments at three English councils, which illuminates how neo-liberal policies inculcate financial responsibilities in social work by examining the microprocesses surrounding the application and usage of accounting techniques. The instillation of neo-liberal values that underpin the use of accounting in social work privileges economic efficiency over those emphasising collectivism and organisational resilience. The extent to which accounting has been embraced appears mixed, however, with managers supportive of neo-liberal values and techniques, but frontline practitioners are more circumspect. Another unintended but emancipatory potential reflects the opportunities for social work professionals to reassert their epistemological claims by reshaping accounting with social work values. However, such outcomes remain a distant possibility, whilst managerialism retains its stranglehold on social work. This study raises awareness for the need not only to be cognizant of but also to critically evaluate accounting's role across all areas of social work.