CRB Charging Volunteers: Will they or won’t they?

Rumours started flying a week ago that the CRB was going to start charging for volunteer criminal records checks. Here we piece together the Chinese whispers – a newsletter from the CRB in June and then an article in Third Sector last week…

First the June CRB newsletter Disclosure News:

The CRB is committed to providing free checks for all applications that meet its criteria for volunteers. About 20% of applications received last year were for volunteer positions, representing a total saving to the relevant organisations of about £22.8m.

However, some customers are applying for free-of-charge checks for posts that do not appear to meet the criteria. The CRB is cracking down to ensure that a fee is paid whenever it is appropriate.

The CRB definition of a volunteer is: “Any person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out of pocket expenses), which aims to benefit some third party other than or in addition to a close relative”.

It is sometimes assumed that, as the person is not directly employed or salaried the position is voluntary. However, if the person engaging in the activity receives a payment, in excess of expenses they actually incur, or benefits directly themselves, the position will not satisfy the CRB’s definition of a volunteer.

For example Foster Carers who receive an allowance for the activity, would not be considered as volunteers as they are paid. Members of the household of the foster carer are also not volunteers as the mandatory checks in respect of them form part of the fostering application for the position.

Students, or those on work experience, who undertake a role requiring a Disclosure as part of their course, also do not meet the definition of a volunteer. This is because the primary aim of the person engaging in the activity is to benefit themselves by acquiring a qualification or skill that may lead to employment.

Mentoring/Tutoring activities can adopt different approaches to the way they are run, which means in some schemes the individual receives a course credit or a final end payment. In other schemes many applicants will be genuine volunteers. It is important that organisations establish if any form of payment or benefit is received before declaring that the position is in respect of a volunteer.

The ‘Position Applied For’ field in Section B13 of the application form for Enhanced checks, helps the Police make an informed decision of the relevancy of any information they hold and whether it should be released. Unclear or ambiguous entries may delay the Disclosure process, and terms such as volunteer or helper should not be used in this field. Applications should specify the actual role being undertaken and avoid using vague terms such as:

  • Student Counsellor – Is the individual the student or are they counselling a student?
  • Volunteer – an unpaid position but doing what?
  • Helper – helping whom to do what?

To identify an application as a volunteer, simply place an X in the box at section Y8. The CRB may invoice for any application which it considers does not meet the definition, and take retrospective action to recover the cost of any previously issued free-of-charge Disclosures. The CRB may also consider imposing sanctions, including the suspension or cancellation of an organisation’s or a Countersignatory’s registration status for those who continue to be non-compliant with the Conditions of Registration.

Then the article in Third Sector:

Volunteers who ‘benefit’ may be charged for record checks

By Indira Das-Gupta, Third Sector, 25 July 2007

The Criminal Records Bureau and the Cabinet Office are discussing whether to end free-of-charge checks for volunteers who “benefit directly” from the experience, such as by receiving certificates.

CRB guidance states that checks should be free for all volunteers. However, the agency’s monthly newsletter, CRB Disclosure News, reported that individuals will not “satisfy the CRB’s definition of a volunteer” if they “receive payments, in excess of expenses they actually incur, or benefit directly themselves”.

The newsletter said that the development was part of a crackdown to “ensure that a fee is paid whenever it is appropriate”.

Several charities have expressed concern that any volunteering placement that results in accreditation could be affected. The move, which could potentially affect the popular Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and the Millennium Volunteers programme, comes at a time when more charities are beginning to offer opportunities that benefit volunteers.

A CSV spokesman said: “When CRB checks were introduced, we had assurance that there would be no charge for volunteers.

“The suggestion that young people who serve fulltime away from home and receive accommodation, food and an allowance are not volunteers would be to re-write history. It would limit volunteering to the children of the rich, contrary to government policy of inclusion.”

A spokesman for Volunteering England said: “We understand the need to ensure that applications for free checks for volunteer positions are genuine. We would, however, be concerned if minor benefits that arise as a consequence of volunteering, such as training or accreditation, are used as reasons to deny free checks.”

Debbie Usiskin, one of the founders of the Association of Volunteer Managers, said that the wording “benefiting directly” was unworkable. “All volunteers benefit directly in some way from their experience,” she said.

“There needs to be a sector- wide discussion of what it means to be a volunteer.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The CRB is in talks with the Cabinet Office about the effect of upskilling volunteers through qualifications and the effect that this might have on the ability to meet the CRB’s criteria for free-of-charge checks.”

Finally Mark Restall from Volunteering England gave the following clarification on UKVPMs:

As far as we’re aware the recent article in Disclosure News (on which the Third Sector story was based) was simply a restatement of the CRB’s position on free checks for volunteers. The definition of volunteer they use is the commonly accepted definition – in summary that volunteering is unpaid, freely entered into and for the benefit of others or the environment. It’s the definition given in the Compact code on volunteering.

The purpose was partially to clarify that ‘volunteering’ schemes where participants receive payments over and above reimbursement of their out of pocket expenses are not eligible for free checks.

Volunteering England would strongly resist any attempt to use minor benefits that arise as a consequence of volunteering to be used as a reason to exclude access to free checks.

It also worth noting that the CRB ‘reaffirmed‘ it’s commitment to free checks for volunteer just back in February 2007:

The CRB is committed to providing free-of-charge checks for volunteers and this commitment was reflected in our recent press release on fee levels for 2007/08.

Some 20% of all CRB checks are issued to volunteers, which represented a saving of £22.8m to volunteers in the past 12 months. The CRB is aware, however, that some customers appear to be confused over the current definition of a ‘volunteer’ and apply for free-of-charge checks on positions were a fee is due. Customer should note that the CRB will recover the fee if the application has been incorrectly marked as ‘volunteer no payment due’.

The CRB is also looking to see if the current definition and/or associated guidance need to be clarified to ensure that free-of-charge checks are only requested for genuine volunteers.

We’ll continue to follow this one with close interest.

Related links

Definition of a volunteer – CRB

CRB rejects need to review volunteer definition – Third Sector

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