Charities baulk at fingerprinting plans

Charities are alarmed at leaked Government proposals to take the fingerprints of staff and volunteers applying to work with children and vulnerable adults.

Many charities, including Barnardo's and Turning Point, fear the plan would impose an unnecessary financial burden on them and affect levels of volunteering, should it become law.

The Home Office confirmed this week that a consultation paper and questionnaire - leaked to Third Sector - was sent last month to organisations registered with the Criminal Records Bureau. It proposes fingerprinting applicants as a security precaution before allowing them to work or volunteer.

Both Barnardo's and Turning Point question whether there is a compelling argument to introduce fingerprinting. They cite the Home Office figure for wrongly matching an applicant with someone else's record under the current CRB checks of around one in 3,000.

Richard Kramer, head of policy at Turning Point, said: "We don't see these proposals adding extra protection to vulnerable adults, because enhanced disclosures are already very comprehensive."

The Home Office paper has invited views on whether fingerprints should be destroyed "as soon as is practicable after the applicant's identity has been established", adding that if requested, the applicant could "witness their destruction".

Civil rights group Liberty said it saw no reason why the Government should not proceed with the idea, provided safeguards such as these were met.

But Barry Hugill, Liberty's head of communications, warned that there would be "no justification whatsoever" for an attempt to start building up a national database of fingerprints.

The National Centre for Volunteering said it recognised the need to protect vulnerable groups, but felt any requirement for people to be checked at a police station would discourage them from volunteering.

NCVO agreed that requiring fingerprint checks would present a significant deterrent to volunteering, and added that the storage of such information could impinge on privacy and human rights issues. NCVO will consult with its members in due course before writing its response to the consultation.

But Janice Cook, director of human resources at children's charity NCH, said she would welcome the idea if it added to the robustness of checks and if it was likely to make children safer from convicted paedophiles.

She claimed the charity's "careful discussion with potential volunteers over the precise need for checks" should prevent any discord about having to submit fingerprints. "But if people were put off," she said, "then they shouldn't come to work at NCH."

The paper also invites comment on whether prints should be taken only at police stations or whether organisations could be trained to take them in-house, possibly using Livescan machines. Each Livescan unit costs about £12,000, but shows whether an individual has a criminal record within minutes.

The deadline for consultation responses is 16 January 2004.

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