A data protection expert has warned charities not to carry out unnecessarily excessive screening checks on prospective employees.
Rowenna Fielding, senior data protection lead at consultancy Protecture, wrote in an article for Charity Finance magazine that some charities have looked to enhance their checks on new employees following the safeguarding scandal of last year.
She warned charities against accepting off-the-record additional information in references from previous employers as this is “unfair to the candidate” and could be legally risky.
Fielding urged charities to be particularly cautious about outsourcing in-depth employment checks to vetting agencies, which she warned can carry out “highly intrusive” investigations that are “still no guarantee of a risk-free hiring result”.
She added: “Although you can outsource the pre-employment vetting process, you cannot outsource your organisation’s responsibility for ensuring that the personal data that you collect, make decisions on and keep is compliant with data protection law.”
However, some charities have expressed frustration over their inability to conduct more thorough screening checking on employees.
Mike Wright, director of membership and communications at aid umbrella body Bond, said in a separate article in Charity Finance: “It used to be a tombstone reference. Formerly the legal advice was that you just stated the dates on which an employee worked for you.
“No legislation has changed but now legal advice says it is more risky to do that than to give a truthful reference to employers.”
He added: “There has been some discussion about changing the scope of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. I think those discussions are ongoing. The Home Office has been a bit of a blocker on that.”
Checks in charity shops
Speaking at an event in London last year, Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said the charity had introduced basic DBS checks at all its shops but had been unable to begin enhanced checks.
He said: “I would like to see enhanced DBS checks made to all staff and some volunteers in charity shops too. Unfortunately this seems to be one of those issues that slips through the cracks between government departments.
“It is everyone’s business, but no-one’s responsibility.”
Meanwhile the Charity Retail Association has told its members that they do not need to conduct basic DBS checks on everyone who works or volunteers in charity shops.
The CRA said it has received confirmation from the Charity Commission that organisations are not legally required to do this, although DBS checks “may form part of a package of safeguarding measures that charity shops have in place”.
According to the CRA, the Commission is reviewing its guidance to ensure this point is clear.
Subscribers to Charity Finance magazine can read the full articles on safeguarding here.