Chapter 6: Connecting with the rest of the UK
Chapter 6 Key Points Summary
- Broad approval for cross-border arrangements
- Consistency between schemes important
- Information sharing to be robust, accurate and quick
- Minimise costs and bureaucracy for those working across borders (perhaps only require membership of one scheme)
- Concern that there's no mention of wider ( EU, international) cross border arrangements or how to deal with overseas applicants
Chapter 6 explained how the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 would connect with the scheme that covers the rest of the UK. There were no specific questions relating to this chapter as it was intended primarily as background information for those who may operate in Scotland and the rest of the UK. However it did contain a general question at the end to allow stakeholders to comment. The main points covered in this chapter were how the two schemes would interact in terms of the exchange of information between the two schemes, the management of scheme members working across the border and making and sharing listing decisions between the two schemes.
Q23 Do you have any comments about the proposed cross-border arrangements with the rest of the UK set out in Chapter 6?
Some responses to this question can be themed under the three main headings covered in this chapter; however some are comments more broadly about the chapter as a whole. Overall there seemed to be broad agreement with the proposals as laid out in the chapter and the importance of consistency and avoiding loopholes between the schemes was emphasised. Although this question specifically asked about arrangements with the rest of the UK a number of consultees took this opportunity to mention concerns about how the PVG scheme would cope with vetting overseas applicants.
Sharing vetting information across borders
Sharing vetting information across borders elicited comments from Early Years, Health, Sport and Leisure, Voluntary Organisations, Councils Regulatory Bodies and Other. It was felt that sharing information across borders was important and that the information should be accurate and available quickly, and that the processes in place be simple. It was also highlighted that checks which are conducted in one part of the UK should be accepted in other parts of the UK.
"Robust information sharing procedures must be put into place to ensure that there is consistency in sharing of sensitive information between jurisdictions"
"Important to make these work as smoothly and quickly as possible and that relevant vetting and barring information should be shared between UK bodies. We have a number of employees that have worked in England and Wales or holiday there so it is important that relevant information reaches the necessary place - whether police information, regulatory body information, council information or case files. It makes sense that referrals to regulatory bodies goes to the country where the incident occurred as long as the two schemes share information timeously and feedback quickly any concerns to employers.( GTCS) [General Teaching Council for Scotland] and SSSC [Scottish Social Services Council]) with their counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)"
"Ideally, where information has to be shared across borders arrangements should be such that this does not cause delay in making decisions about scheme membership or in providing scheme disclosures".
"X are currently exploring the sharing of data with our regulatory colleagues in other parts of the United Kingdom through the development of Memorandums of Understanding. It would be expected that there would be cross checking of lists. We expect that checks done anywhere in the UK should be acceptable in other parts of the UK."
Management of PVG Scheme members working across the border
Consultees from Health, Social Work, Sport and Leisure, Voluntary Organisations and Other chose to comment on the management of members who will work across the border. It was felt to be important that costs and bureaucracy were taken into consideration and minimised and that the system be as easy as possible to use for those who are involved in cross-border activities. It was mentioned that checks in one jurisdiction should be considered valid in other UK jurisdictions which could negate the need for people to become members of both schemes. There was a feeling amongst Voluntary Organisations and Other that people who worked across jurisdictions should not need to join both schemes, and within Early Years there was a suggestion that one fee should allow members to join both schemes.
"For homecare providers who operate across borders, there needs to be minimal bureaucracy. It is understood that the worker will need to be a member of both schemes but we hope that the lowest possible fees will apply in these cases so as not to disincentivise employers or employees to undertake cross border care work."
"It is vital that the schemes allow officials and coaches to work around the UK without facing bureaucratic hurdles which place additional financial or admin demands on individuals, sports governing bodies or clubs. For example, in sport qualified officials are highly likely to work temporarily in different parts of the UK. A good example of regular cross border working would be Scottish athletics clubs which compete in competitions in England. League rules often stipulate that clubs must provide officials to help run events as a condition of entry. Major events, such as the 2012 Olympics or 2014 Commonwealth Games, also require the drafting in of large numbers of volunteer officials from across the UK. We are concerned to ensure that people registered under the Scottish scheme are able to work temporarily in other parts of the UK without having to undergo further registration procedures. For this to be possible then organisations in England must, as a result of the duties we believe will be placed upon them, be able to check individuals registered in the Scottish scheme and vice versa. Compatibility between the schemes is clearly indicated so far as the matter of listing is concerned. What is not clear is whether: 1. the definitions of who is required to be registered will be exactly shared across borders; 2. there is to be a requirement for Scottish based people, who are already in the scheme in Scotland but working with vulnerable groups in England, to make an application to the Independent Safeguarding Authority [ ISA]; 3. it will actually be possible for people not based in England to apply to the ISA. Further clarity on cross border issues is essential. Our preference is that full compatibility between national schemes is achieved so that entry into one scheme enables cross border working."
