Vetting database will cost NHS and public bodies £170m

The Government's controversial vetting database will cost the British public at least £170m, The Independent can disclose.

The Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), which comes into force next month and is intended to prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults, has already cost the Government £84m to set up.

Now, public bodies such as the NHS and the Prison Service will be forced to spend millions of pounds registering their employees on the scheme, at a time when their budgets have already been squeezed. Anyone who wants to work with children or vulnerable adults must pay a mandatory, one-off registration fee of £64. Almost all of the NHS's 1.3 million employees will have to join, leaving the organisation facing a total bill of about £83m.

Although each NHS trust can instruct its employees to pay their own fees, The Independent understands that almost all intend to foot the bill themselves, in much the same way as they have covered existing Criminal Records Bureau checks.

Prisoners are also classed as vulnerable adults, so the country's 40,000 registered prison officers will also need to register. The Prison Service has agreed to meet their registration costs, which amount to more than £2.5m.

Each individual must be cleared by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which will employ 200 case workers to sift through information passed to them by the police, professional bodies and employers before making a judgement.

From 12 October, it will become a criminal offence for people on the ISA's barred list to seek employment with children or vulnerable adults, and for employers to hire them. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the individual and six months for the employer, and fines of £5,000.

Within five years, the Government estimates that the details of 11.3 million people will be stored on the database, making it the largest of its kind in the world. The tighter rules mean that the number of people barred from working with vulnerable groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will double from 20,000 to 40,000.

Other affected groups include local councils – many of which will be expected to cover the registration costs of social workers and children's services teams – and police forces which have officers working in child protection units.

The Local Government Association said it was concerned about the increased cost to councils and their staff, and that "questions need to be asked" about the £64 fee. Public anger over the intrusive nature of the VBS has grown since this newspaper revealed that a group of respected British children's authors and illustrators intended to stop visiting schools in protest.

Parents who help out at sports or social clubs such as the Cub Scouts will also have to be cleared by the ISA, as will those who host foreign pupils as part of school exchange trips, although they will not have to pay the fee.

The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said the scheme was a "disproportionate response" that risked deterring people from volunteering.

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