Q&A: Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups – employers’ duties

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 – introduced on 8 November 2006 as a result of the Bichard Inquiry arising from the Soham murders in 2002, when Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells were murdered by their school caretaker – comes into force in October. Employers covered by the Act will be required to carry out pre-employment vetting before an individual is allowed to start work for them.

Q How does the Act protect children and vulnerable adults?

A The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) has been set up to work with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) to gather relevant information on any person who wants to work or volunteer with vulnerable people under a new vetting scheme. Such workers will be assessed using data gathered by the CRB, including relevant criminal convictions, cautions and police intelligence.

Q What is a vulnerable adult?

A Someone who is aged 18 and above and who meets one of the other conditions, for example: someone who is in residential accommodation, sheltered housing, domiciliary care, in receipt of any form of healthcare or requires assistance in the conduct of their affairs.

Q Who is likely to be affected by the Act?

A It will affect local authorities, schools, hospitals, healthcare, social care, leisure, hospitality, sports clubs and charities. It will affect staff carrying out a “controlled activity” or “regulated activity” in relation to children and vulnerable adults.

Q What is a controlled activity?

A This applies to those involved in frequent or intensive support work in general health settings, the NHS and further education – for example, cleaners, caretakers, shop workers, catering staff and receptionists. It also applies to those in support work in adult social care settings, such as day centre cleaners, day care workers and those with access to social care records. It also applies to people who work for specified organisations who have frequent access to sensitive records about children and vulnerable adults, such as a local authority. Their contact with vulnerable groups must either be frequent or involve three or more days in any period of 30 days.

Q What is a regulated activity?

A This applies to those involved in teaching, training, care, supervision, advice or treatment and transportation. It also captures fostering and childcare and people in certain defined positions of responsibility, such as a school governor, director of social services and trustee of certain charities. For this to apply, their contact with vulnerable groups must either be frequent – ie one day in a 30-day period, take place at any time during three or more days in any period of 30 days, or occur at any time between 2 am and 6 am where the employee has the opportunity to have face-to-face contact with children or vulnerable adults.

Q When does the Act come into force?

A It will be phased in gradually. The vetting and barring scheme comes into force on 12 October 2009. Two barring lists will be administered by the ISA rather than the three lists currently handled by two government departments.

Q Is ISA registration compulsory from 12 October 2009?

A The original implementation date for registration under the vetting and barring scheme was 12 October 2009, but this has been put back by the Home Office. From 26 July 2010, all new entrants to roles working with vulnerable groups and those switching jobs within these sectors may register with the ISA and be checked by them. From November 2010, all employees carrying out a regulated activity must register with the scheme.

Q What must employers do in 2010?

A Employers and personnel suppliers who recruit staff or place candidates to work with children or vulnerable adults will need to check their ISA status to determine whether or not they can employ them.

Q What about existing staff who have already been vetted?

A Existing employees and volunteers with CRB checks will also need to apply for ISA registration. Employers should start with staff whose CRB checks are the oldest.

Q Will staff have to be re-vetted over time?

A Once the employer has registered their interest with the ISA, the ISA will automatically contact the employer should the individual’s status change.

Q Can employees on the ISA ‘barred list’ ask to be removed from it?

A Should they no longer wish to work or volunteer in a regulated capacity then they may opt out of the scheme by writing to the ISA. However, if they decide at a later stage to carry out a regulated activity, they would be required to re-register as the ISA would not have been monitoring them while they were out of the scheme.

Q What are the penalties if employers breach the Act?

A It will be a criminal offence for an employer to take on a person in a regulated activity if they fail to check their status and for an employer or personnel supplier to allow a barred person, or a person who is not yet registered with the ISA, to work for any length of time in any regulated activity. The punishment is imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to £5,000. It will also be a criminal offence for an employer to take on an individual in a controlled activity if they fail to check their status.

Q How much will it cost employers to check someone’s ISA status?

A There is no charge for online checks.

Q How much will it cost for staff and job applicants to register with the ISA, and how long will it take to be registered?

A There is a one-off registration fee of £64 (£28, in addition to the £36 CRB disclosure fee), which is intended to cover the applicant for the duration of their career in regulated activity. Those involved in unpaid voluntary activity are exempt from the application fee. You are registered within seven working days.

Q Should the employer or employee pay for the cost of registration?

A Companies will have to decide who pays the pre-recruitment costs.

Q What should employers do before 26 July 2010?

A All employers should:

  • Audit their operational areas to identify risk groups.
  • Budget early for the vetting costs.
  • Consider registering existing employees and volunteers from 26 July 2010.
  • Ensure that all new job applicants and employees are registered with the ISA by November 2010 before their start dates.

Julian Yew, senior solicitor, Wedlake Bell

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