DBS Checks for volunteers – what’s the story?

Do volunteers need DBS checks?

If you volunteer for an organisation or charity you may be required to have a DBS check.

This will usually be the case if you’re volunteering for an opportunity that involves working directly with children under 18 or vulnerable adults, such as the mentally ill or elderly.

This will also depend on how much contact you have with children or vulnerable adults, and how often.

The DBS check will assess your suitability to carry out your volunteering role by checking whether you have a criminal record or are on the DBS barred lists.

DBS Checks for volunteers

Am I a volunteer?

For the purposes of DBS checking, The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 defines a volunteer as:

‘a person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party other than or in addition to a close relative’.

If you satisfy this description you are eligible for a volunteer DBS check.

Are there any exceptions?

There are a number of situations in which you may be undertaking unpaid work but aren’t classed as a volunteer. You’re not eligible for a volunteer DBS check if you’re:

  • On a work placement.
  • Undertaking a volunteer placement as a required part of a course.
  • In a trainee position that will lead to a full time position or qualification.

I’m eligible – can I apply for a volunteer DBS check? 

As an individual, you can’t apply for a DBS check on yourself. This must be done by the organisation or charity you’re volunteering for.

The organisation will provide you with an application form to complete. You’ll also be asked to provide several forms of identification.

DBS checks are free for volunteers, but the organisation applying will have to pay an administration fee.

What happens when I get the results?

When the check is complete, you’ll be issued with a DBS certificate detailing its results.

The organisation you’re volunteering for will want to see this certificate, and will use it to decide whether they can take you on as a volunteer.

Having a criminal record won’t necessarily prevent you from volunteering.

What if I change roles?

In 2013 the DBS launched the Update Service, which enables DBS certificates to be updated and transferred from role to role.

Your DBS check will be transferrable provided you’re changing roles within the same workforce and your new role requires the same type and level of check as your previous role.

Individuals can register online for the DBS Update Service, and it’s free for volunteers.

The service also allows organisations to check the status of an individual’s DBS certificate online free of charge.

DBS checks for volunteers: in summary

If you’re carrying out unpaid work for the benefit of others, and have contact with children or vulnerable adults, you may need a DBS check.

If this is the case, the organisation you’re volunteering for will have to apply on your behalf.