UK: Employing Staff Who Work with Children or Vulnerable Adults - What Are Your Obligations?

Last Updated: 11 August 2010
Article by Emilie Bennetts

The Problem

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 provided for a centralised vetting system with the Independent Safeguarding Authority for those working with children or vulnerable adults. This much-criticised vetting and barring scheme, which would have affected millions of staff in education and health services, as well as many volunteers and charity groups, is on hold and is to be "fundamentally remodelled" by the new government.

What does this mean for employers whose work involves children and / or vulnerable adults?

The Law

Working with children and vulnerable adults is highly regulated. While most employers are free to decide to what extent they wish to vet prospective employees, vetting for people who work with children or vulnerable adults is mandatory.

The first wave of voluntary registration with the Independent Safeguarding Authority for new employees and job movers who work with children or vulnerable adults was due to start in July 2010, with the Authority working closely with the Criminal Records Bureau to assess the suitability of job applicants. From November 2010 this registration process was due to become compulsory, leading to a process which would ultimately have led to the gathering of information on an estimated nine million people.

In addition, under the original timescale, from 1 November of this year employers had an obligation to check that new employees and job movers were registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority. It would have been a criminal offence for an employer to take on an individual without first checking that person's status.

Finally, employees who already work with children or vulnerable adults and who have not moved into a new role with a new employer were then due to apply for registration from 2011, with mandatory registration coming into force in 2015.

There had been criticisms that requiring the registration of so many people was draconian and created an atmosphere of suspicion. Registration with the Independent Safeguarding Authority has now been halted.

Expert Advice

Full details of how the scheme will change have yet to be announced but in the meantime, various other aspects of the scheme will remain in force, and the existing requirements for criminal record checks will continue to apply for people seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults. The Independent Safeguarding Authority will continue to maintain two lists of barred individuals; one in respect of vulnerable adults and one in respect of children. It is still a criminal offence to employ individuals who are on the barred list. The duty of referral will also remain, where employers must in certain circumstances refer information about employees to the Authority.

To Do Checklist

  • Check that any job applicants whose work will involve children or vulnerable adults are not on the Independent Safeguarding Authority's barred list as it is a criminal offence to knowingly employ a barred individual
  • Consider your duty of referral if a relevant employee is dismissed, resigns, or is temporarily removed from the workplace, in circumstances which could trigger the duty, for example because they have harmed or there is a risk of harm to a vulnerable group
  • Keep an eye out for any announcements from the Government on the scope of the remodelled scheme and subsequent obligations on employers

Beware

The maximum sanction for knowingly permitting a barred individual to work with children or vulnerable adults is five years imprisonment or a fine of Ł5,000. Ensure you have the necessary pre-employment checks and processes in place. If an employee leaves your employment, consider if you have a legal duty to report this to the Independent Safeguarding Authority. It has yet to be confirmed if the registration scheme will go ahead but if it does, there are likely to be additional offences related to the use of staff who are not registered. Ensure that you are up to date with the requirements of the scheme and the obligations on employers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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