Why should housing surveyors be CRB checked?

Guest post by a housing surveyor who has battled repeated demands for CRB checks. He analyses why public bodies demand so many CRB checks, and what can be done about it.

It was a statement whose content I have become all too familiar with over recent years: as the work may involve some contact with vulnerable adults or children, a CRB check was an absolute essential. This was a condition of my employment and if I was unwilling to have a CRB check my employment would be terminated.

You might think that I might be a teacher, a nurse, a youth club leader, a social worker, but no, I am a housing surveyor. More specifically, a survey manager, so the number of times I actually might complete a survey is small.

This is a condition of my employment because my employer’s clients are predominantly public sector clients – local authorities and other registered social landlords – and these bodies frequently insist that contractors’ staff should be CRB checked regardless of the work they may do. My employer therefore perceives a commercial advantage in being able to offer CRB checked staff whether the client asks or not, or indeed whether the work requires it.

My surveyors’ work involves the completion of simple building surveys of the client’s housing stock, and while there is no doubt some of this housing stock may be occupied by vulnerable adults or by families with children, the tests of frequency, regularity, care, management or supervision that would imply a need to be CRB checked are not met.

Ironically, the one time I do regularly complete similar surveys is in private work I carry out for central government, and they do not require me to be CRB checked.

Earlier I referred to “this time”, because I have been banging my head on the brick wall of public body ignorance of when they may require CRB checks for some years.

In a previous, but very similar employment, I was responsible for winning tenders for survey contracts with the same client groups. Frequently, at least 50% of the time, tenders would require my surveyors to be CRB checked, either at Standard or Enhanced level. With the assistance of a helpful officer at the CRB, I was invariably able to persuade the client that this was more than they could rightly ask, and in over 200 successfully won contracts, I never had to CRB check my surveyors.

So why is there a culture in public bodies that demands CRBs for anything and everything?

I believe it is a combination of various factors, not least of which are:

Sheer laziness and ignorance; it is easier to ask everyone than to have to think about who should be asked, but it has also just become normal practice. It is frequently the procurement department in the public body that is making the request. If asked why, the answer is usually simply “because it’s our policy” and the question will regularly be deflected to human resources, and if they are asked why, they will usually give the same answer. When pushed, they will defer the question to legal, who after some soul searching and chest beating will remove the request.
Fear of reprisal and scaremongering; public bodies feel they can hide behind a completed CRB check if anything ever should go wrong. Public bodies are so absolutely petrified of being sued, and in the current litigious society, this is perhaps not surprising. However, this fear, does not give them the right to steam-roller individuals’ rights in their determination to protect their own backsides. The general scaremongering, particularly around Child Protection, promoted by elements of the media and various charities and pressure groups only reinforces this fear. There is also the possibility that insurers are imposing conditions on Public Liability insurance that imply a need for CRB checks to limit excess or uninsured loss.

The adopted culture; had the CRB system operated correctly from the start by registered bodies and the CRB only processing legitimate applications, public bodies would have learnt quickly who they could and who they could not require to submit to a check. Instead, the CRB has become a nice little earner for both the partner company who run it, and for all the umbrella companies who feed off the demand.
So how do we limit this abuse?

The recent Protection of Freedoms Act should be welcomed, although it is limited in its scope, and even more limited in its actions. Until there are penalties applied to umbrella bodies or to the CRB itself for the misuse of their licence or powers, little will change. Perhaps it is time for a class action against one or the other under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.