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UK — Recruitment agencies call for anti-paedophile database to be put on hold

29 September 2009

Recruitment agencies are calling for the Government to delay the introduction of its controversial anti-paedophile database next month as they are still waiting to receive detailed guidance on how it will work.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation says it has been "endlessly surprised and disappointed" by the development of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will see more than 11 million people forced to undergo background checks before they can work with children or vulnerable adults.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation says its members are still waiting for important information on how they should refer suspicions about employees to the vetting and barring agency, just two weeks before it comes into force.

It has written to ministers asking them to delay the introduction of fines for employers who fail to tell the ISA about staff who they think may pose a risk, in order to give them more time to comply with the regulations.

Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the REC, told The Daily Telegraph: "Our biggest concern is that from October 12th our members will face criminal sanctions if they don't refer information, but it's still not clear. They will refer too much in order to watch their backs, and then the ISA will have too much information."

"In principle the scheme ought to improve safeguarding and be really simple to operate. But throughout this process, it hasn't been thought through. They've rushed it through without considering the consequences."

The ISA has been developed to prevent a repeat of the Soham murders by ensuring that anyone who wants to work or volunteer with young people, the elderly or the disabled has their past scrutinised beforehand.

Staff will check to see if potential teachers, health care workers, Scout leaders and sports coaches have criminal records before adding their names to "safe" lists. But the scheme is facing mounting criticism over its scale, after it emerged that even authors visiting schools and parents organising lifts home from football matches will have to pay £64 to register.

There are also fears that innocent people could have their careers ruined by malicious allegations, as the ISA will consider claims made by anyone that an individual is a danger to children, and will consider their lifestyle and beliefs when deciding whether to ban them from the workforce.

From October 12, education and health employers, recruitment agencies and local authorities will be hit by fines of up to £5,000 if they fail to tell the ISA that they have sacked someone over safeguarding concerns or moved them away from working with children or vulnerable people. They can also tell the agency if they have any concerns about an employee.

Some guidance was published earlier this month telling employers how to make referrals. But the REC says it is still waiting for detailed guidance for education, health and social care sectors, which it claims should have been circulated at least 12 weeks in advance.

It says the situation has been made even more confusing by the Government's decision, in the face of public anger earlier this month, to review the scope of the scheme and some of the key definitions. Ms Fairweather has written to ministers urging them to delay introduction of the penalties for firms who fail to refer information to the ISA, and to produce separate guidance for temping agencies.

She said in her letter: "We have been endlessly surprised and disappointed about the way these significant changes are being introduced without sufficient warning or understanding of the needs of the recruitment sector and its workforce."

She believes cleaners and builders, for example, will be reluctant to apply for temporary jobs at schools or hospitals as they will have to pay to register with the ISA and go through the vetting process before they can start work.

The Home Office said: "We have undertaken an extensive programme to explain the Vetting and Barring Scheme to its stakeholders including those in the recruitment and employment sector. The head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation is a member of our consultative group and has been engaged with on a regular basis."

The Guidance on how employers can make referrals to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) is available on the ISA website 



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