Local authorities 'ignoring Government guidance on CRB checks'

Charities forced by councils to vet back-office volunteers, experts tell LGA conference

Local councils are ignoring Office of the Third Sector guidelines on Criminal Records Bureau checks for volunteers, experts have claimed.

The Office of the Third Sector guidance says there is no need for CRB checks on volunteers who will not have face-to-face contact with vulnerable people.

But Audrey Lewis, cabinet member for customers and neighbourhoods at Westminster Council, told delegates at a Local Government Association conference on volunteering in London yesterday that local authorities were requiring charities to conduct checks on volunteers even if they had no contact with vulnerable people – a situation she described as "crazy".

"This is making it difficult for charities to engage people," she said. "If people who want to volunteer have to wait around for a CRB check, they may well lose interest. Local councils should remove the request for blanket checks from their service-level agreements with charities and voluntary groups.

"Obviously, volunteers who will have contact with children and elderly people should be checked, but for people volunteering in administrative roles and working behind the scenes, these checks are unnecessary and are a barrier to volunteering."

Lynne Berry, chief executive of volunteering organisation WRVS, urged the LGA to press councils to follow the Office of the Third Sector's guidance, which was published in November 2008.

Sally Cooke, third sector policy consultant at the LGA, told Third Sector that local authorities had different interpretations of the guidance. She said she would distribute the guidelines to local authorities to encourage greater consistency.

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