Thousands of people up and down the UK volunteer every week. Volunteers help organisations both big and small, and can make a huge difference to their communities. Not all voluntary roles will require a DBS check, and charities have to conform to the same rules as other employers when deciding who needs a certificate. The good news is that volunteers who need a DBS check get their certificates free of charge. The less than great news is that the definition of volunteer isn’t as clear as you might first think.


What is a Volunteer?

Everyone thinks they know what a volunteer is. Volunteers, and the roles they carry out, come in all shapes and forms. When it comes to DBS checks though, there is a strict legal definition set down. According to the Police Act 1997, a volunteer is someone who spends time doing an activity which they are not paid for, and which is to benefit a third party who isn’t related to them. A “third party” could be an individual or group. The law allows volunteers to receive out of pocket expenses for travelling, but anyone who is paid is by definition not a volunteer. In most cases it’s easy to sort out who is a volunteer and who isn’t, but there is plenty of guidance online if you are unsure.


Roles Requiring DBS

Not all volunteers will need a DBS check. It all depends very much on the type of work they are doing. Someone working behind the till in a charity shop won’t need a DBS check, as very few other retail workers do. Working with animals doesn’t fall into the definition of “regulated activity”, and neither does standing on the street rattling a collection tin. Only volunteers who are working with children, vulnerable adults or who are in positions of responsibility managing funds will need a certificate. The DBS helpline can advise small voluntary organisations on what sort of checks they should arrange for their volunteers, if any.

One important thing to remember is that only regular volunteers require DBS checks. People who are volunteering at a special event on a “one-off” basis don’t need to be checked. Only someone who is volunteering once a week, or four times a month on average requires a DBS certificate.


DBS Process for Volunteers

Although there is no cost for DBS applications for volunteers, there is no difference in the application process either. The volunteer will first complete the application form with their basic details, address history and date of birth. Then, the applicant has to show a range of identity documents to the person at the voluntary organisation who is managing their DBS application. Finally, the DBS sends the form to the police, who search their database for any crimes or cautions matching the applicant. Certificates are sent through the post to the applicant’s home address. The entire process usually takes around a month, but can be faster or slower in some areas of the country.