Millions of us volunteer in the UK every year. Over the course of a year, about 40% of people get involved in some sort of voluntary work, whether on a regular basis or as a one-off. It’s hard to put a value on all of this unpaid effort, but what is certainly true is that events and activities just couldn’t run without enthusiastic volunteers. Over the years, the requirements for volunteers has changed. Organisations have to take responsibility for their volunteers in exactly the same way as they do for paid members of staff. That means making sure they have the right to live and work in the UK, and run DBS checks on them if applicable.
What volunteers need DBS checks?
There is no separate rule for DBS checks when it comes to volunteers. The decision about whether or not someone needs a DBS check will depend on the type of work they are going to be doing, not on whether or not they are salaried. Many volunteers won’t need DBS checks at all. Doing something like volunteering at a large sporting event, or working in a charity shop does not fall into the definition of regulated activity and will not need a DBS check. Charities and other organisations who are involved in other sectors which are classed as regulated work should know which volunteers need a DBS check and which don’t.
There is another aspect to DBS checks and volunteers and it’s all about how often you are going to be volunteering. If someone is only volunteering once a term or for a one-off event at a hospital or similar, a DBS check might not be required. Only volunteers who are giving up their time on average once a week, or more than four times over the course of a month need a DBS check. A good example would be a Brownie pack with a rota of parent helpers. The leaders who are there every week would need an enhanced DBS check, or similar checks in Scotland and Northern Ireland. A parent who is asked to help out once a term to make up the numbers would not need a DBS certificate to help out on that basis. The only exception is when parents or other volunteers are asked to volunteer for a residential trip or activity which involves staying overnight. In those situations, all adults over the age of 18 need a DBS check.
Free DBS Checks for Volunteers
One of the only differences between DBS checks for workers and for volunteers is that volunteers do not have to pay for their DBS checks, and neither does the organisation they are volunteering for. Legally, a volunteer is defined as someone who freely gives up their time for the benefit of others, unpaid. Volunteers are allowed to receive expenses, or get a free lunch if they are working a full day. However, even If payment isn’t in wages but is in accommodation or vouchers instead, that role no longer counts as voluntary. People who are working as interns or on work experience placement might not be paid, but again are not volunteers because their work is not for the benefit of others. If there’s any confusion about whether a role falls into the definition of volunteer or not, the DBS will be able to give advice.
Applying for a DBS Check as a Volunteer
If you’ve established that you do fall into the legal definition of a volunteer, and the role you will be doing falls into the category of regulated activity, then the next step is the application process. There is no difference in the way a volunteer applies for a DBS check compared with any other worker. First, complete the application form. The easiest way to do this is online, but some charities are still using the old-school paper forms. Either method has the same end result. Don’t rush through the application form whatever method you are using. There are lots of rules about the information required, and the format in which you must give it. For example, you are asked for all of your previous names, not just your current name. The other stumbling block is often address history. DBS don’t ask for a complete address history, but do want to know where you’ve been living over the past 5 years. Any gaps in your address history or incomplete information like missing postcodes could result in your application being rejected. Get advice from the DBS if your address history is complex, or if you’ve been living overseas recently.
The charity or organisation you are helping will then ask for a range of identity documents to prove who you are, and where you live. There is a long list of documents which can be accepted, and charities will be able to help you get the right combination. Most people provide passport, driving licence, bank statements, credit card bills or utility bills. All documents you show must be original, and either currently valid or dated within the last three months. The approved person at the voluntary organisation will check over your documents, and make sure that the picture on passport or driving licences matches your appearance.
Finally, the form is sent off to the DBS who will search their databases to see if there is any information held about you. Depending on the type of job you are applying to do, they might disclose all of the information, or none of it. Processing time on DBS checks is generally about two or three weeks, but this can vary depending on how busy the system is. Once the certificate is printed, the DBS will send the certificate out in the post to the address you have given them. Each volunteer organisation will have different rules about how often a volunteer needs to go through the process again and get a new DBS check. Usually, this is between three and five years.