CRB checks top 30million but create 'atmosphere of mistrust'
PUBLISHED April 23, 2012
New figures seen by The Daily Telegraph show that 32million Criminal Records Bureau checks have been carried out in the decade since the system was established, at a cost of £1.5billion.
Originally a recruitment check just for those professionals who work closely with children, now anyone who carries out any form of community work faces having their background scrutinised.
Women who arrange flowers at cathedrals, volunteers who take their elderly neighbours to the shops and parents of Cubs and Scouts all regularly face CRB checks.
But the Manifesto Club, a libertarian group that campaigns against increasing state interference in everyday life, says it is open to question how many children and vulnerable adults have been protected by the vetting regime.
It argues that CRB checks, which merely look for previous convictions or police intelligence about an applicant, are no guarantee of safety and are simply used by "box-ticking" bureaucrats to cover their backs in case something goes wrong.
Instead, the group believes that young people are being left in dangerous situations because of a growing feeling in society that all adults are potential threats unless they can prove otherwise.
In a new briefing marking the 10th anniversary of the CRB system, Josie Appleton, convenor of the Manifesto Club, writes: "Mass vetting can actually leave children more vulnerable.
"CRB checks spread an atmosphere of mistrust, and people start to think that helping children is a state-licensed activity, rather than something we all do as a matter of course.
"For the first time, there are cases of adults walking past injured children, fearing that their act of help could be misinterpreted.
"The truth is that children are safe when the majority of decent adults are looking out for them. There is simply no replacement for vigilance."
For many years the Government kept a secret register called List 99 of people banned from working with children, so that schools could see if would-be teachers were convicted sex offenders.
But in March 2002 the Home Office widened the scope of the scheme by setting up the Criminal Records Bureau, run by the private firm Capita.
Checks were to be carried out on anyone who worked with children or vulnerable adults in schools, voluntary groups or professional bodies, and would take information from police files on unproved allegations as well as court records.
Just months after the CRB was set up, the Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by Ian Huntley, who had been allowed to work as a school caretaker despite two police forces knowing about sex allegations against him. It prompted calls for an even more stringent child protection system.
Figures obtained by the Manifesto Club show that in the first full year of the CRB's existence, 2002-03, 1.4m checks were carried out, the vast majority "enhanced" ones that examined police intelligence as well as convictions.
By 2010-11, that figure had tripled to reach 4.3m. Of those, almost a million were volunteers rather than professionals.
The total number of checks now stands at 32m, with 6.6m carried out on volunteers, although the number of individuals checked will be lower as people who change jobs or work in several roles have to undergo repeat applications.
Errors in the vetting system have also meant thousands of people have been wrongly branded criminals, ruining their reputations and careers.
The cost of the checks themselves stands at £1.5bn, of which £875m is fees paid to the CRB and the remainder in administration costs.
Most of the checks are paid for by employers, but the fees have more than doubled in cost over the past decade from £12 for an enhanced application in 2002 to £44 last year.
The Coalition has promised to bring the number of CRB checks down to a "commonsense" level, in response to Labour's abandoned vetting and barring scheme that would have seen a quarter of adults in the country face scrutiny from a powerful new quango.
But the Manifesto Club says ministers have proposed "few limitations" on unnecessary checks, which are now often carried out by enthusiastic employers rather than being insisted upon by law.
The campaign group wants a full review of the CRB system - and money being spent on monitoring the small number of convicted sex offenders - to stop the "juggernaut" continuing unchecked for another decade.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The current system of employment checking has become excessive. This is why we are scaling the regime back to common sense levels so that the public are properly protected but the number of unnecessary checks is substantially reduced.
"Our proposals, currently before Parliament in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, will ensure that employers are able to make the right decision on who should be checked, and we have strengthened our guidance to make clear the financial penalties for employers who carry out unnecessary checks."