Memorandum by the National Association
of Volunteer Bureaux
There is an assumption by many volunteer using
organisations that there is a statutory requirement for all volunteers
to produce a criminal record certificate before they start volunteering
of any kind. This is categorically not the case.
Requirements under existing regulations and
under the new legislation cover situations where an individual,
acting in a paid, unpaid or voluntary capacity, may pose a potential
danger to others and vetting mechanisms are therefore warranted
and necessary. The introduction of charges for criminal record
certificates will impose new costs on volunteering and volunteer
using organisations which will be required to carry out criminal
record checks on new volunteers with access to vulnerable people.
THE NAVB POSITION
All caring/service agencies, including those
that involve volunteers, have a duty to minimise the risks to
vulnerable clients. The primary duty of Volunteer Bureaux is to
advocate for volunteers. Volunteers have fewer rights, ways and
means, or reasons for challenging discrimination because there
is no financial investment or protection arising out of a contract
Use of checks may act as a deterrent to people
deliberately seeking volunteering opportunities in order to abuse
the vulnerable, however the increased use of checks would deter
people with non-relevant convictions and could encourage irresponsible
and discriminatory practice by those organisations that place
an undue reliance on criminal record checks. NAVB accepts that
the intention of the previous administration to offer "on
demand access to the criminal record" has been all-but achieved.
The Volunteer Bureaux position must reflect a pragmatic stance
and communicate a clear message: If recourse to criminal record
checks is inevitable then very careful and stringent controls
allowing access to information for vetting purposes are essential.
Whilst NAVB does support a one-stop national-vetting
agency, NAVB believes that a limited release of information on
strictly defined relevant offences only is the most practical
option. NAVB is certain that access to the records should be based
on proven risk assessment and managementthat an organisation
can demonstrate/evidence its requirement to conduct checks on
In a climate that has exaggerated the risks
of abuse (and which denies that children are most at risk from
the incompetent, uncaring or abusive attention of members of their
immediate or extended family, family friends or their peers),
which has increasing recourse to litigation and a misconstrued
notion of the nature of "duty of care", agencies working
with children and vulnerable adults will seek checks at the highest
In order to redirect this energy into best practice
NAVB believes that if resources are available these should be
used not to underwrite free checks for (some) volunteers, but
be applied to enabling a unit within the CRB to establish and
apply strict criteria for evaluating the bona fides/appropriateness
of requests for checks.
At issue here is the recognition that demand
for the checks is not the same as the requirement for checks;
the introduction of a statutory basis for criminal record checks
means that those carrying out criminal record checks outwith the
criteria will be committing an offence.
By ensuring that there is only limited recourse
to criminal record checks voluntary organisations will be forced
not only to examine their need for/reliance on criminal record
checks but also to invest time and energy in ensuring that their
recruitment, support and selection procedures are effective.
There is no greater justification for free checks
on volunteers than for paid/salaried workers. If checks are warranted,
it is in the public interest to undertake checks on all relevant
workers (paid, unpaid and voluntary) and costs should be met from
the public purse. This would enable control of demand to be exercised
and for checks to be applied irrespective of the legal status
of the worker. Alternatively, if employers come to see checks
as a legitimate employment cost then volunteer-using organisations
deploying volunteers in equivalent settings must see the cost
of checks as an equally legitimate expense which they must bear.
Whilst this position steers NAVB away from taking a proactive
role in campaigning for free checks for volunteers NAVB does not
advocate that volunteers should pay for checks.
NAVB believes that "It is disappointing
that at a time when volunteering is enjoying considerable cross
party support statutory orders may act as a barrier to voluntary
work. Statutory police checks should not be relied on by volunteer-using
organisations as a substitute for good recruitment practice".
12 January 2001