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Volunteers and DBS Checks

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According to official figures there are around 14.5 million people in the UK who volunteer regularly. Volunteers do everything from working behind the counter at their local charity shop to pushing tea trolleys round hospital wards. Volunteers are an unpaid army who contribute in a multitude of ways to their local economies. Although volunteers don’t get paid for the work they do, they still have to conform to many of the same standards as employees.


What is a volunteer?

We all think we know that a volunteer is, but do we really? Each organisation has its own definition when it comes to volunteers. As far as the DBS is concerned, a volunteer is someone who gives their time for an organisation without payment, doing something which benefits a third party. Therefore, someone volunteering in a business to get experience for a University application wouldn’t be a volunteer according to DBS rules as their work doesn’t benefit a third party. People volunteering with youth or sporting organisations, or in hospitals and charities would be volunteers, even if they receive expenses or their lunch while they’re working.


DBS Checks for Volunteers

The Disclosure and Barring Service makes no distinction between paid staff and volunteers when it comes to who needs a DBS check. Organisations are only allowed to request standard or enhanced DBS checks on volunteers who are undertaking regulated activity, which in most cases means working either with children or vulnerable adults. Anyone can get a basic DBS check, which only shows someone’s current, unspent criminal cautions and convictions. In practice, few organisations do this, and there is a general move to not running basic DBS checks as a matter of course, only in situations where evidence of good character is critical.


Applying for a DBS Check as a Volunteer

The good news is that in most cases, volunteers don’t pay anything for their DBS checks. This is assuming the person meets the DBS definition of a volunteer, and the role which they are doing requires the check. The application form is exactly the same, whether the person applying is a worker or volunteer. You just tick the box on the form stating that you are applying as a volunteer. Usually, the organisation which you will be volunteering with will have lots of help and assistance during the process.

One of the potentially awkward parts of the application is proving your identity with a range of key documents such as passport or bank statements. Applicants have to show the originals of these documents to a designated person within the organisation. If this person is also a volunteer, probably with another job or other commitments, organising this can be difficult. Any delays at this stage will delay the overall timescales for getting the DBS certificate returned. Once your DBS certificate arrives in the post, take it to the organisation you will be volunteering with. They may take a copy but will return the original to you. Many organisations renew DBS checks on volunteers every three to five years, but this will vary between organisations.