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the vetting and barring scheme - over before it began?

15 June 2010

Home Secretary Theresa May today announced that the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) registration process is to be put on hold whilst the scope of the scheme is reviewed. With the process due to begin in five weeks and become a legal requirement in November, the recruitment and monitoring requirements for staff and volunteers in the children and vulnerable adults sectors is once again the subject of significant change.

The vetting and barring scheme was created in response to Sir Michael Bichard’s report into the Soham murders by school caretaker, Ian Huntley in 2002. The report recommended a single scheme to monitor and bar those working with children and vulnerable adults. However, as the scheme became law its scope widened to include regular visitors to a school site such as volunteers and contractors, regardless of the fact that they may not have any contact with children. A somewhat conservative estimate of nine million people are thought to be caught by the scheme, reduced from around 11 million following a review under the previous government in December 2009.

As the scheme widened, it also became less clear, making it extremely difficult to identify when an individual had to be registered. With severe criminal sanctions applying to both the individual and to the person allowing him to work or volunteer, this is not an area where ambiguity should be allowed to flourish.

As a result of these concerns and perhaps a hint of politics, Mrs May announced the review, referring to the current measures as “draconian” and adding that the new government aimed to cut them back to common sense levels. It remains to be seen what this means in practical terms and in what timescale the review will be completed. In the meantime, the government has confirmed that the status quo will remain. However, the Department for Education is currently consulting on updated guidance to reflect the requirements of the ISA system and the continuing need to carry out CRB checks, and the Department of Health is carrying out similar consultations. It is unclear whether the draft guidance under consultation will be pulled or if it requires significant amendment.

Whilst this review is a major step, one must question whether it goes far enough. There is little doubt that the registration requirements impacted upon too many people, but the management of the information held by the ISA and its role in barring individuals also requires review. A failure to automatically tell employers when their staff are barred and an extremely low threshold for when employers are under a legal obligation to refer conduct to the ISA are of serious concern to employers. If a review of the process is to be undertaken at all, then a full and thorough review of all aspects of the ISA’s role is in order. It is disappointing to note that the government’s plans do not suggest a more complete review.

We now await the outcome of that review, a process which is likely to take a number of months.

For further information on your recruitment and monitoring duties or for advice and assistance, please contact our safeguarding team.

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