Criminal background checks for charities

While criminal background checks are not mandatory for everyone working in a charity setting, DBS checking is a legal requirement for all roles involving work with young people and vulnerable adults.

Keeping volunteers and anyone accessing charity services safe is at the heart of a charities success and reputation, as Oxfam have recently found out. With the charity sector now firmly under the spotlight, it is more important than ever before to ensure that all charity staff reflect the values of the organisation. A recent investigation by BBC Radio 5 Live surveyed 10 of the UK’s largest charities and uncovered at least 230 allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards staff and volunteers alone. 11 of these victims were under 18.

Criminal record checking will not guarantee that staff will act appropriately, but it can help identify those candidates who may not be suitable for a role, or who are not legally allowed to work in the position. The authorities providing criminality checks in the UK are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), covering England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland (DS) and Access NI (Northern Ireland).

There are three main levels of checking: Basic – which only checks for unspent convictions, Standard – which looks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands, and Enhanced – the highest level of check which reveals spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and any other relevant police data.

Over 11 million people in the UK have a criminal record, and many of these convictions may legally prevent people from being employed, either paid or on a voluntary basis, for certain roles. And while getting access to Standard and Enhanced checking requires a role involving children or vulnerable adults, a Basic DBS check can be used for any person or purpose and includes details of convictions and conditional cautions that are unspent.

All charities rely on the help and support they get from volunteers but failing to carry out adequate criminal record checks on all staff members could be disastrous for those volunteering, accessing services or the charity itself.