Protection of vulnerable groups and disclosure of criminal information: consultation

This consultation seeks views on proposals for the reform to the disclosure regime in Scotland.

Section 3 - Reforming the policy underpinning the PVG Scheme

Recent public events involving sexual abuse in sport and other spheres of life that impact on children and young people have raised public consciousness about the importance of a safeguarding scheme that removes unsuitable individuals from working with children. There have also been a number of high profile cases involving the abuse and exploitation of protected adults. Examples include people with disabilities becoming the victims of harmful behaviour and exploitation; and the targeting of members of the public, rendered vulnerable because they were using health services, by unscrupulous professionals, such as the widely publicised case in 2017 where a reputable surgeon had performed many unnecessary operations on members of the public. This serves to remind that the PVG Scheme is there to protect all of us at various stages of our lives and in circumstances where we have no intrinsic vulnerability but may become especially vulnerable to harm at certain times.

Our stakeholders almost universally recognise the importance of retaining the PVG Scheme and improving the ways that it can help keep Scotland's people safer. This consultation will not therefore ask whether there should be a PVG Scheme but rather about how it may improve, and we will present some policy ideas about which we would like to hear your views.

Stakeholders have overwhelmingly supported that the PVG Scheme ought to be mandatory for people who want to work in sensitive roles with children and protected adults.

Should membership of the PVG Scheme be mandatory for people engaged in regulated work

Scottish Ministers agree and we have therefore decided that the consultation in this area will be about how and not whether a fully mandatory PVG Scheme is brought into existence.

The current scheme was designed to strike a balance between robust public protection and the avoidance of unintended consequences. The 2007 Act created offences for persons barred seeking and doing regulated work. It was also made an offence for employers to take on a new person to do regulated work if that person was barred or continue to employ someone to do regulated work if barred whilst in post. Thus, there was an incentive for employers to avoid this risk of committing a criminal offence and to ask potential employees to obtain PVG Scheme membership. A non-mandatory scheme was therefore brought into being, with the primary benefit of it being that circumstances, which might otherwise be drawn into 'regulated work', such as a neighbour helping another neighbour in return for a small remuneration, could continue to occur without either party being potentially criminalised because the person helping out was not a member of the PVG Scheme.

Question 19: How should a mandatory PVG Scheme be introduced and how should it work?

Replacing the idea of regulated work with a clear list of 'protected' roles (Voluntary and Paid)

Creating a mandatory PVG Scheme brings additional responsibility to ensure that the Scheme works proportionately and protects the freedoms we all expect living in a democratic society. Under the current system the definition of regulated work in the 2007 Act allows for generic criteria to be applied to a wide spectrum of jobs and roles and it is an employer's decision as to whether the role is regulated work. In simple cases, such as that of a school teacher, the decision about scheme membership was straightforward but, for other roles, the question - 'is this regulated work?' - has proved more vexing. Many of our stakeholders expressed that they understood what was meant by 'regulated work' but, on closer examination, this knowledge often proved superficial and subject to error.

Disclosure Scotland has had a customer engagement / compliance team throughout the period of the PVG Scheme which has rejected many applications for PVG scheme record disclosures because the role the applicant was going to do was not within regulated work. Our customer engagement team reject about 1700 ineligible applications per year. It is still possible though that, due to unclear descriptions of prospective roles, a significant minority of the more than one million scheme members joined the Scheme when their prospective roles did not actually constitute regulated work, despite it being a criminal offence to request a PVG disclosure for work that is not regulated work. It is therefore necessary for the refreshed PVG legislation to look at who is in the Scheme now, who should be drawn into the Scheme in the future and to strike the right balance.

Based on stakeholder feedback, Scottish Ministers believe that it should be very clear which roles are eligible for PVG scheme membership. These would become 'protected roles'. The Government would publish a schedule of such roles and, through engagement with employers and other stakeholders, would also ensure that there were regular updates to that schedule. Annex B of this consultation includes a sample list of protected roles, this list is not exhaustive and you are invited to comment on and add to this list. This should simplify the process for employers and make it clear what roles or type of work require a PVG disclosure. This should ensure individuals are not given the wrong level of check and not made subject to ongoing monitoring unnecessarily. It will encourage employers to assess their own safeguarding practices and ensure the right people are getting the right level of disclosure and monitoring. It will not be acceptable for an employer to give a role the title of a protected role where the actual role does not require a PVG level disclosure simply to enable that check. The current offence for employers will continue into any new scheme.

