Protection of vulnerable groups and disclosure of information: engagement report

A report on the early engagement with stakeholders for consultation on protection of vulnerable groups and the disclosure of criminal information.


1 st Round of Engagement

The first round of engagement took place between January and February 2017 and involved 54 individuals from 36 organisations, including internal stakeholders from Disclosure Scotland and Scottish Government. The main aim of this round was to set out the Terms of Reference for the review, which were then published on 28 February on the Scottish Government’s website. Participants were asked to consider which elements of the current scheme they would like to see remain in place and which they would prefer to have changed. An overview of this feedback is set out below.

Elements of the current scheme that should remain

Above all, stakeholders were happy with the values and reasons behind the current PVG scheme and wanted the main remit to remain the protection of vulnerable people. There was strong support for maintaining the lists of individuals who are barred from regulated work with children and/or protected adults as well as continuing with on-going monitoring.

Elements of the current scheme that should change

It was felt that the current system of paper application forms and of issuing paper certificates should be replaced by an electronic system. Some individuals also felt that, whilst the lists of barred individuals should be maintained, there was no need for separate lists for adults and children. It was also suggested that membership of the PVG scheme should not be for life and that greater clarity was needed surrounding this issue and the issue of who can become members of the scheme. In addition to this it was felt that DS offered too many products, and that these should be streamlined. The view was that this would make the application process clearer and more user‑friendly.


A wide range of views were captured during the first round of engagement and many proved to be contradictory. However, analysis of the feedback received showed the following key points:

  • The scheme should continue to keep the protection of vulnerable people as its core purpose
  • Continuation of the barred lists of unsuitable individuals
  • On-going monitoring of PVG scheme members should continue
  • Support for an online application process and online access to conviction information
  • The scheme should be mandatory
  • The definition of regulated work is complex
  • Number of disclosure products available is too high
  • Membership of the PVG scheme should not be for life

2 nd Round of Engagement

The second round of engagement ran from March to April 2017 and included 11 events across 3 sites, plus a number of additional meetings with smaller groups and individuals. A total of 69 individuals from 59 organisations took part. The aim of this round was to look deeper into what stakeholders need and what they would like to have in a future scheme. Discussions followed a similar theme to the first round of engagement with participants being asked to consider the following issues:

  • Products and Information
  • Whether the scheme should be mandatory
  • The referral process
  • Having two separate workforces and lists

Alongside this face to face engagement DS ran an online survey. This was widely advertised using a variety of methods resulting in 848 responses.

Future Products and Information

Throughout the second round stakeholders were overwhelmingly clear that they would like a simple, user friendly online system with easier to understand information. It was suggested that the online system should be similar to other existing systems such as that of the DVLA. In addition to this, it was felt that individuals should be able to have their own account with DS to which they could link relevant organisations and that a membership card or other such similar means could be introduced to give individuals ownership of their own account. Stakeholders also felt that membership of the PVG Scheme should not be for life. It was suggested that individuals should have to renew their membership at certain intervals, thereby allowing information to be kept up to date and also allowing members to be removed from the scheme if they are no longer in regulated work. A need for better and more consistent communication and guidance from DS was also identified particularly in the areas of how regulated work is defined and who can and should become a scheme member.

Mandatory Scheme Membership

There was a wide range of discussion during the second round of engagement as to whether or not the PVG Scheme should be mandatory with views on the subject being generally in favour of the scheme being mandatory. Many believed that the scheme was already mandatory and were confused that it wasn’t. Many believed that a mandatory scheme would simplify the system. Some stakeholders however felt that it would be too complicated and create too many loopholes to be truly effective. It was also suggested that a mandatory scheme would deter volunteers from certain types of work. There was discussion about what types of roles should potentially be mandatory in any future scheme along with further discussions surrounding the types of roles which have mandatory scheme membership as part of their regulatory body requirements.

Referral Process

Stakeholders who participated in the second round of engagement agreed that, overall, the current process of referrals is effective. However, it was overwhelmingly agreed that the process was too complicated and better guidance was required on what constitutes ‘harm’ within the legislation, how and when an individual should be referred and how to handle individuals who are under formal consideration for listing.

Two separate workforces

There were a number of discussions surrounding the proportionality of having two separate workforces and lists. Some stakeholders thought that having a single workforce and barred list did make sense, with others commenting that most organisations would not employ someone to work with protected adults if they were already barred from working with children.


Analysis of the feedback from the second round of engagement indicated that the following were key points that stakeholders wanted to have in any future scheme:

  • Online application and access to real time conviction information
  • Simple systems and products
  • Individual membership scheme with card
  • Barring from regulated work
  • Better communications and guidance

Analysis also indicated the following key points that stakeholders did not want to have in any future scheme:

  • Too many products
  • Complex application forms
  • Lack of engagement/communication with individual members and organisations
  • Lifelong membership

Online Survey

The second stage of stakeholder engagement included an online survey which generated 848 responses from a wide range of participants. The survey was comprised of 20 questions which covered the same themes as those in the face to face engagement events.

Analysis of the survey indicated the following key points:

  • 94% of respondents thought that the PVG Scheme should be mandatory.

94% of respondents thought that the PVG Scheme should be mandatory.

  • Almost two thirds of respondents thought that the definition of regulated work was easy to understand. However discussions in person indicated this not to be the case and many stakeholders feel this needs to be simplified or changed going forward.

Almost two thirds of respondents thought that the definition of regulated work was easy to understand

  • Two thirds of respondents thought that membership of the PVG scheme should not be lifelong.

