The number of criminal records checks carried out on volunteers more than doubled between 2004/05 and 2010/11, a report from a campaign group says.
The study by the Manifesto Club, which lobbies against what it sees as over-regulation of everyday life such as photography bans and vetting, found that a total of 1.1 million criminal records bureau checks were made on volunteers during that period.
It said 102,815 checks on volunteers were done in 2004/05, peaking at 238,956 in 2009/10 and falling slightly to 228,941 in 2010/11.
The report, Vetting Tree Surgeons: CRB checking and local authorities, says the proportion of all checks that were on volunteers rose from 16 per cent in 2004/05 to 24 per cent in 2010/11.
Many of the volunteers checked were parents helping out in schools. But the report says some councils had also carried out checks on volunteers at smoking cessation, walking, cycling and gardening groups, and those driving elderly people to the shops.
Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club and author of the report, said volunteers at several groups had resigned as a result of what they saw as unnecessary checks. She said the services no longer provided by the volunteers would either cease to exist or would have to be provided at taxpayers’ expense by the public sector.
"These things have quite destructive effects that far outweigh any benefit," she said.
She said that the checks did not detect would-be abusers without criminal records and might give organisations a false sense of security.
"If the government is serious about scaling back vetting, it should introduce proper procedures for investigating over-checking authorities – and penalties for unnecessary checks," Appleton said.
A Home Office spokesman said: "This report highlights yet more examples of just how excessive the current system of employment checking has become. This is why we are scaling the regime back to common-sense levels so that the public are properly protected but the number of unnecessary checks is substantially reduced.
"Our proposals, currently before parliament in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, will ensure that employers are able to make the right decisions on who should be checked. We have strengthened our guidance to make clear the financial penalties for employers who carry out unnecessary checks."