Sport and Leisure
"If an individual works for a single employer in Scotland, and is required to travel across the UK as part of their duties, they should not have to join the other Scheme as they are already registered and, therefore, by virtue of this registration, they should automatically become a member of the Scheme in other UK jurisdictions. Registration in other jurisdictions is likely to become complicated and protracted by issues surrounding the threshold employed in other jurisdictions, legal interpretations of the age of children and the age of majority, the status of 18-24 year -olds, and how both Schemes will independently vet, store and interpret the same information, but to name a few. Added to these considerations, there is the issue of cost and whether the employer or the employee will pay for the disclosures in both Schemes."
"The recruitment agency sector works across borders and so it is vital that the new schemes are compatible across the UK. In particular it is vital that lists of individuals barred from working with vulnerable groups are consistent. As far as registration with the scheme is concerned those who register in Scotland should be able to use this registration elsewhere in the UK without having to pay again for what should be the same information. In the light of this, communication of the schemes should include information about all the schemes in the UK as recruitment agencies will receive applicants who have worked across the UK, as well as place individuals to work across the UK".
"We believe there are more employees working across Border than you have anticipated. We do not see any conceivable reason why these employers should be subject to membership of both schemes. The purpose of the schemes is to provide high levels of protection to vulnerable groups not the fulfilment of bureaucratic niceties."
"We have some concerns over the requirement to register with two schemes if working north and south of the Border. As there is common sharing of information on which barring decisions are made it should not be unreasonable to expect that a person would apply for scheme membership in their principal place of operation, but that membership be respected in both. There is clearly a divergence between England and Scotland in terms of the requirement for scheme membership, but once membership is secured this should be valid cross-border".
Making and sharing listing decisions between jurisdictions
Making and sharing listing decisions between jurisdictions evoked fewer responses from consultees than the other areas covered in the chapter. Voluntary Organisations, Regulatory Bodies, Child Protection Committees and Other commented in this area. It was felt that consistency between the two schemes was important in terms of listing decisions (Child Protection Committees, Other) and that listing decisions should be shared between jurisdictions.
"Agree that should share as many common decision/listings as possible"
General Comments on the chapter overall
Overall there appeared to be widespread agreement with and support for the cross-border arrangements that were set out in chapter 6, with consultees from all backgrounds, except for Social Work making comments in favour of the proposals. Within Early Years there was a feeling that cross-border procedures should be set up as soon as possible.
"X supports the aspiration to create vetting and barring schemes that interact smoothly and effectively with each other across national boundaries in the UK and applauds the provision to share vetting information across jurisdictions. Robust information sharing procedures must be put into place to ensure that there is consistency in sharing of sensitive information."
"Cross border arrangements essential, the proposals outlined will afford ease of movement for appropriate employees but prevent unsuitable employees from regulated work in another area".
"X wholeheartedly supports the proposals for cross-border arrangements with the rest of the UK as set out in Chapter 6 as we believe this is the only way to ensure the protection of children and other vulnerable groups across the whole of the UK."
The importance of consistency between the schemes was a commonly occurring theme amongst Education, Health, Social Work, Sport and Leisure, Voluntary Organisations, Councils, Regulatory Bodies, Child Protection Committees and Other. It was seen to be important that the interaction of the two systems did not result in any loopholes which could be exploited by those seeking to harm vulnerable groups. It was commented that for those who operate as UK wide organisations or in the Scottish Borders then matters of consistency are seen to be especially critical. It was also mentioned that the definition of protected adult must be consistent to avoid any confusion or differing of standards (Other). Regular reviews of the PVG Scheme and how it interacts with the scheme in England were suggested by Other.
"Both Acts need to ensure that one country is not deemed to be an easier place to abuse vulnerable groups".
"Our preference is that full compatibility between national schemes is achieved so that entry into one scheme enables cross border working."
Sport and Leisure
"As X is a GB-wide healthcare regulator and representative body, lack of consistency between schemes implemented in GB [Great Britain] may cause problems as our membership will be working under two different schemes and it may also arguably provide for differing levels of protection afforded to the public".
