Prepared by Chris Mew on behalf of the Tower Stewardship Committee


The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 affects both employers and voluntary groups engaged in activities with children and with services to vulnerable adults. The provisions of the Act are due to come into force on 12th October 2009 and an initial review of the likely effect on ringing was given in my article in the Ringing World, issue of 2nd May, page 493. The purpose of this update is to clarify those areas of ringing that will fall within the Act and the extent to which adult ringers may have to be registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

Recent developments

Following the receipt of Royal Assent for the 2006 Act, a consultation process was begun in November 2007 by the sponsoring Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF). There were some 326 respondents to the consultation including church authorities and voluntary groups. The main issues raised and the Government responses thereto were incorporated in a report "ISA scheme Consultation Document – Formal Government Response" published on 30th May, 2008. As a result of the consultation some previous queries were clarified but there remained outstanding issues.

In the light of this further information I arranged a meeting with the Group within the DCSF responsible for implementation of the Act which, together with subsequent exchanges, was most useful. One of the Department representatives, being a ringer, was fully aware of the unique national and open nature of ringing activities and this helped considerably in discussions. The updated situation was presented to the Tower Stewardship Committee on 2nd August since which date further clarification and concessions have been agreed with the DCSF, these are reflected in the following notes.

Key criteria for application of the Act

The Act seeks to define those activities with children or vulnerable adults which will be "regulated" or "controlled". The initial interpretation has been clarified and, as far as ringing is concerned, the key is the nature of the activity. The criteria is where adults are engaged in the teaching and training of children in a face to face situation intensively or frequently.

The intensity element of the criteria captures short bursts of activity and is confirmed as activity happening at any time on more than two days in a 30 day period or overnight. The frequency element captures regular activity such as that which occurs once a month or more on an ongoing basis.

The point of this is to capture those situations where trust is built between the trainer and pupil and also where "grooming" could take place but not to capture a one off activity. For example a ringer who is covering an event because the regular ringer is unwell. While the former does not have to register with the ISA if the activity is a one off it would still be an offence for a barred person to undertake such a role.

The Act excludes situations where the presence of children is incidental to the activity. It has been clarified that this does not mean that children ringing are incidental to adult training. The term "incidental" was adopted to exclude from the legislation those situations where an adult attending some hobby activity brought a child along because of lack of child minder or other occasional reason. Where training is given to both adults and children, or indeed targeted at children alone, then the activity will be "regulated" under the Act.

The transporting of children to/from ringing may be a regulated activity.

Where an informal agreement exists for giving a lift this will be viewed as a "private" arrangement. However, organised transport, whether under the auspices of the church or a ringing Association will be treated as regulated.

With regard to "vulnerable adults", the Act is aimed at those activities where these persons are recipients of particular services such as health services, the individuals being perceived as vulnerable at the time the service is rendered. A vulnerable adult also includes a person aged 18 or over who receives a service or participates in an activity which is targeted at people for reasons of age, disability or physical or mental health problems. Ringing does not come into this category even where an individual ringer may have some disability as the teaching is not being targeted at the group for reasons of disability. However, where for example a church organises regular help visits to the elderly performed by the same persons a situation would be created where the Act would apply. This is because the person is regularly working with someone who they are targeting because of an age related need such as frailty.

The above is a synopsis of the criteria and Guidelines will be issued by the DCSF before the Act is implemented. I have attempted later in this article to give examples of the possible effect in different ringing situations.

Registration with the ISA

Where training young ringers as a regulated activity is taking place it will normally be the local Parish which will have the responsibility of ensuring that adults are appropriately registered. Most parishes now have Child Protection Groups with a nominated officer whose job is currently to carry out CRB checks not only on ringers but also for choir, Sunday school and similar activities. It is likely that the same arrangement will be carried forward to deal with ISA registration.

Where a new worker or volunteer within the church is to engage in a regulated activity they will be expected to either show that they are already ISA registered or give consent to a check being made and registration applied for. The individual will have to give personal details, proof of identity (to prevent fraudulent misuse), an ISA Registration number, where this exists and the consent for enquiries. The parish officer will then be free to access the ISA to confirm that registration exists or request that checks be carried out to allow new registration to be effected. The checks run by the ISA will establish whether, in their view, the individual may be registered. Where there is past history which would bar the person from engaging in regulated activities then registration may be refused. A positive response and issue of any new registration number will mean that the person may commence the activity. The DCSF intend to issue guidelines whereby occasional helpers at Sunday schools will be exempt as will be a “trial period” for persons interested in helping with youth activities. This is not likely to apply to ringers.

The vetting and barring scheme will eventually extend to coverage of some 11.3 million people. Because of this the requirement to register with the ISA is being phased over a period of 5 years from October 2009. The phasing proposals mean that those who have been CRB checked recently will be phased later in the five year period as the proposal is for the scheme to apply, in the first instance, to new employees/volunteers, then to volunteers and employees who have never had a CRB check and then to the remainder based on the age of their CRB disclosure.

