Protection of Freedoms

Memorandum submitted by the Lawn Tennis Association (PF 64)

1. The Lawn Tennis Association and the criminal records checks

1.1. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is the National Governing Body for the sport of Tennis in Great Britain. We are responsible for advising and regulating organisations and individuals within British tennis in relation to child welfare and protection. We also provide a national criminal records checking service for individuals involved in tennis, and submitted nearly 5000 applications to the CRB in the last year.

1.2. We work closely with the Child Protection in Sport Unit of the NSPCC to implement the Standards for Safeguarding and Protecting Children in Sport. Like many other sport, we support the submission made to this committee by the Sport and Recreation Alliance in conjunction with the Child Protection in Sport Unit.

1.3. The LTA also provides child protection, welfare, CRB and disciplinary/complaints services for the Tennis Foundation, the charitable body that helps to develop and promote community, schools and disability tennis. The Tennis Foundation has a particular interest in the impact that the Protection of Freedoms Bill could have on services provided to vulnerable adults.

1.4. We believe that British tennis has a responsibility to provide environments in which children can play and challenge themselves with enjoyment and safety.

1.5. The safe recruitment of individuals to our sport is an important aspect of this. We also recognise that the provision of these environments requires that volunteers and small organisations are not burdened with excessive administration or intrusive checking and monitoring. The LTA has always taken a balanced approach to CRB checking, actively discouraging organisations from adopting ‘blanket check’ policies, and questioning individual applications where the need for a check is unclear.

2. Introduction and summary

2.1. We believe that the regime proposed in the Protection of Freedoms Bill for criminal records checks, for the barring of risky individuals from working with children, and for the continuous updating of criminal records information, has the potential to improve upon the current system.

2.2. There are some areas that we believe require modification or clarification to ensure an effective system.

2.3. We believe that the exclusion of supervised activity from the definition of ‘regulated activity’ should apply only to activities where the supervision is ‘close and constant’.

2.4. The current definition of ‘regulated activity’ typically marks the outer limit of the activities that are eligible for criminal records checking. If applied properly, the definition tends to accord with public expectation as to who will be checked. Therefore, if ‘regulated activity’ is to be defined more narrowly, it is critical that eligibility to conduct discretionary checks on those outside regulated activity remains available, and that the provision for this is clarified.

2.5. We also believe that the move to issue disclosure information to the applicant only will create significant bureaucracy, and may disadvantage those that the measure is intended to protect.

3. ‘Regulated activity’ and the definition of ‘supervision’

3.1. The Protection of Freedoms Bill amends this definition so that supervised activity is excluded from the definition of regulated activity.

3.2. Many tennis organisations work on the basis of having a fully qualified coach, and a number of assistants. Some of these assistants may be qualified assistant coaches, and others will be club volunteers. These assistants will often be ‘supervised’ by the head coach during sessions, but may organise and run activities on separate tennis courts. They will have extensive opportunities to build relationships of trust and authority with children, and might be prominent figures within the organisation. Similar working arrangements apply to officials who cover multiple local events, and to teams of volunteers who supervise and train junior teams at club or county level within the sport.

3.3. We therefore support the proposal put forward by the Sport and Recreation Alliance and by the NSPCC that the exclusion from regulated activity should be for ‘close and constant supervision’. This will ensure that occasional helpers or those with little responsibility are excluded from the mandatory checking and barring system, but that some of those who work with children and have significant authority and trust remain subject to the regulatory framework.

4. Eligibility for checks outside ‘Regulated Activity’

4.1. We strongly believe that criminal records checks should remain available for positions outside regulated activity at the discretion of the deploying organisation. Although the government report on the Vetting and Barring Scheme suggested that this would be maintained, the Bill does not make it clear how this will be permitted. This will be particularly important if the scope of regulated activity is narrowed.

4.2. In practice, the LTA refers to the definition of regulated activity provided in the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Act and associated guidance to define the scope of CRB eligibility. In many cases, this marks the outer limit of the exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. As a result, the proposed exclusion of supervised positions from mandatory checking will also remove the eligibility for discretionary checking.

