Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Victim Support



  1.  We have always been aware of the need to protect children and vulnerable adults from people who pose a risk to them. For this reason, we have, for many years, required prospective volunteers to undergo a police check. This intelligence has been provided to us free of charge, on the grounds that the police themselves have an interest in checking the character of potential volunteers. This is because Victim Support's relationship with the police is unique. Victims of certain categories of crime are, pursuant to the Victim's Charter, referred daily to Victim Support by the police. We believe it is in the interest of the police and of the wider community that those who receive confidential information from the police should be checked.


  2.  Victim Support's volunteers are the lifeblood of the charity. Victim Support was founded as a community-based voluntary initiative and, although the charity has grown dramatically, it remains a voluntary organisation. Of the 15,609 people who work for Victim Support, 14,177, or 93 per cent do so in a voluntary capacity.

  3.  All Victim Support and Witness Service volunteers undertake a minimum of 40 hours training; some take further training to enable them to work with victims of more serious crimes, for example, with victims of sexual violence or the families of murder victims. Once they have received basic training, volunteers are asked to dedicate at least two hours a week to supporting victims and witnesses. This commitment may be maintained for several years, reflecting the need of many victims for ongoing practical and emotional support. We believe it is wrong in principle to ask people who give so much to the community to bear the cost of police checks.

  4.  Further, we are concerned that charging volunteers for criminal record checks will deter many from volunteering in the first place. The recruitment of volunteers is a continuing task for all Victim Support Schemes and for the Witness Service. As we develop further services to meet the needs of victims and witnesses, such as the Magistrates' Court Witness Service, additional volunteers will be needed. Recruiting volunteers who are able to offer the level of commitment required is already difficult; charging volunteers for checks will make it significantly harder.

  5.  Victim Support endeavours to recruit volunteers from all sections of the community but the introduction of charges for checks is likely to discourage people on low incomes. In particular, students, the unemployed and people with disabilities may find the charge prohibitive.

  6.  It must also be acknowledged that volunteering is a competitive market. A recently announced government drive is rightly geared to encouraging volunteering. The practice of charging for police checks will disadvantage charities whose work requires this, in comparison with those whose work does not.

  7.  The alternative is for Victim Support to bear the cost. However, meeting this financial burden will result in diverting resources which are currently committed to other vital areas. It will also be difficult to recover this cost through fundraising. The fact that all our volunteers undergo police checks is evidence of our organisation's integrity, which is welcomed by potential funders. Corporate funding is becoming increasingly competitive and whilst it is possible to secure corporate sponsorship for specific projects; sponsors believe that Victim Support's core cost should be met by the Home Office. We believe that commercial sponsors would rightly see the vetting of volunteers as a core cost which should be met by the public authorities. Therefore, regardless of whether Victim Support or our volunteers pay for the checks, our ability to meet the needs of victims and witnesses will be adversely affected.

  8.  We note that the voluntary sector in Scotland will enjoy the advantage of free police checks. We consider that the arguments which supported this policy also apply to England and Wales.

17 January 2001

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