Volunteer DBS during Coronavirus
Safeguarding and Volunteer DBS checks during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, what you need to know
Many people would like to volunteer during the current coronavirus pandemic to help others in their community. Those needing support are often vulnerable people and therefore safeguarding is an important consideration. This factsheet provides some guidance for organisations on Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (criminal record checks) and some more general safeguarding advice. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Factsheet and FAQs produced by the DBS, as guidance from the Disclosure and Barring Service may change.
- Can individuals apply for their own DBS check, or must this be done through an organisation?
- My organisation does not carry out DBS checks at present. Who can help with getting started?
- In the current lockdown situation, can documents be checked, scanned and submitted online when it is not possible to see them manually?
- How long is it taking for a new DBS check to come through?
- Should I request a DBS check for particular volunteer roles in the current situation, such as helping vulnerable people with shopping, collecting prescriptions or telephone befriending?
- What else can we do to safeguard vulnerable people and volunteers?
- Can we check someone’s previous DBS certificate via the Update Service?
- Can we accept a previous DBS certificate that someone has from another organisation? How recent should this check be?
1. Can individuals apply for their own DBS check, or must this be done through an organisation?
An individual can only request a basic level DBS check themselves (costs £23). A basic check will only show unspent convictions and cautions. It will not show reprimands, warnings, information held by police forces or whether the person is on the barred lists and is therefore not suitable for volunteer roles working directly with children or vulnerable adults (regulated activity). You do not choose what level of check your organisation needs to have - it depends on the volunteer role. Further information on the various levels of check can be found here.
All other (higher) levels of check must be done through an organisation. If your organisation is not registered with the DBS to do your own checks directly, you will have to use an umbrella body.
2. My organisation does not carry out DBS checks at present. Who can help with getting started?
If you do not currently use an umbrella body, and need to start doing DBS checks for volunteer roles in the COVID-19 crisis, please contact VCTH for more information about a service that you can access. This service is open to organisations recruiting volunteers through VCTH, and could assist you with applying for new DBS checks, or checking records of volunteers who are registered with the Update Service.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information, providing details of the volunteer role and the level of DBS check required. Please do not send details of individual volunteers. For checks against the barred list, you must specify which workforce (adult or children).
3. In the current lockdown situation, can documents be checked, scanned and submitted online when it is not possible to see them manually?
For a temporary period, the DBS are allowing ID documents to be viewed over live video link and scanned images can be used in advance of the DBS check being submitted. However, the change should only be implemented for urgent cases where it is not possible to follow the normal identity checking guidelines.
The DBS guidelines state that the applicant must present the original versions of these documents when they first attend their employment or volunteering role. We recognise that this could be problematic while observing social distancing (2 metres).
4. How long is it taking for a new DBS check to come through?
There DBS website still quotes a processing time of 8 weeks for Standard or Enhanced checks and 14 days for basic checks. Online ‘umbrella bodies’ often complete the checks much more quickly, for example enhanced and standard DBS Checks completed within 1–5 days and basic DBS checks within 24 hours.
However, bear in mind that there will be a significant spike in DBS applications to meet the rising demand for volunteers in the current COVID-19 situation, so applications may be delayed.
5. Should I request a DBS check for particular volunteer roles in the current situation, such as helping vulnerable people with shopping, collecting prescriptions or telephone befriending?
VCTH, in collaboration with the DBS and NCVO, has produced a list of common volunteering roles during the COVID-19 crisis with advice on what level of DBS check (or none) is required for each role.
The key message is that, regardless of whether you choose to have volunteers DBS checked, you should ensure your organisation follows simple, practical precautions such as working in pairs (where it is possible to do this safely by observing social distancing protocols), keeping records of money spent, and providing shopping receipts to safeguard all involved. See below for more measures you can take to safeguard clients and volunteers. There are useful tips for community volunteers doing shopping and collecting prescriptions here.
