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May 2024

PVG fee proposal for volunteers seen as a potential ‘tax on volunteering’

In early March this year, Disclosure Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government launched a consultation on a range of proposals related largely to fees and discounts for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Scheme.

One of the proposals, to replace the current fee waiver with a fee reduction for volunteers in Qualifying Voluntary Organisations (QVOs)*, led to a stream of concerned emails into my inbox. As Scotland’s national centre for volunteering, we were equally concerned at the potential impact.

Since the consultation was launched, we have sought the views of a range of key stakeholders, particularly the Volunteering Action Plan Policy Champions Network (PCN), on the proposals. The strength of feeling about the proposals, particularly the one related to volunteer fees, was palpable. Words and phrases like ‘a false economy’, ‘a disgrace’, ‘unfathomable’ and ‘self-defeating’ were littered through responses to a survey we circulated to the PCN – clearly this consultation has touched a nerve.

The evidence presented to us confirmed our own thoughts about the potential impact of these proposals and highlighted a few new ones. Given that the vast majority of volunteer involving organisations cover out of pocket expenses for volunteers, in line with the Volunteer Charter, most have indicated that they would pick up the tab for any new PVG fees for volunteers. However, what is less clear is how they are expected to afford this. The financial challenges facing the voluntary sector at present are well documented, and this proposal is being seen as a ‘tax on volunteering’.

There are also concerns that this proposal could also present additional barriers to volunteers. Some organisations could be forced to ask their volunteers to cover the cost of PVG membership fees, potentially excluding many people on lower incomes from participating. It could also lead to a decline in volunteering opportunities with children and young people, with some organisations potentially forced to reduce or cut services due to the cost of PVGs. This would also, of course, be devastating for the many children and vulnerable adults who rely on volunteer led services for access to culture, sport, social connection and support dealing with trauma.

The proposal to replace the QVO volunteer fee waiver with a fee discount was described in the consultation document as a way to ‘provide broader support to households on low incomes or who face additional barriers through a history of care experience’. In other words, the savings from removing the volunteer fee waiver would support the cost of the proposed fee reductions for people in receipt of certain benefits and care experienced young people.

However, stakeholders have told us that these intentions, whilst admirable, have slightly missed the mark for people in these groups seeking to volunteer in organisations who do not qualify for the volunteer PVG fee waiver. In fact, the need for these groups to provide evidence that they qualify for these fee reductions is being seen by some as a considerable barrier. Also, these groups represent some of the people likely to benefit most from participation in volunteering, leading some stakeholders to call the fee reduction proposals ‘counter-productive’.

It is clear from our consultation with stakeholders so far that these proposals would represent an unpopular and potentially damaging move for the government. It would also represent a move away from similar approaches in other parts of the UK where the majority of criminal record checks for volunteers are free. We would hate for one of the new First Minister’s early legacies to be something so potentially harmful to volunteers, the voluntary sector, and the vulnerable people they support in communities across Scotland.

We will be submitting our response to the consultation on the 28th May deadline, urging the government to rethink these proposals, and we would encourage anybody reading this who is equally concerned about the proposals to do the same. You can find out how to do this by visiting the consultation website. It’s also not too late to influence our response! Please contact me if you have anything you want to share.

* ‘Qualifying Voluntary Organisation’ means an organisation which is not a further education institution, a school, a public or local authority, or under the management of a public or local authority.

Sarah Latto

Policy Officer