Two thirds of respondents thought that membership of the PVG scheme should not be lifelong.

  • More than half of respondents did not realise that DS does not notify them of new convictions for a scheme member.

More than half of respondents did not realise that DS does not notify them of new convictions for a scheme member.

  • Almost three quarters of respondents indicated that the current DS products are the best way to support recruitment and protect vulnerable groups. However, there was wide acknowledgement that the current products are too complicated.

Almost three quarters of respondents indicated that the current DS products are the best way to support recruitment and protect vulnerable groups

3 rd Round of Engagement

The third round of engagement has been on-going since August 2017 and has involved over 250 stakeholders. Discussions were based around how a future disclosure scheme could be delivered. Discussion points were as follows:

  • Retain the existing law. Disclosure Scotland would continue to issue basic, standard and enhanced disclosures under the Police Act 1997. In addition, the PVG Scheme disclosures; the scheme record, the short scheme record, and the statement of scheme membership would also be retained. We would, however, make minor legislative changes to: fix loopholes in both the 1997 and 2007 Acts, help to facilitate online applications and disclosure, and modify the offence lists in schedules 8A and 8B of the 1997 Act.
  • Streamlined disclosure system. Products would be reduced to 3 levels of disclosure equivalent to the current basic disclosure, enhanced disclosure and PVG scheme. This would maintain the barring function for people unsuitable for regulated work as well as the appeal mechanism for spent convictions.
  • Introduction of online system. This would include online applications, ID verification, referrals and real time access to conviction information.
  • Introduction of an individual membership scheme. Such that a person owns their account and has a membership ID card. Organisations and individuals would then be ‘linked’ (both parties agreeing) with consent provided by agreeing the link. A number of stakeholders suggested this should be available on smart phones, and not just as a physical card. The benefit of the membership cared was questioned with some scheme members asking if it could be used to access other public services.
  • Retrospective checking. Changes made to the scheme necessitating retrospective checking for existing scheme members.

Participants in these sessions were asked to consider and comment on these points and, alongside this, were asked to consider the same key issues that were covered in previous rounds of engagement

Retain the existing law

The feedback on this issue was mixed. Many felt that the current system did work well, particularly for clearly defined and less flexible roles. People were also supportive of the current barring system as well as the notifications for consideration and barring. It was said that the current system presents a “common sense approach” to disclosing conviction information.

Alternatively, many felt that the current system had too many options leading to confusion about the type of application that should be made. It was thought that this left a lot of room for different interpretation between organisations. In addition to this, some participants stated that they found the current scheme to be unclear in its definition of what constitutes regulated work with some stakeholders stating that they felt the guidance from Disclosure Scotland and VSDS to be conflicted in this area. Overall stakeholders felt that the current system would be improved by additional online functionality.

Streamlined disclosure system

There was great support for the introduction of a more streamlined system than is currently offered by DS. It was generally felt that having only three levels of disclosure would present a quicker and more user friendly service that could also prove to be safer in terms of information security.

Online System

Stakeholders particularly felt that online applications and online access to disclosure information, rather than continued use of paper certificates, would lead to less onerous paper work making the entire process more streamlined and easier for both employers and individuals. This would be true particularly if individuals were able to manage their own application online. It was also felt that this system could prove to be safer in terms of information security. Some did, however, express concerns about the online system, particularly around the usability for certain users and the practicality of access for online conviction information.

Individual Membership

Overall, it was agreed that giving individuals ownership of their disclosure membership would be a positive step. It was felt that a membership card, giving basic details of the individual such as name and membership number, would be the most appropriate way of doing this. Stakeholders expressed support for a mechanism for suspending scheme membership if an individual was to move out of regulated work and then reactivation if they later resumed regulated work.

Retrospective Checking

The feedback from stakeholders suggests that there is little appetite for retrospective checking of existing scheme members (in the way that happened when we moved from Police Act Disclosures to PVG scheme membership) if there was to be a change to the operation of the PVG scheme. Retrospective checking was a significant burden that stakeholders do not want to repeat.


Analysis of the feedback from this round of engagement showed the following key points:

  • Desire for online applications and access to real time conviction information
  • Need for streamlined system
  • Better definition of regulated work/alternative approach
  • Continuation of barring and listing functions
  • Continuation of on-going monitoring
  • Membership card will give ownership to individuals
  • Need for better guidance on scope of regulated work, and on the content of disclosure certificates

Other Research

User researchers within DS

In addition to the stakeholder engagement being undertaken by the policy team, the user research team within Disclosure Scotland have been working on a wide reaching programme of user research for the development of a new online system. The team have engaged with over 100 customers between May and October 2017 using a variety of methods including telephone and face to face interviews, lab testing and joint open user centred policy sessions with users.

Having had sight of the preliminary results of this research, we believe that it reinforces many of the key points which we have taken from our own stakeholder engagement that has been outlined so far, in particular:

  • Users support an online applications system (providing alternative methods are in place for those who cannot use digital systems)
  • There is support for a move away from paper certificates and instead issuing this information by digital means
  • Users are not always aware that PVG Scheme membership is for life and therefore a method of giving individuals ownership of their own membership would be beneficial.

Other policy areas

Work going on elsewhere with in Scottish Government has also fed into this engagement work. Specifically work on the Rehabilitation of Offenders and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility has provided us with further information and evidence. We are currently analysing this information and developing possible policy approaches to ensure alignment with these policy areas.


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