It is clear that any such list of protected roles would need to be kept under review. Regulated work as a concept will be discontinued. It will simply become a criminal offence to do any of the protected roles whilst not a member of the PVG Scheme. This will assure the public that those they encounter when using care services are properly checked and monitored. The ability to update regularly the list of protected roles will ensure that the changing landscape in the care and education sectors can be captured and added to the list.

Introducing a mandatory scheme based on a list of roles will provide clarity about whether a check is needed. There may be circumstances where an employer feels that a role they are offering should be subject to a higher level check but it isn't yet on the published list of protected roles. There could therefore be a provision for Scottish Ministers to permit a check to be made where they reasonably believe that the role applied for is likely to qualify as a protected role, with a duty arising having done so to determine if the role is a protected role suitable for inclusion in the list.

Question 20: Do you agree with the proposal to replace the “regulated work” definition with a list of roles/jobs?

Question 21: Do you foresee any challenges for organisations from this proposed approach?

Question 22: Are there any roles/jobs not within the list in Annex B that you think should be subject to mandatory PVG scheme membership?

Question 22a: If so, please provide more detail on why.

Additional Factors

It is clear that there are some situations where additional factors will need to be considered in determining who can join the PVG Scheme.


There are circumstances where care is provided within a family, and we propose that those who provide care in this case should not be drawn into the new mandatory scheme. A family member would be:

  • spouse or domestic partner;
  • parent, step-parent, mother-in-law or father-in-law;
  • grandparent;
  • uncle or aunt;
  • brother or sister, including half sibling, step sibling, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.


It is clear that determining membership of the mandatory scheme will be simpler for some protected roles than others. There will be some cases where consideration of the duties of the role will be needed to determine if it is in fact a protected role. There will also be some instances where there will be exceptions to the rules and membership of the mandatory scheme may not be required.

The current PVG Scheme defines regulated work by reference to activities which a person does or establishments in which a person works. The key determining factor in deciding if work is regulated or not is whether the person's normal duties consist of certain specified activities with an individual who is protected by the 2007 Act or include work in a specified establishment. If the answer is 'yes', then regulated work is taking place. If the answer is 'no', then it is not regulated work. This consideration is designed to exclude those whose normal duties may bring individuals into regular but fleeting contact with one or more protected adults or children, such as a postman delivering mail to a care home, a receptionist in a health centre or a teacher who only teaches adults in the evening who finds they have to deliver a special lecture to a class of 12-year-olds.

The introduction of protected roles will in some circumstances assist with this as certain roles will not be protected. Using the examples above, postman would not be on the list and they would not be able to join the PVG Scheme. However, with the example above of the teacher this could result in individuals joining the PVG Scheme unnecessarily.

We want to maintain safeguarding without retaining the current level of bureaucracy and uncertainty around that decision. However, it is undesirable for the mandatory scheme to extend so as to include individuals whose normal duties result in fleeting or incidental contact with protected adults or children as this approach would result in a continual increase in size, and continual and unnecessary monitoring of some individuals.

Question 23: To avoid inappropriate membership, what criteria to you think should be used to decide if an individual is in a protected role?

Question 24: Do you think that the decision about whether someone who is in a protected role meets an exception which makes them ineligible for the PVG Scheme should be taken by Scottish Ministers?

Question 25: Are there roles that would not be protected roles and therefore ineligible for membership to the new scheme, that should, however, be eligible for a level 2 disclosure?

Definition of protected adult

The idea of using the receipt of a service as a basis for dealing with adults was new in the 2007 Act. This approach was taken so that adults would not be labelled as vulnerable due their having a condition, illness or disability.

The high level headings of the types of services receipt of which mean an adult is a protected adult are: certain registered care services; health services; community care services; and welfare services.

Experience of operating the PVG Scheme has highlighted challenges with this approach. There is a lack of clarity about what services are included within some of the high level categories. There is also the point that any adult can be a protected adult on a transient basis, for example, when receiving dental treatment. Services provided to adults by a self-employed individual are excluded from the meaning of regulated work.

We believe that a person delivering certain services should be a scheme member.

The discussion below looks at how to ensure that individuals providing appropriate services are scheme members while at the same time avoiding a return to labelling adults. In more detail, the existing services within the scope of the PVG Scheme are:

Registered care services

A service by a person carrying on:
(a) a support service,
(b) an adult placement service,
(c) a care home service, or
(d) a housing support service.

Health services

A service provided or secured by a public health body concerning the treatment, care and support of, and provision of advice and assistance to individuals in relation to health and well-being, or similar services provided by an independent health care service provider.

