Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 – employers’ responsibilities

Amanda Okill

Posted by Amanda Okill

Senior Associate

From October 2009, new measures were introduced to help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.

The Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (SVGA) was passed as a result of the Bichard Inquiry arising from the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, by Ian Huntley, their school caretaker (the Soham Murders).

Recommendation 19 of the Inquiry Report highlighted the need for a single agency to vet all individuals who want to work or volunteer to work with children or vulnerable adults. The SVGA was created in response and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) was set up to fulfil the specific requirements of Recommendation 19. What it aimed to do was to create a scheme for identifying those who are considered as ‘inappropriate’ to work with children or vulnerable adults by requiring those who wish to work or volunteer with either groups to undergo a process of registration. The process of registration with ISA is a key concept in what is known as the Vetting and Barring Scheme.

These additional measures were considered necessary to strengthen the regulation of those working with children and vulnerable adults. However, they have been widely criticised as overly invasive and for discouraging persons who wish to work with the two groups. Critics pointed out that existing measures in the UK were already sufficient.

Where are we now?

On 15th June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that it would halt registration with the Vetting and Barring Scheme in response to criticism that it was disproportionate, overly burdensome, and that it infringed on civil liberties.

With full details of how the Scheme will change yet to be finalised, Home Secretary, Theresa May has indicated that there is a need to scale it back to ‘common sense and proportionate’ levels. The final recommendations of the Scheme will be announced in early 2011.

In the meantime, various other aspects of the Scheme will remain in force, including the following:

  • it is a criminal offence for barred individuals to apply to work with children or vulnerable adults in a wider range of posts than previously. Employers face criminal sanctions for knowingly employing a barred individual to work in a regulated sector;
  • the three previous barring lists (POVA, POCA and List 99) are replaced by the creation of two new barred lists administered by the ISA rather than several government departments. Since October 2009, checks of these two lists can be made as part of an enhanced CRB check;
  • additional jobs and voluntary positions are covered by the barring arrangements, including moderators of children's internet chat rooms, and a large number of NHS staff; and
  • employers, local authorities, professional regulators and inspection bodies have a duty to refer to the ISA any information on an individual if information comes to light which would suggest that the individual has harmed, or put a child or vulnerable adult at risk of harm.

What to be aware of:

  • The provisions of SVGA do not intend to replace the requirement to carry out an enhanced  CRB check. In any event the information on the ‘list’ would not necessarily have revealed information about a persons wider criminal history. When recruiting employees to a position in a regulated sector, employers should always carry out an enhanced CRB check and any job offers should be conditional on the outcome.
  • Employers in a regulated sector should be aware that as of 12 October 2009 regulated activity providers have a statutory obligation to refer any relevant information to the ISA when they think that a person has harmed or poses a risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult.

The duty to refer could be triggered in the following types of situation:

  • Dismissal.
  • Resignation.
  • Temporary removal of the individual from regulated or controlled activity, for example while training is undertaken to improve performance.

Details of the extent to which the Scheme will be scaled back are to be announced shortly by the Home Office. At present, however, employers are not required to check an employee’s ISA status. For many this is a welcome relief and will save employers an additional administrative burden when recruiting.

For further information contact Amanda Okill Associate and Employment Law Specialist on 01227 763939.

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