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Volunteers and Disclosure Checks

Apply for a DBS Check

The surge of volunteers stepping forward to help the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic came as no surprise to people who work in the UK voluntary sector. Even before the pandemic hit, 20 million of us were giving up time on a regular basis to volunteer for a cause close to their hearts. Not all of these volunteers will require a criminal background check when they apply for a position, but some might. There are many similarities to the process for other workers, but some important differences for volunteers too.


What is a Volunteer?

Everyone thinks they know what a volunteer is, but the legal definition is quite specific. A volunteer is someone who doesn’t get paid for their work, and who is volunteering to bring benefit to people other than themselves. Someone helping out one morning a week in their local charity shop meet the definition of a volunteer, as they are not getting wages and their work benefits the aims of that charity. Someone volunteering in an advertising agency to get work experience wouldn’t meet the definition according to the DBS because although they are still not getting paid, there is no benefit to anyone other than themselves. This can all get fairly technical, but with most voluntary positions, it’s very clear what someone’s status is. Not all volunteers will need a DBS check, for example people working in a charity shop, or volunteering with animals won’t need police checks. But anyone going into a hospital or volunteering for work with other vulnerable groups in society probably will.


DBS Checks for Volunteers

When it comes to deciding which volunteers need DBS checks, the rules are just the same as they are for other paid members of staff. If, for example, someone volunteers as a sports coach with an under 12s football side, that work falls into the category of regulated activity with children, whether the person is being paid or not. People who are volunteering to get involved with the administration of charities, sitting on committees, and managing bank accounts might also require a DBS check before they are given access to funds. Large sports organisations, charities and children’s clubs like Brownies all have centralised policies about DBS checks and will offer lots of help and guidance to helpers who wish to apply for a police check. Many organisations may be able to have volunteers start work right away while they are waiting for their final certificate to arrive. This will depend on what sort of work the volunteer will be doing, and how easy it will be for them to be supervised when doing so.

They might also be able to clear up some of the confusion around the range of terminology used about police checks in the UK. In England and Wales, the scheme is run by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) which replaced another body called the CRB. People will still talk about a CRB application when they really mean a disclosure check. Volunteers in Northern Ireland get their checks done through AccessNI, and the body in Scotland is called Disclosure Scotland. All of these organisations have their own processes and procedures, but the end result is the same – a certificate arrives in the post. You don’t have choice over which organisation you apply through. Your current address will determine which of the bodies will run your police check for you.


No Payment Required

The main advantage of applying for a DBS check as a volunteer is that you don’t pay for the check to be processed. For most workers in paid positions, the cost of the check is something their either pay themselves, or their employer pays for them. When applying for a volunteer DBS check, no fee applies. Just tick the box on the form saying that you are doing voluntary work, and your DBS check will be processed free of charge, at no cost to either you, or the organisation which you are volunteering with. Most large organisations will have their own system for getting checks done for their volunteers. Other, smaller organisations may use umbrella bodies which process a range of checks for different clients. Just make sure that any umbrella organisation knows that you are a volunteer, and that you shouldn’t be charged for your check.


Renewing your DBS Certificate

DBS certificates aren’t printed with an expiry date, and that means that the decision about how frequently to renew checks lies with the charity or organisation concerned. Most will choose to review their staff and volunteer DBS checking every three to five years, but there is no law around this. The process for renewing a DBS check is just the same as it is for getting your first DBS checks; there are no short cuts unfortunately.