Guidelines will be issued for employers and organisers as to the timescale that existing CRB checked persons should be registered. It is important to note that ISA registration is totally portable. This means that, for example, a ringer who has already been CRB checked for ringing, the choir and at work as a teacher will only need the one registration for these and any future additional activities regulated under the 2006 Act. Over a period of time it will become increasingly common for those seeking to engage in ringing to already have ISA registration as a result of other regulated activities such as a Scout leader or school governor.

The ISA register will be generally available on an open access basis and enquiries will be available on-line. The reason for this is to make the system user friendly for the many organisations that will use it. This will be particularly true for individuals, such as parents, who wish to check on prospective groups dealing with their children. Declarations will have to be given that use is for legitimate purposes and the person subject of the enquiry has given their consent. It should be stressed that response to such enquiries will not disclose any history only whether the subject is or may be registered (and is neither barred nor considered as a risk to children). This should reassure those who object on the basis that that police records of minor misdemeanours might be divulged.

As previously recorded, registration will cost £64 for paid workers but be free for volunteers. There will be provision for individuals (such as freelance tutors or babysitters) to seek self registration. Should an organisation either by legal duty or choice seek an Enhanced CRB check this may be done within the system at no extra charge. Umbrella bodies who process checks may sometimes charge an additional fee to cover the cost of carrying out the processing of an application.

ISA rolling monitoring

I would reiterate that a key element of the new system will be the continuous monitoring applied to registered individuals by the ISA. This will ensure that any new information from any source (police, NSPCC, social care etc) will be fed into the system and if necessary a registration may be withdrawn. In this context it will be the legal duty of organisers/employers of persons engaged in regulated activities with children to report to the ISA anything which affects the status of a registered individual in their sphere of control. This will include the ability to make a referral regarding anyone whose behaviour towards children is inappropriate though not subject to criminal litigation and which may present potential risk of harm. This legal responsibility will devolve upon parishes and Guild officers.

Exemptions, parish ringing and Associations

The good news is that it is the intention for the Orders implementing the Act to contain detail which will effectively mean that not all adult ringers will fall within the regulated activities of the Act and will not, therefore, need to be registered. In the local parish context it will be an expectation that leaders of bands and any helpers engaged in direct face to face teaching with children would need to be ISA registered. General members of the band not involved with teaching would be exempt. This means very much the status quo since the general practice is for a selected number of tower members (captain , deputy and at least one of each sex) to be CRB checked.

In the case of Guilds and Associations organising training days they would be classed as "the organiser" and as such would be legally responsible for seeing that ISA registered persons ran the ringing. This is a new responsibility and the Guild officers as the management team would be ultimately liable for seeing that this is done. There are two ways in which the responsibility could be discharged, either the host tower or towers would provide ISA registered persons from their own band to be present or the Guild could provide such a person. In either case the onus is on the Guild to check on the situation. Access to the ISA database would be available to the Guild to check on the bona fides of "registered ringers".

It has been conceded that Guild organised meetings as are held up and down the country and which do not involve teaching will be exempt from regulation.

Guilds may decide that they wish certain of their officers (e.g. General and District ringing masters) to be ISA registered. If they are not already so registered the Guild would be able to request the registration of the individuals in the same way as a parish office with the same requirements applying. It would, however, be a pity if an ISA registration requirement dissuaded people from standing for office.

The transporting of ringers has been mentioned above and in the Guild situation if transport for children were organised on a formal basis for any activity, whether training day, meeting or outing then accompanying adults in charge of vehicles would need to be registered. The same would of course apply to the many other church groups such as choirs, guides and youth groups.

There is a grey area around general helpers. Where helpers ring alongside children but not directly teaching them then this would appear to be exempt. Similarly where helpers are under the direct management of ISA registered ringers as part of a wider gathering (whether practise or meeting) then this activity too would be exempt. However, in all cases where there is a one to one teaching activity not otherwise supervised then ISA registration requirement is triggered. Furthermore a provision which has only just come to light is that the registration requirement will apply to 16 and 17 year olds carrying out one to one teaching with other minors.

Local scenarios

Tower with no juniors being taught - no ISA registered person required

Tower with junior learners - at least those in charge to be registered, 16/17 years olds involved with teaching would also require registration

Tower with no learners of its own but which hosts regular visits by juniors from neighbouring tower(s) – ISA registered person required, this could be at the host tower or a registered adult accompanying the junior visitor.

Guild and Association meetings – ISA registered persons not legally required

Guild and Association training days and summer schools - persons involved with one to one teaching must be ISA registered (see note above on helpers)

The way forward

The intentions and application of the 2006 Act as it affects ringers is now becoming clearer and Guidelines will be issued by the DCSF on definitions for regulated activities and exemptions thereto. A window of contact has been made between the implementing Government Department and the Central Council through its Tower Stewardship Committee (of which I am a member) will seek to ensure that a workable system is agreed. Similarly, close contact will be maintained with the Church of England to ensure that interpretation of the legal requirements is consistent across the Dioceses.

In the meantime individual towers, their parent parish councils and local Guilds and Associations need to be prepared so that as far as is possible to comply with the legal requirements applicable from October 2009. To this end a first step may be to arrange their own register of ringers currently CRB checked as a starting point.

Further relevant information will be advised as received but, on a personal basis, if anyone has questions I will endeavour to answer them and can be contacted on 01926 402273.

Chris Mew 14th August 2008

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers