Free criminal checks are saved by Compact code

Free criminal record checks for volunteers have been saved by tough negotiations to agree a new Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice, unveiled at the European Volunteering Assembly in Wolverhampton last week.

Volunteer numbers are growing, but the proportion of checks on them are also rising rapidly under pressure from insurers and charities' risk assessments - volunteers account for about 20 per cent of all criminal record checks.

Christopher Spence, chief executive of Volunteering England, said of the negotiations with the Home Office: "We had a fight to keep the checks free - it is an important undertaking. Otherwise, that cost becomes a tax on volunteering."

As one of five codes linked to the overall Compact governing charities' relationship with government, the new volunteering code updates the first version of four years ago with significant innovations, including:

- For the first time, descriptions of what can be classed as volunteering go beyond providing services to include "community activism, campaigning and action to change society";

- Volunteering is explicitly defined as "unpaid" and "not a substitute for paid work", which may cut across both Russell Commission and Scottish ideas of paying young people allowances to volunteer;

- Government recognition of volunteering organisations' independence and its commitment to adopt policies to help volunteering's infrastructure develop "realistic, sustainable long-term funding".

Spence added that the core costs of volunteering, such as volunteer centres, were already being met by statutory sources in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and he hoped England would fall in line with the rest of the UK soon.

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