Criminal Checks ‘Gone Mad’
The number of volunteers forced to get criminal record checks has soared to the highest level for four years, despite government pledges to halve the amount required. An audit has shown that tens of thousands of choir members, bell ringers, flower arrangers and parents and grandparents who volunteer at schools are being forced to get Disclosure and Barring Service checks, five years after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, promised that the number would return to “common sense levels”.
Those who work in more than one role involving vulnerable people are often required to have the checks carried out twice in a situation described by MPs as “bureaucracy gone mad”.
Many children and youth organisations claim they struggle to fill vacan- cies because adults are too scared to volunteer for fear they will be viewed with suspicion.
Criminal record checks, introduced in the wake of the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by school caretaker Ian Huntley in Soham in 2002, are undergone by millions of adults who work with children or vulnerable people every year.
In 2010 Mrs May announced a review after widespread concern that they were becoming too burdensome.
As a result, the Criminal Record Bureau checks were replaced with Disclosure and Barring Service checks in January 2013, which include more rigorous police screening. The Government said that the number of checks would fall by 50 per cent, from 3.7 million a year to 1.7 million a year.
However, new figures show that last year (2014-15) 4.1 million people were vetted, the highest number since 4.3 million were vetted in 2010-11, including 837,000 volunteers.
A series of Freedom of Information requests by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for less regulation in everyday life, found that in 2014-15 there were 199 checks on volunteer bell ringers, 726 checks on choir members, 57 checks on grandparent volunteers and 23 checks on flower arrangers. There were also 24,935 checks on parent volunteers in schools and 2,312 checks on volunteers to go on school trips.
Josie Appleton, a spokesman for the Manifesto Club, said: “We are calling for people to trust more to their own judgement and what they know about people, and less to distorted and suspicious ‘requirements’.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the current regime of checks was “bureaucracy gone mad” and questioned why he needed two
checks for two voluntary roles.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “Like many other volunteers, I ask myself the question ‘why can’t one check suffice for both roles?’ ”
Mr Farron added: “No one would disagree that CRB checks play a vital role in protecting the vulnerable, but this doesn’t mean that the system can’t be improved. Currently it is bureaucracy gone mad.
“What we have now is a system that is so inflexible that thousands of people are being forced to have multiple checks for different jobs because the checks are not transferable from one to another.”
Fees for the checks have soared to a record £146.4 million in 2014-15, an 11 per cent increase on the year before and a 25 per cent increase on 2010, when the Tories first came to power.
The fee of up to £44 a time is not paid by volunteers but is an additional cost for other bodies who have to pay for checks.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We will not compromise on issues of safeguarding when it comes to the safety of children and vulnerable groups.
“DBS checks provide reassurance to those who may entrust the safety of family members to volunteers and this reported rise suggests a welcome increase in public awareness of safeguarding issues.”