"It is crucial that for this to work effectively the decision making process in Scotland is exactly the same as elsewhere in the UK. This is particularly important for border regions like ourselves."
Child Protection Committee
"Regular reviews of the legislation and its operation should be undertaken and with them, a review of how the legislation is working in tandem with that which is in place south of the border"
However concerns were raised by Regulatory Bodies and Other that the two systems were not entirely consistent as Scheme membership is not mandatory in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK, and within Councils it was commented that it was important to be clear about legislative differences.
"X considers that it is in the best interests of the patient that the Scottish scheme operate such that its effect, in terms of protection to the vulnerable and treatment of healthcare professionals, is indistinguishable from the rest of the UK. Notwithstanding the consultation document stating in paragraph 237 that it is a policy aspiration to prevent the existence of any loopholes, to not make membership of the scheme mandatory in Scotland as it will be in England and Wales will create a glaring lacuna in the legislation. The Scottish scheme appears to rely on the fact that employers must ensure that employees undertaking regulated work are registered to ensure that it would not be possible in practice for a non-member to undertake regulated work. However, this protection will clearly not exist where the individual in question is self-employed. It is quite explicit in section 2.3 that the legislation is intended to protect both children and adults being treated by dentists and dentists are most commonly self-employed. X is extremely concerned that a self-employed registrant who wishes to abuse patients will, quite lawfully, elect not the join the scheme and therefore the very protection the Act seeks to provide will not extend to those patients most at risk. X considers it appropriate that a person referred in one jurisdiction by X will be automatically referred by the CBU/ ISA [Central Barring Unit/Independent Safeguarding Authority] to the other jurisdictions (as per paragraph 247). However, we have difficulty envisaging how this will work in practice if it not mandatory to be a member of the scheme in order to undertake regulated activity"
"Significant numbers of people work across both jurisdictions, and we therefore emphasise the need for the PVG Act [Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007] and SVG Act [Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006] to interact smoothly and effectively. We are concerned that differences between the Acts may lead to confusion; for example in Scotland it will not be illegal to do regulated work with children and protected adults without being a member of the scheme, but to do so in England and Wales will break the law. We regret that the opportunity was not taken to bring Scotland into line with the other jurisdictions, rather than retaining the excuse that the employer "had no reason to suppose" that an employee or volunteer was a risk; particularly in small communal voluntary organisations, this is an obviously a major loophole."
However despite the widespread calls for consistency, an opinion was expressed from within Education that it was more important for Scotland to concentrate on getting the legislation right for Scotland than to follow what is being done in the rest of the UK. Within Education there was also a feeling that they Act was more onerous on Scottish Universities, than on their English counterparts.
"It is vital that the legislation is right for Scotland. POCSA [Protection of Children Scotland Act] has proved to be highly problematic and it is very important that the current legislation is scrutinised carefully so that it applies where it is meant to apply, it does not have unintended consequences and it is indeed proportionate. It is important to get these features right for Scotland regardless of what is being done in the rest of the UK. It may be that others will choose to follow the Scottish example."
"The application of the Act to Scottish universities appears to be more onerous that the application of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 to universities in the rest of the UK. It is vital that clear guidance and information exists about how this Scheme will operate in relation to the process in the rest of the UK and that the proposals are not expensive or disproportionately onerous on universities when balanced with the likely risk. …X in Scotland has a particular issue with how the scheme might apply in England and Scotland. It is noted that paragraphs 221 and 251 explain that "individuals who are already members of the SVG [Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups] scheme (to do regulated work in England, Wales or Northern Ireland) will be charged the lower tier fee for joining the Scottish scheme but will receive a scheme record disclosure". As X is a distance learning organisation, where many of tutors work with students who live both north and south of the border, this will create extra work and generate extra costs for X, which it believes are unnecessary. It is important that clear information is given about how this scheme will operate in relation to the scheme that is in place in other parts of the UK. Universities are keen that financial resources at their disposal, both from the public purse and from other sources are used to the educational benefit of their students and to enhance research and educational reputation. Universities have been subject to the previous administration's Efficient Government Initiative and are anxious that the new Act's requirements do not increase, and indeed had hoped would decrease, their outlays. It is noted that the consultation states that 800,000 or more people in the workforce will have to be members of the scheme. It is questionable if this is proportionate to the risk involved."
Education and Other noted the need for clear guidance and information on how the two schemes would interact and what the roles and responsibilities of organisations were in relation to this.
