From 12 October 2009, employers will need to register employees engaged in regulated activities, in accordance with the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. Regulated activities include the moderation of interactive websites used wholly or mainly by children.
Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (the Act) was introduced in 2006, following recommendations from the Bichard Inquiry set up after the Soham murders. It introduces provisions requiring those who work with children or vulnerable adults to be registered.
Amongst other activities, the Act regulates “moderating a public electronic interactive communication service which is likely to be used wholly or mainly by children”. For the purposes of the Act, a person moderates such a service if, for the purpose of protecting children, he has any function relating to (a) monitoring content which forms any part of the service; (b) removing matter from, or preventing the addition of matter to, the service; or (c) controlling access to, or use of, the service. However, for (b) and (c) only, the Act will only apply if that person has access to content and has contact with users.
Moderation of a children’s interactive website will therefore be a regulated activity within the scope of the Act. The Act defines a child as anybody under 18, so interactive websites that are aimed at teenagers will be included.
Independent Safeguarding Authority
Organisations decide if their activities fall within the scope of the Act. If they do, the organisation will need to register employees performing those activities with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). Once the Act is fully implemented, the ISA will hold details on all employees and volunteers working with children and vulnerable adults – estimated to be 11 million people in the UK.
It will be a criminal offence for an organisation knowingly to allow a barred individual, or an individual who is not registered with the ISA, to work in a regulated activity. If convicted, the courts may impose a fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence.
From 12 October 2009, organisations will need to register new employees engaged in regulated activities with the ISA before they commence work. Over the following five years this will be extended to all current employees. The government has yet to publish the timescales for this next stage.
The Act also introduces an obligation on employers to notify the ISA when they have dismissed an individual, or an individual resigns, because they have harmed, or may harm, a child or a vulnerable adult.
The ISA will use information from a number of sources to assess whether the individual employee is suitable to work with children. One of these sources is the Criminal Records Bureau. If new information comes to light (e.g. a criminal conviction) and the ISA reviews its decision as to the suitability of the individual concerned, the employer will be notified by the ISA.