What background checks can I do to help vet volunteers?

When you are vetting volunteers, there are many different background checks that you can do. There is no single, full-proof form of vetting that will give you a complete picture of a person — not even a police check. It is likely that you will want to use a mixture of the vetting procedures outlined below. Carrying out a range of vetting procedures may help you to build a consistent picture of the applicant and to check any claims they make.

You will also need to identify what the risks to your clients are so you know what you need to look for in carrying out background checks. For example, if your organisation works with children, you may want to check volunteers’ backgrounds for any offences relating to sexual offences or child abuse. It is also important that the person undertaking the reference checks has knowledge about child protection and knows what to look for.

What background checks are available?

Below are some examples of background checks. These checks are designed to look for different information (e.g. criminal convictions or opinions of others about the applicant) and require a different amount of time and resources to carry out.

  1. Request a police vetting check. Police vetting is a common way to check information held about a person on the police’s database, such as criminal convictions or a family violence report. The applicant must provide written consent for an organisation to request a police vetting check. The Police may also provide information relating to any violent or sexual behaviours of the person being vetted, which may not have resulted in a conviction, as well as information about any interactions with the Police. Note that a police vetting check is not a complete background check so you may need to use other vetting procedures. You should also be aware that under Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004, a person may be allowed to conceal their criminal record if they meet certain criteria. These criteria include requiring that the person has completed a rehabilitation period and that the person has not been given a custodial (i.e. prison) sentence. If a person is eligible under the scheme, their record is wiped “clean”. This means that they can say they do not have any convictions on their Ministry Of Justice or Police check. Find out more about Police vetting applications online.
  2. Obtain a criminal record. A police vetting check is not a criminal check, so you may also want to request a criminal record. As a third party, you can seek the applicant’s permission to view their criminal record.
  3. Check the applicant’s references. You may ask the applicant to provide contact details for referees (it is standard to ask for two referees). Referees should not be family members or partners of the applicant and should have known the applicant for a minimum period (e.g. two years). It may be helpful for you to establish a standardised process for carrying out reference checks and having a list of relevant questions for referees ready.
  4. Check information publicly available about the applicant online. You may wish to do an Internet search on the applicant to see what information about the applicant is available online.
  5. Undertake an interview. It may be useful to carry out an additional interview to develop an even deeper understanding of the applicant.

Designing a vetting procedure

It is important to design a vetting procedure that is appropriate for your organisation and your clients, and the type of work carried out by your volunteers. It may not be necessary for you to carry out all of the vetting procedures above. The more vulnerable your clients are, the more thorough your background check needs to be.

Ensure your organisation has a systematic way of dealing with background checks of applicants. In this way, you will protect your service users and your staff, as well as the reputation of your organisation and brand.

See: Vetting volunteers: why it’s important and some tips for doing it.