The volunteering culture in the UK is strong and thriving. During the height of the recent pandemic, thousands of people stepped up to answer the government’s call to help out vulnerable neighbours and community members with shopping and other tasks. Several different volunteering programmes ran concurrently, some organised independently, and others through Councils and the NHS. However, in many areas of the country the response to the appeal for volunteers was so strong that Councils were swamped, with volunteers unable to actually help anyone due to delays in the system.


DBS Certificates for Volunteers

Whether or not a volunteer needs a DBS check will depend on the tasks the volunteer was asked to do. During the Covid-19 pandemic, most volunteers were needed to help vulnerable people who were asked not to leave their home. Many were doing supermarket shopping, providing lifts to hospital appointments, or collecting and delivering prescriptions. Most of these tasks do fall into the category where volunteers needed DBS checks, and the sheer number of applications being pushed through into the DBS created a huge backlog.


Government Response – Fasttrack

Volunteers don’t pay for DBS checks, and neither does the organisation the volunteer is helping. In April 2020, the DBS also waived all fees for applications for NHS and other social care staff. In an attempt to get the system moving a bit more quickly, there was also priority given to any DBS applications from staff and volunteers working with the NHS, or directly in response to the pandemic. The obvious consequence of this is that applications from people working in other areas took longer. Many organisations were prepared to accept a preliminary search of the lists of people formally banned from working with vulnerable groups pending a full check, but this was up to the individual organisation.


Issues at the DBS?

Staff at the DBS, and the similar organisations which manage criminal records checks in Scotland and Northern Ireland, worked through the pandemic. Many however were working from home, with social distancing measures meaning fewer people were in the office. Delays and bottlenecks were inevitable. Things are starting to get back to normal now, but the huge volume of applications received in the three months between the end of March and the end of June are going to take a while to clear. The best advice is to be patient and get advice from the organisation you will be volunteering with about how to manage the situation.


Getting your DBS Quickly

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to sidestep the delays in the system to get a DBS certificate more quickly. You can however maximise your chances by making sure you complete the application forms fully, and correctly. Get advice from a Responsible Body or a contact at your employer if you’re not sure rather than just guessing what to put in a field. Check spelling and proofread your form for typos. Ensure you’ve ticked the box to say you are a volunteer to avoid being asked for a fee.