Vetting For Businesses That Hire Children

Thousands of shops, restaurants and cafés will be forced to register their staff with a new child protection agency and have their criminal records checked if they employ children for weekend or summer holiday work.

Any staff responsible for supervising children under 16 will have to be vetted. The measure is in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which was passed in 2006. It was originally intended to screen teachers, nursery staff and youth workers more effectively by requiring them to register with a new quango, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), but ministers have decided to extend its scope to businesses.

The ISA will conduct enhanced checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and give individuals – at a cost of £64 each – a “seal of approval” for working with children. The measure also covers work experience.

When the plans were set out in 2006, ministers estimated that there were 8.5 million people working directly with children who would have to register. But the most up-to-date estimate from the Home Office, which now includes businesses employing under16s, is that 11.3 million people will have to register.

It was originally thought that all businesses employing under16s would have to register all their staff with the ISA but after lobbying from retailers a compromise was agreed. Under this most sole traders, such as newsagents, are exempt.

The Manifesto Club, a pressure group that is campaigning against the Act, argues that it will not offer any greater protection. The group has also discovered that the Government’s estimated cost for setting up and running the ISA for the first five years has grown from £91.6 million to £246 million as its scope has increased.

Josie Appleton, a convenor of the club, said: “Jobs in the local supermarket or department store provide a taste of adult work and independence. CRB checking their supervisors is not only a bureaucratic nightmare, but also creates a suspicious atmosphere in the workplace.

“The Act will create an unwieldy, expensive child-protection bureaucracy that will do little to protect children but will instead drain the energy and resources of community groups and individuals who want to teach or take care of children.”

The new authority’s start date has also been delayed from the autumn of this year to October next year to give businesses time to prepare. The Government says that the ISA will be “self-funding” but employers will have to bear the £64 cost of registering each staff member, substantially more than the £36 charged for a CRB check.

The Manifesto Club is particularly concerned that sports and hobby clubs will decide that it is easier to ban teen-agers than take the trouble of registering members who occasionally or informally coach young people.

Stephen Alambritis, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was important that the new legislation did not prvent young people from being given an important introduction to the work ethic.

Legal protection

— Children aged 13 and 14 are allowed to work up to two hours a day during term time, one before school and one after, and up to five hours on Saturdays and two on Sundays

— In the school holidays, 13 and 14-year-olds can work for up to five hours a day but for no more than 25 hours a week, and they must not work for two weeks of the summer holiday

— Children aged 15 and 16 are allowed to work for up to eight hours on Saturdays. On other days the permitted hours are the same as for 13 and 14-year-olds

— During the school holidays, 15 and 16-year-olds can work for up to eight hours a day, but must not work more than 35 hours in a week. They also must not work for two weeks of the summer holiday

— All under16s who wish to work have to have a permit issued by their local authority and signed by the employer in order to work legally, although many youngsters are not aware of this

— While at school children aged 14 and 15 are expected to do between one and three weeks of work experience