Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.


  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 of employment.

  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 management—that an organisation can demonstrate/evidence its requirement to conduct checks on volunteers.

  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 possible level.

  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

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