The number of middle class volunteers forced to get criminal records checks has soared to the highest level for four years despite Government pledges to halve the amount required.
An audit shows that tens of thousands of choir members, bell ringers, flower arrangers and grand parent volunteers at schools are being forced to get Disclosure and Barring Service checks, five years after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, promised that the number would return to “common sense levels”.
Those who work in more than one role involving vulnerable people are often required to have the checks carried out twice in a situation described by MPs as “bureaucracy gone mad”.
Among those having their past vetted is a pensioner walking elderly people to a village lunch and mothers helping on their children’s school trips.
Details emerged after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said the Tories will bring in new 'punishments' for non-English speakers Photo: Reuters
Many children and youth organisations claim they struggle to fill vacancies because adults are now too scared to volunteer for fear they will viewed with suspicion.
Criminal records checks, introduced in the wake of the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by school caretaker Ian Huntley in Soham in 2002, are undergone by millions of adults who work with children or vulnerable people every year.
In 2010 Mrs May announced a review after widespread concern that they were becoming too burdensome, pledging to return the numbers to “common sense levels”.
As a result the Criminal Record Bureau checks were replaced with Disclosure and Barring Service checks in January 2013, which include more rigorous police screening.
Asbos were first unveiled by Tony Blair in 1998 and formed a key part of his "respect" agenda Photo: ALAMY
The Government said that the number of checks would fall by 50 per cent from 3.7million a year to 1.7million a year.
However new figures show that last year (2014/15) 4.1million people were vetted, the highest number since 4.3 million were vetted in 2010/11, including 837,000 volunteers.
A series of Freedom of Information requests by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for less regulation in everyday life, found that in 2014/14 there were 199 checks on volunteer bellringers,726 checks on choirmembers, 57 checks on grandparent volunteers and 23 checks on flower arrangers.
There were also 24,935 checks on parent volunteers in schools, 2,312 checks on volunteers to go on school trips and 10,844 checks on volunteers to listen to reading.
The report called for a "presumption against vetting parent volunteers for listening to reading or going on school trips", adding that "the norm should be that parent volunteers are not checked, unless there are unusual circumstances or particular suspicions".
Josie Appleton, a spokesman for the Manifesto Club, said: “We are calling for people to trust more to their own judgement and what they know about people, and less to distorted and suspicious ‘requirements’.
“We are currently seeing the distortion of relations and conduct in organisations working with children. Safeguarding rules have come to affect every aspect of volunteers’ work and relations with others.”
Ms Appleton pointed to a recent example in which Scout leaders on a Facebook group “discussed whether they could walk their son and a friend to cubs, because this would entail them being ‘alone’ with the two boys for 10 minutes before others arrived”.
She said: “The mother helping out on her child’s school trip is not a paedophile: everybody knows this.
“That systems demand that she be treated as such – that there is such a ritualisation of the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ assumption – suggests a warping of our assessments of risk and our judgements about each other.”
Tim Farron and other Liberal Democrats are said to be?horrified? by reports of the plans Photo: RII SCHROER / TELEGRAPH
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the current regime of checks was "bureaucracy gone mad" and questioned why he needed two checks for two voluntary roles.
He told the Telegraph: "Like many other volunteers, I ask myself the question 'why can't one check suffice for both roles?"
Mr Farron added: "No one would disagree that CRB checks play a vital role in protecting the vulnerable; but this doesn't mean that the system can't be improved. Currently it is bureaucracy gone mad.
"What we have now is a system that is so inflexible that thousands of people are being forced to have multiple checks for different jobs because the checks are not transferable from one to another."
Fees for the checks have soared to a record £146.4million in 2014/15 ,an 11 per cent increase on the year before and a 25 per cent increase on 2010, when the Tories first came to power.
These fees are not paid for by volunteers but are an additional cost for other bodies who have to pay for checks, the report said.
“Good volunteers are being lost”, it said, because of an onerous approach to the checks. Some volunteers had resigned from car clubs for the elderly because they were asked to be vetted
Having a garden is also a source of happiness for pensioners, according to the study Photo: REX FEATURES
In another instance a pensioner near Woking stopped helping with a lunch club in a village hall because she was told she needed a criminal records check to "walk the elderly person from the vehicle to the front door".
Home Offices sources said Mrs May had only ever committed to scaling back the use of systems involving criminal records to common sense levels.
The original review by the Home Office “was not intended to specifically identify ways to scale back the number of checks being carried out”, the source said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We will not compromise on issues of safeguarding when it comes to the safety of children and vulnerable groups.
“Disclosure and Barring Service certificates are an important aspect of public protection for both the voluntary and employment sectors.
“DBS checks provide reassurance to those who may entrust the safety of family members to volunteers and this reported rise suggests a welcome increase in public awareness of safeguarding issues.”
Numbers of middle class volunteers vetted in 2014/15
24,935 checks on parent volunteers in schools
2,312 checks on volunteers to go on school trips
10,844 checks on volunteers to listen to reading
199 checks on volunteer bellringers
726 checks on volunteer choir members
13 checks on volunteer flower arrangers
57 checks on grandparent volunteers in schools
Roger Howard, 79, a retired bank manager, devoted more than a decade to running a community group which ferried the elderly to local shops.
Mr Howard, of Bishop's Waltham, Southampton, said it was "incredibly frustrating" to be forced to undergo a criminal record check when it was "very clear" to him that their own vetting system already worked.
"I had been volunteering as a driver for 12 years when I was told I had to sign up to one of these checks," he said.
"We live in a small village where everyone knows each other and it immediately seemed odd to me that these checks would be necessary.
"The volunteers who help by doing the driving, by the way, are also in their sixties and seventies. I knew the prospect of having to undergo these checks could frighten them.
"It was incredibly frustrating as having done that job for so many years I felt that we were a perfectly safe team and have no knowledge of any volunteer driver ever attacking or bothering one of their passengers.
"There was no problem with the system before, which was essentially based on trust and on everyone knowing each other which, as when it is a small village, you really do."
"I presume the idea was dreamed up by somebody in an office somewhere, and that is what annoyed me – these decisions are being made by people who are completely cut off from what we do and have no idea of the implications.
"In my previous career as a bank manager I was given the freedom to make what I felt were the right decisions, and it seemed reasonable that I could do the same as leader of that community group, having run it by that point for more than ten years."
"Clearly in some cases it is putting people off volunteering altogether because it is such an onerous process.
"In the end I decided to take a stand by resigning as chairman of the group. That was back in 2009, a few years ago now, but it seems many people have faced the same problems since.
"The government should be encouraging people to give up their time and volunteer for things like this, instead of putting obstacles in their way."