Councils confused over responsibility for checking agency staff

Local authorities are sometimes unclear about their
responsibilities to ensure that agency staff working with children
have undergone criminal records checks, Community Care has

Haringey Council recently admitted that it had failed to ensure
that a minibus driver for children with learning difficulties had
been properly checked by the agency that supplied him.

Only when he was stopped by the police for a motoring offence did
it emerge that the driver, Dennis Bell, had nine convictions for
sex offences against children and adults.

Although recruitment agencies have the legal duty to carry out CRB
checks, the Commission for Social Care Inspection also requires
councils to obtain proof that checks have been done on agency

“Councils have a duty to make sure that the agencies they use have
properly vetted their staff,” says a CSCI spokesperson. “They are
supposed to a get a copy of the CRB check. When we inspect
children’s services we inspect employee files – for the council’s
own staff and for agency staff – to ensure that proper checks have
been carried out and there are copies of the appropriate

But, one prominent social services director Community Care
spoke to did not believe that it was necessary for councils to hold
copies of CRB checks for agency staff, believing that the council’s
contracting relationship with the agency was sufficient to ensure
that it complied with the law.

Others were unsure whether a copy of the CRB check was necessary or
whether an agency letter confirming that a check had been done was

Even Haringey had to clarify whether the Bell incident was a
breakdown of normal procedure or a practice problem it has now
fixed. Its original press statement says: “To ensure that agencies
carry out checks we now insist on documentary evidence.”

But a Haringey spokesperson insists: “It was our procedure, prior
to this incident, to get documentary evidence – it didn’t happen in
that instance, there was a lapse.

“Though technically the agency is the one required to do CRB
checks, we see it as our responsibility to ensure that checks have
been done,” she adds. “Following that incident the council
reinforced its policy with further guidance to managers.”

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring that agencies do run CRB
checks rests with the Department of Trade and Industry. But the DTI
has never prosecuted an agency in the care sector. “Our
investigators are extremely good about dealing with complaints
without the need for prosecution,” says a spokesperson.

Charities that use agency staff must rely on good practice.
Children’s charity NCH, for instance, uses a system that would
satisfy the CSCI, although the commission has no remit over

“It’s the absolute responsibility of NCH to make sure that any
person working with children and young people in an unsupervised
capacity are properly vetted,” says Janice Cook, director of human
resources at NCH.

“We have a preferred supplier list of agencies and they have to
make a commitment that everybody is vetted or they would be in
breach of contract. Then when people are sent by an agency you do
another check that they have complied. We ask for documentary proof
to be brought with their paperwork.”

NCH has recently added a third safeguard – contract monitoring – to
ensure compliance, she adds.

When NCH occasionally has to find staff from agencies outside its
preferred supplier list, their procedures are first checked, says

“Some agencies have said they don’t do CRB checks – they are not
phoned again. It’s a very small number, and we have never come
across anyone who is claiming that they are CRB checking when they
are not.”

Haringey’s investigation found that no harm was done by Bell while
working in proximity to children, but the incident shows it cannot
be taken for granted that commercial agencies will properly vet
their staff.

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