A series of significant changes made to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (SVGA 2006) by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 came into effect on 10 September 2012. These changes impact upon Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) Vetting and Barring Scheme. The amendments come in light of the Government’s announcement in 2010 to scale back these systems to common sense levels.

The changes covered include:  

  • New definitions of “vulnerable adult” and “regulated activity” in relation to contact with both children and adults. The scope of regulated activities, particularly in relation to contact with children, has been scaled back significantly. It is important to note that in relation to positions that would have met the old definition of “regulated activity” and no longer do, employers are entitled to obtain enhanced CRB checks but cannot check the barred list status  
  • Limits being placed on the conditions for referral to the ISA and inclusion on the children or adults’ barred list  
  • The repeal of the term “controlled activity” and the monitoring powers of the Secretary of State (which would have become effective had sections 24 and 27 of the SVGA come into force)  
  • The scaling down of the amount of information the Secretary of State has to send to the ISA when a case is referred for automatic inclusion on the children/adults’ barred list  
  • The introduction of a more stringent test for the police to satisfy when deciding which information to send to the ISA following a request  
  • The introduction of a new power that enables the ISA to review inclusion on the children/adults’ barred list  
  • Changes to the ease of accessing information about barring decisions  
  • New duties on regulated activity providers to check whether an individual is barred and for the ISA to inform professional bodies that an individual is on a barred list  
  • Restrictions on the disclosure of results of CRB checks and the opportunity for individuals to challenge information in the certificates  
  • The removal of a duty on police regarding disclosure of sensitive information. However, they retain the discretion of disclosing such information where it is justified and proportionate
  • A new minimum age for a CRB certificate (16 years or over)  
  • The introduction of a subscription service for updating CRB certificates  
  • The inclusion of unspent conditional cautions in basic CRB certificates

More changes are to come into force in phases. It is expected that the CRB and the ISA will be merged into one body, the Disclosure and Barring Service, in December 2012. Additionally, a new update service is under development to enable people who pay a subscription fee to have a CRB check once and future checks by interested parties will be done online to check for the most updated information. It is expected that the service will be launched in early 2013.

Readers will find that the changes have a significant impact on work in the health sector as much of the scaling back reduces the scope of the safeguarding system in the health sector. It is worth careful consideration as it is important for readers to understand the impact of the changes in this field. More useful detailed guidance on the changes can be found on the websites of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and NHS Employers.