Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the National Association for Voluntary Organisations


  1.1  NCVO welcomes the principle of checks as a key means of protecting children and vulnerable adults. NCVO believes that criminal record checks should be provided free for volunteers. We are pleased to note the Scottish Executive's decision to provide free checks for volunteers in Scotland through an Executive funded central registered body. There is no reason why a similar scheme cannot be adopted in England and NCVO would urge the Committee to recommend this. The Scottish decision also creates the anomaly whereby UK wide organisations who have volunteers in both England and Scotland will have to pay for some checks and not others.


2.1  About NCVO

  NCVO is the largest general membership body for charities and voluntary organisations in England. NCVO has sister councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Established in 1919, NCVO gives voice to over 1700 organisations ranging from large "household name" charities to small self help groups involved in all areas of voluntary and social action at the local level. NCVO champions the cause of the voluntary sector. It believes that the voluntary sector enriches society and should be promoted and supported. It works to increase the effectiveness of the sector, to identify unmet needs and to encourage initiatives to meet those needs.

2.2  NCVO's expertise in relation to this Inquiry

  NCVO welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). The introduction of criminal record checks through the CRB will have a major impact on the sector. Its operation is therefore of particular importance to the voluntary sector.

  2.3  NCVO has worked closely with the CRB, submitting comments on its draft plans. NCVO sits on both the CRB Ministerial Advisory Board and the Customer Forum.

  2.4  Our submission has been informed by consultation with our members. Many member organisations have submitted evidence to us of how the charges for criminal records will affect them. NCVO can supply the Committee with information and case studies in writing or as part of oral evidence, if called.


  3.1  The issue of charges to volunteers for criminal records checks arises out of the passing by Parliament of the 1997 Police Act. Part V of the Act sets out that all people working with children and adults "at risk" should be subject to checks on their criminal records, and provided the power to charge fees for such checks. The Act as finally passed includes provision for the ability for exemptions from charges to be made, which was proposed by the Government when in opposition.


  4.1  NCVO has concerns about:

    —  the Government's prediction of the cost of individual checks ("Disclosures"), and

    —  the Government's estimation of the overall cost of allowing free checks for volunteers.


  5.1  The Government has always said that it wants the fees charged for checks to be as low as possible whilst covering the costs of the Bureau. The Government had consistently predicted that the cost of the Enhanced Disclosure was likely to be £10, with the Standard and Basic Disclosures costing less than this. In April 2000, Home Office Minister of State Charles Clarke MP stated that "until the Bureau's operating costs have been determined, it will not be possible to fix the charges, but the cost has been previously estimated at between £5 and £10, depending on the type of certificate".[12] Deputy Home Secretary Paul Boateng MP also said in a Westminster Hall debate that the costs of checks were likely to be "up to £10 for a certificate".[13]

  5.2  NCVO is concerned that the final cost charged by the CRB for checks may well be higher than has been indicated, not least because the CRB fee is not the only cost that individuals will face when applying for an Enhanced Disclosure. For these higher Disclosures, the application will have to be countersigned by a Registered Body who will confirm that the application meets the relevant criteria. These Registered Bodies will have to pay a fee for registration with the CRB. They will also face their own costs of administering the applications. Unless the Registered Body meets these costs out of existing budgets, they will have to charge a fee to applicants in addition to the CRB charge for the check.

  5.3  The actual cost of the CRB check itself is also not certain. Planning by voluntary organisations has been predicated on the likely cost of the checks being £10. It would be helpful if more concrete indications were made of the actual cost that will be charged by the CRB. The most recent Government statements have appeared to move away from giving a figure—most recently saying that "the fees for such checks have not yet been settled"[14]. With the launch of the registration process for the CRB only three months away, we see no reason why a revised indication of the cost cannot be publicly given. As part of their inquiry, the Committee might like to ask when this figure will be released.

  5.4  It should also be noted that for most, these costs are new costs. Many organisations will also wish to continue the checks that they currently carry out to ensure the highest safety standards.


