Volunteers will be able to obtain new ‘portable’ criminal record checks without having to pay for them, the Home Office has confirmed.
The system, called the Update Service, will allow people to volunteer for a number of organisations without making multiple applications for a check.
The new service is being run by the Disclosure and Barring Service, which started work this month following the merger of the Criminal Records Bureau and Independent Safeguarding Authority.
Once people have applied for clearance from the DBS they can go online for an instant check to find out whether their certificate is still up to date, thereby avoiding the need for individuals to apply for multiple checks to work with different organisations.
Volunteering England, which had campaigned for free checks for volunteers, said the need for repeated checks had been a major source of complaints from people wanting to volunteer since CRB checks were introduced in 2002.
It had argued that charging to use the new system would create an unnecessary barrier to volunteering.
Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, said Theresa May, the home secretary, had given "a hugely important boost to volunteering by reducing the red tape that gets in the way when people want to give their time to help others".
He added: "We are delighted and relieved that the home secretary has listened to the concerns raised by volunteer-involving organisations by ensuring all aspects of DBS checks remain free to volunteers. This is particularly significant when charities and public services are looking to sustain the enthusiasm for volunteering created by the Olympics and Paralympics."
Twenty-three per cent of criminal records checks in 2011/12 related to volunteers.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach, minister for criminal information, said about the new system: "It is a 21st century service that will deliver real benefits without compromising on public safety. And with nearly two million people expected to take up this new service in its first year – a quarter of whom will be volunteers – those benefits will be far-reaching."