"We have many members who move to and fro about the United Kingdom and abroad. Clear guidance on where responsibility rests for scheme membership and good systems for sharing vetting information with appropriate safeguards is considered vitally important for an increasingly mobile workforce."
Concerns about the proposals to connect with the rest of the UK
Additional concerns, on top of the worries about lack of consistency and the added bureaucracy of requiring members to join two schemes were pointed out by consultees from within Education, Social Work, Regulatory Bodies, Councils, Other and Voluntary Organisations. Within Education there were concerns about additional costs and the duplication of work entailed in registering in both jurisdictions as highlighted in the Universities example cited above. Within Social Work and Regulatory Bodies there was a feeling that it would be better to have one scheme covering the whole of the UK, as having more than one could lead to loopholes opening up, and there may be failings in the sharing of information between jurisdictions, both of which could have negative impacts for vulnerable groups.
"It would have been better if the UK had not been devolved into 4 cross-borders. This increases the risk of relevant vetting information not being shared across borders, increasing the likelihood for mistakes to be made by not sharing appropriate information. Regulatory bodies might take a different view/decision about a professional's suitability to do regulated work than that of a Local Authority. It is a concern that some Health bodies might not pass on relevant information to other agencies, including the CBU [Central Barring Unit]."
"X is extremely concerned about the existence of multiple schemes across the UK and the potential for loopholes and confusion to develop. X considers it vitally important that vetting information and decisions about listing are shared across the UK. As a UK regulator, X will need to develop robust systems to share information with each of the schemes"
Within Social Work and Other suggestions were proffered about possible ways to ensure consistency and accurate information sharing across the UK.
"It must be a robust system where information can be transferred through electronic database links, to avoid losses of data through the postal service. Consideration should be made to a unique referencing number that allows the individual to be identified across the UK."
"X understands the need for consistency across the UK in order to avoid anomalies and/or loopholes in the vetting and barring process. X would recommend its Framework Code of Practice for the Sharing of Personal Information be referred to in order that best practice in sharing personal data is established.
Links with the wider world?
However by far the biggest gap identified by consultees was that although cross-border links with the rest of the UK had been considered, there appeared to be no consideration of how the PVG Scheme would interact with other schemes in other parts of the European Union, and the world more widely, and how organisations should cope with the task of vetting overseas workers. It was noted that today there is an increasingly mobile workforce, and organisations are employing people from many different countries. There were requests for guidance on how to deal with vetting, or the inability to vet people from different countries, as this was seen as a potential loophole that could pose a threat to vulnerable groups. Consultees took the opportunity at chapter 6 to voice their concerns that vetting overseas workers had not been covered and to comment on the vetting of overseas workers. Some did so in addition to their comments about the PVG scheme's interaction with the UK, whilst others commented only on the international element. Comments on the issue of overseas workers came from a broad spectrum of consultees, within the areas of Early Years, Social Work, Voluntary Organisations, Councils, Regulatory Bodies and Other.
"The issue of wider cross-border arrangements has not been addressed in this consultation. This is an issue that requires further clarification as it is of concern that someone for whom it may be impossible to carry out a full background check, for a person who is granted asylum, will they be barred or cleared by the CBU [Central Barring Unit]? The Government must work with the appropriate agencies to resolve this problem and provide guidance. The Act must also take onto account the mobile nature of the workforce, and as a result look at ensuring that there are reciprocal information-sharing agreements with all members of the EU. As well as other countries in which the Government in promoting employment opportunities in the voluntary sector."
"Are there to be any arrangements with the Republic of Ireland or other EU countries which would allow for comparative checks to be made with equivalent agencies there? With a greater number of overseas workers this would be greatly welcomed as often no information is held in the UK due to the limited period an individual has spent in the country and trying to obtain information from overseas countries has in the past presented many difficulties and can often delay the recruitment process. A streamlined process would be of great benefit as would further guidance and assistance."
Chapter 6 Summary
On the whole there was broad agreement and approval for the cross-border arrangements that were laid out in chapter 6 of the consultation paper. The importance of consistency between the two schemes was stressed, although the fact scheme membership is not mandatory in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK was highlighted as a possible inconsistency. In terms of information sharing between the schemes it was felt that it was important that systems were in place to ensure that this was robust, accurate and quick. For workers who work across borders it was felt that the system should be made as simple as possible to minimise the costs and bureaucracy associated with this, and there were suggestions that membership of one scheme should be sufficient to work in both jurisdictions. Consultees identified a gap in that dealing with overseas applicants was not covered in the consultation, and this was a source of concern.