  6.1  The Government have given estimations of the total cost of exempting volunteers from charges for Disclosures. This varied from £48 million to £200 million. They have also said that a Regulatory Impact Statement will be produced before the end of February 2001—two months before the CRB's registration process starts.

  6.2  Research by NCVO indicates that the number of checks that are likely to be needed via the voluntary sector is much lower—in fact we believe that the total costs to be:

    —  around £11 milliom per year—based on £10 for an enhanced level check, or

    —  around £16 milliom per year—based on £15 for an enhanced level check.

  6.3  NCVO believes that this would not be an onerous burden on the public purse. The alternative is for the cost to be borne by individuals and organisations. Whilst the cost on many individual voluntary organisations will be a major part of their budgets, the overall cost for the state of exempting volunteers is not high.

  6.4  The CRB has carried out market research to forecast demand. Information from this forecast could be used to estimate the overall likely demand for criminal record checks by volunteers and therefore the likely cost of exempting volunteers. Debate on this issue is hindered by the fact that this information has not been published, despite a number of Parliamentary questions on the subject. The Committee might consider asking the CRB for information from these forecasts.


  7.1  The Government has suggested in correspondence that voluntary organisations should apply for funding to cover the costs of criminal record checks to government departments when applying for grants. NCVO correspondence with Ministers suggests that departments do not believe that this cost will be high and have not applied for increased funds during Spending Review 2000 to cover this.

  7.2  The DETR said that they do not anticipate the cost of certificates featuring prominently when voluntary organisations apply for funding from DETR but that the department would consider those costs a legitimate element in applications. The DTI and DCMS did not consider costs of checks in applications for funding to "sufficiently substantial" to include them in SR2000. However, there is no consistency in policy between departments over whether they will cover the costs of checks in funding applications.

  7.3  This also overlooks the fact that most voluntary organisations are funded locally with no funding relationship with central government. This would potentially leave a situation whereby some voluntary organisations with funding relationships with particular government departments would be covered whilst others who have a funding relationship with a different department or who operate at a local level will not be covered. This would be neither equitable nor fair.


  8.1  As suggested above, the implications for individual voluntary organisations will be significant. NCVO has conducted a survey of member organisations likely to be affected. NCVO has also conducted research into the potential effect of charging on those considering volunteering.

  8.2  The scale of the impact on the voluntary sector is disproportionate to other sectors, given the amount of activity and support work with children and young people that takes place in the sector. There are some 120,000 active registered general charities, of which 15 per cent work with children and young people - equivalent to some 18,000 organisations. This figure does not include other charities where working with children is not the main object but who may include projects with young people. In addition, there are some 150,000 amateur sports clubs, the majority of which also involve young people. The extension of checks to vulnerable adults will extend the number of organisations affected.

  8.3  The majority of the voluntary sector is made up of small voluntary organisations with few staff and/or volunteer-led. They are often the least able to access checks at present. The potential implications for them are considerable, whilst the cost on the public purse would be small. These groups rely predominantly on voluntary contributions.

  8.4  It is difficult to estimate the overall effect that charges will have on those wishing to volunteer. However research carried out by ICM Research for NCVO found that many would be discouraged from volunteering if they had to pay for a check:

    —  six out of 10 19-21 year olds

    —  four out of 10 45 to 54 year olds

    —  five out of 10 of those over 65

    —  five out of 10 of those in work


  9.1  Charging volunteers for criminal record checks could undermine much of the positive work done in recent years to promote volunteering. It could also affect the ability of many voluntary organisations to carry out their work. NCVO is therefore asking the Committee to recommend that the Government introduce a system of free checks for volunteers along the lines of the Scottish model.

January 2001

12   House of Commons PQ115923, 23.3. Back

13   Westminster Hall debate on the voluntary sector, 15.6.00, column. Back

14   House of Commons PQ142534, 21.12.00. Back

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