6. What else can we do to safeguard vulnerable people and volunteers?
You might consider other forms of vetting, adapted to the current situation.
- To speed things up, can you put your applications online? Perhaps consider using Google Docs?
- Can interviews be done via Skype/Zoom/WhatsApp video?
- Can you get at least one reference from a previous employer (particularly if the organisation has already done a DBS check for the volunteer)?
Consider whether the following simple safeguarding processes might work in your situation:
- Volunteers working in pairs – keeping to the guidelines on maintaining social distancing (at least two meters apart) if they are not from the same household
- Keeping records of money spent and providing shopping receipts. For example, the volunteer could take a photo of the shopping receipt on their phone and email it to the project coordinator.
- Are there ways of avoiding cash handling, such as using pre-paid cards or the client paying the shop by telephone, including Click and Collect services?
- Making a phone call to the vulnerable person after the volunteer has completed the task to check the amount of money or the medication, and that all went well.
- Asking volunteers to keep records of phone calls they are making, with a summary of the conversation
- Getting someone who the client receiving telephone befriending knows/trusts to make check in calls with them every couple of weeks
- Regular check-ins with volunteers to see how they are and how they are doing
- Induction for volunteers (via an induction pack and virtual training) with clear guidance on safeguarding, practical procedures, boundaries, do’s and don’ts and staying safe themselves
- Provide information (or links) to guidance on infection control
Here is a link to a 3 minute simple animation on volunteering safely that can be shared with volunteers. It does show people shakings hands, which is obviously not allowed at present.
7. Can we check someone’s previous DBS certificate via the Update Service?
The Update Service only shows whether there have been any changes to a person’s record since their last DBS check. You can see updates to standard checks or enhanced checks. You should ask the person to show you their most recent DBS certificate and then check the Update Service to see if there have been any changes. If there have been changes, then you will need to apply for a fresh DBS check to see what those changes are.
You can only use the Update Service if the individual has registered with the service. They need to have registered for the Update Service within 30 days of having received their DBS certificate. Therefore, for people who received their DBS certificate more than 30 days ago and who did not register at the time, you will not be able to check the Update Service. If the role requires a DBS check, then you will have to apply for a fresh DBS check and encourage the applicant to join the Update Service. Joining the Update Service is free for volunteers.
To check someone’s record on the Update Service, you will need to ask them for consent. A ‘consent code’ will be generated which you can use to log into their record.
For Basic DBS Checks, the applicant must register for an online services account instead of using the Update Service.
If someone discloses a criminal conviction, or if the DBS certificate reveals a criminal record, you can find useful information here on how to assess the information/risks and make a decision.
8. Can we accept a previous DBS certificate that someone has from another organisation? How recent should this check be?
If someone is offering their help and they have not signed up to the Update Service but have the correct level check that you require from another organisation, then during these unprecedented times it would be OK to accept their current DBS certificate.
There is no official expiry date for a criminal record check issued by DBS. Any information revealed on a DBS certificate will be accurate at the time the certificate was issued. You should check the ‘date of issue’ on a certificate to decide whether to request a newer one. The DBS suggests your organisation makes a pragmatic decision on what length of time an existing DBS check is acceptable, with a suggested maximum of 3 years. Standard practice varies, for example the NHS Responders scheme has set a limit of 12 months.
You should also be mindful of the following:
- check the address on the certificate against a current ID document belonging to the volunteer (driving licence, passport, utility bill)
- whether there are any disclosures on the certificate which would indicate the applicant is barred from working with adults/children
- check the level of check is sufficient for your needs and that the relevant barred list has been checked (adult or children)
Statistics from the DBS show that only around 5% of all enhanced with barred list(s) DBS checks have information included on them, and only 0.02% of enhanced with barred list(s) DBS checks state that the person is on a barred list.
Note: This factsheet does not constitute legal advice. If you have further questions or would like to access VCTH’s best practice advice service, contact Evelyn Rodrigues.