CRB rejects need to review volunteer definition

The Criminal Records Bureau yesterday ruled out making changes to its definition of a volunteer and denied there was a need for further clarification. The agency faced criticism after suggesting that volunteers who "directly benefit" should not qualify for free records checks.

Last month’s issue of Disclosure News, the CRB’s monthly newsletter, stated that an individual will not satisfy the bureau’s definition of a volunteer if they “receive payments in excess of expenses they actually incur or they benefit directly themselves” (Third Sector, 25, July 2007).

Vince Gaskill, chief executive of the bureau, said the move is part of a CRB crackdown to stop abuses of the free checks system.

Although Gaskill denied that this was a departure from previous guidance, some sector organisations have said that the latest update from Disclosure News could lead to confusion.

“The advice in the newsletter needs clarification,” said a spokesman for WRVS, which provides volunteers for hospitals. “Some voluntary organisations may interpret it in a way that means they stop making any benefits available, which could mean that their volunteering opportunities start to lose their appeal.

“We are constantly looking at ways to enhance the volunteering experience and have looked at introducing incentives such as certificates, so that it is recognised more tangibly. Volunteers should be able to derive benefits when they are available without it affecting their eligibility for free checks.”

Gaskill made his comments at the launch of the CRB’s annual report and user survey. According to the bureau, more than 60,000 unsuitable people have been prevented from working with vulnerable groups as a result of its checks. Figures also showed that 3.2 million checks were carried out last year, with an accuracy rate of 99.94 per cent. A total of 20 per cent of these checks were for volunteers and were therefore free to the organisations concerned.

The CRB plans to introduce electronic checks later this year and has set itself targets of completing 90 per cent of standard checks within 10 days and 99 per cent of enhanced checks within 60 days in 2008.

It also plans to introduce a new level of disclosure called “basic”, which will only contain details of convictions considered “unspent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

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