4.3. In our experience, reference to the current definitions helps to exclude many positions from checking. In her review of the criminal records regime, Sunita Mason provided examples of posts for which checks had been requested that appeared disproportionate. These checks would have been excluded by considering the positions against the current definition of regulated activity. The LTA uses this as the basis for refusing to process many checks. Examples include checks requested for: grounds-workers; adult members of teams including junior players; club treasurers; volunteers assisting with one-off events.

4.4. There are, however, many positions that fall within the current scope of criminal records checking but which are subject to supervision, and hence are excluded from regulated activity by the Protection of Freedoms Bill. We believe that organisations should have the discretion to carry out criminal records checks for such positions, including where supervision of the deployed person is close and constant.

4.5. An example of where this would be relevant is a tennis tournament organiser. He or she might be subject to close and constant supervision when attending an event, remaining within an office with a referee and other adults. But he or she will also possess significant authority, be known and trusted by parents and players, and have access to significant amounts of personal information about the participating junior players, such as their names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, recent tennis activities and club membership. This level of access and trust may warrant criminal record checking, depending on the particular environment within which the individual is deployed.

5. Issuing of disclosures to the applicant only

5.1. Clause 77 of the Protection of Freedoms Bill proposes that criminal record disclosures will be issued only to the applicant, and no longer to the Registered Body. We understand that an electronic system will provide rapid confirmation where there is no criminal record, and we welcome this proposal.

5.2. Where there is criminal records information to disclose, the proposed system could undermine safety and create significant administrative difficulty. We also believe that it will have the largest adverse effect on those people that the measure seeks to protect (those with minor or incorrect information on their disclosure).

5.3. In the informal setting of a tennis club, disclosures are often requested when someone moves into a formal role, having already been known for some time. If a criminal record of concern is revealed, the proposal would provide an opportunity for the applicant to delay or obfuscate in providing the information. Local clubs would be placed in an invidious position in pursuing this information.

5.4. Where criminal records information is disclosed, the risks of misuse of this information could be heightened under the proposed system. At present, the LTA receives criminal record disclosures as the Registered Body. We are therefore able to provide support and advice to individual organisations when they receive criminal records information. This prevents the mishandling or misuse of information by small organisations that lack expertise in this area. Under the proposed system, local organisations would need to request the disclosure information directly from the individual, bypassing the LTA’s system of support and advice. This creates the risk that dangerous individuals are not properly managed. More frequently, however, we believe that applicants who pose a small or manageable risk will be most disadvantaged by this, since local clubs are likely to be risk averse, lacking the confidence and experience to assess risk closely.

5.5. For those individuals who are applying for LTA positions (such as an LTA accredited Coach or Official), the LTA will be forced into a more risk averse position if criminal records information is disclosed. The LTA has immediate sight of this information under the current system. This allows us to take an informed view of any potential risk. In most cases, this allows us to complete further correspondence and decision-making with the individual without imposing significant restrictions. Under the proposed system, the LTA would not know whether the applicant’s disclosure revealed very serious and recent offences, or minor issues. Unless the applicant provides information to the LTA very quickly, we will be forced to assume that there are serious concerns, and to act accordingly. We always seek to maintain a respectful and courteous dialogue with applicants, and we fear that this position could be undermined.

5.6. The proposed system will undoubtedly create additional bureaucracy for individuals and organisations. Applicants will need to arrange for a copy of their disclosure paperwork to be verified and sent on to bodies such as the LTA. There is also an increased danger of disclosure documents being forged or altered, and this will create an increased need for training and specialist scrutiny within our sport. We understand that the government is researching effective anti-fraud measures, and we look forward to the outcome of this.

6. Conclusion

6.1. There are many potential benefits to the system proposed under the Protection of Freedoms Bill, both to the individuals whose rights will be better protected, and to the organisations and applicants who will face a reduced level of bureaucracy. We are committed to supporting these developments and realising the benefits across British tennis.

6.2. The positive aspects of these proposals could be undermined if other aspects create a system that continues to have cumbersome elements, or which does not retain the confidence of the parents, volunteers, children and vulnerable adults who rely upon it.

6.3. We hope that effective solutions to our concerns can be examined in order to make the best use of this important opportunity to reform the current system. The LTA would be pleased to continue to work with government departments and agencies to develop the most effective system possible.

May 2011