COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Criminal record check costs hit small groups

Small community projects such as creches will end up closing because they cannot afford the cost of getting volunteers and staff checked with the new Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), the National Association for Volunteer Bureaux (NAVB) has warned.

From April, all charities working with children, youths and vulnerable adults will have to vet their volunteers and staff with the CRB.

Large charities or umbrella bodies are expected to process criminal record checks on behalf of smaller organisations by paying £300 to register as "open

bodies with the CRB. But so far only 11 organisations have come forward, making the system unworkable.

In order to drum up support, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the NAVB and several other large umbrella bodies have started a lobbying campaign ahead of the scheme's launch this week.

The campaign will call on the Government to fund voluntary sector organisations to run the checks on behalf of small groups, which have neither resources nor knowledge to do it themselves.

An earlier Government announcement about free criminal-records checks only referred to volunteers, and only to certain specific checks. Basic CRB checks still cost £12 each, and voluntary agencies registering themselves as umbrella bodies claim the cost to them will be a great deal more in terms of staff time and resources.

The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services estimated it would need three extra staff and an additional £100,000 a year to comply with the CRB code of practice. Chris Penberthy of the NAVB said the self-financing system envisaged by the Home Office represents government "charging by stealth". It wants the Government to pay £30,000 per agency so it can provide the service free to members.

The NCVO, the National Association for Voluntary Childcare Organisations, the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action and other bodies have written to home secretary David Blunkett, saying the system will deter volunteers.

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