Community care services

Social work and mental health services provided or secured by a council, or self-directed support paid for by a council.

Welfare services

A welfare service includes any service which provides support, assistance, advice or counselling to individuals with particular needs, meeting the following conditions. The service must be a service that:
(a) is provided in the course of work to one or more persons aged 16 or over,
(b) is delivered on behalf of an organisation,
(c) requires training to be undertaken by the person delivering the service,
(d) has a frequency and formality attached to the service, and
(e) either-
(i) requires a contract to be agreed between the service provider and the recipient of the service prior to the service being carried out, or
(ii) is personalised to an individual adult's needs.

The first point that arises is whether the services mentioned above are those that should be covered by future scheme membership arrangements.

Question 26: Are there any services that should be added, or are there any services that should be removed?

Question 26a: If yes, please state what these are

There is then the question of the extent to which someone has to be involved in the delivery of a service to bring them within the scope of doing regulated work. At present, the front line member of staff or volunteer whose normal duties require them to carry out certain activities with an adult, such as 'caring for', means that staff member is doing regulated work.

Question 27: Is this appropriate?

The immediate line manager of that member of staff is also able to become a scheme member.

Question 28: Do you agree with this approach?

Outwith the activities, a person can be doing regulated work with adults if they work in certain establishments, namely, a care home; or in residential establishment or accommodation for people aged 16 or over.

Question 29: Do you think these are the correct facilities, or should any be added or removed?

Question 29a: If yes, please state what these are

There are also certain exclusions that apply to work in such establishments. A person whose normal duties involve working in such a place will only be doing regulated work if doing something permitted by their position gives them unsupervised access to adults, and where that contact with the adults is not incidental.

Question 30: Do you think this approach is clear and helpful?

Lastly, the appointment of a person into certain positions in relation to services for adults means that membership of the PVG Scheme is possible. The positions are:

  • member of a council committee or council sub committee concerned with the provision of education, accommodation, social services or health care services to protected adults
  • the chief social work officer of a council, and
  • charity trustee of a charity whose-
    • (a) main purpose is to provide benefits for protected adults, and
    • (b) principal means of delivery of those benefits is by its workers doing regulated work with protected adults.

Question 31: Do you think that list of positions is correct?

Question 31a: Should it be amended either by adding to it, or by taking away from it?

Making PVG Scheme Membership time limited requiring periodic renewal

The current PVG Scheme is a lifetime membership scheme with minimum scope to leave the Scheme. Extensive customer research in recent years confirms that a large number of those presently in the PVG Scheme are no longer doing regulated work with children or protected adults because they joined the Scheme to undertake a short term role or have otherwise chosen to leave regulated work. Disclosure Scotland estimates that as many as 20% of the current scheme membership of over 1 million members falls into this category. This is supported by the research carried out by Progressive who found that of those asked 79% were still in regulated work, both voluntary and paid.

The 2007 Act does not currently give Scottish Ministers a power to remove a member from the Scheme unless the person is barred from regulated work which is clearly an inappropriate approach in the vast majority of cases. Scheme members can ask to be removed from the Scheme if they stop doing regulated work but very few do ask, and this has contributed to the Scheme having over one million members. Under the 2007 Act Scottish Ministers have powers to specify circumstances in which members could be removed from the Scheme, but those powers have so far not been used. The research carried out by Progressive, on behalf of Disclosure Scotland, found that 35% of those asked did not know they could leave the PVG Scheme and 44% never thought about leaving, even if no longer doing regulated work. Disclosure Scotland has attempted to contact many thousands of inactive scheme members in 2016 and 2017, experiencing a very low rate of customer response and only a very limited reduction in inactive membership. There is therefore an inbuilt tendency in the present design of the PVG Scheme to inflate in size, with those who join the Scheme subject to ongoing monitoring for life.

Accordingly, we consider that better managing the PVG Scheme size is a critical outcome of the PVG Review. A mandatory scheme is a key part of achieving that outcome. The longer the tenure of PVG Scheme membership, the longer a person is potentially subject to ongoing monitoring if they stop doing work that falls within the Scheme; this represents an unnecessary cost to Scottish Ministers and constitutes an unnecessary intrusion into citizens' personal business.

How long should membership of the PVG Scheme last?

As you can see in the diagram above, more stakeholders agree that the tenure of PVG Scheme membership should be limited than consider that it should be for life. Scottish Ministers consider that PVG scheme membership should be for a defined period and be periodically renewed. This will ensure that inactive scheme members are afforded the opportunity to leave when they no longer require membership. It is important that in making this change the PVG Scheme delivers ever-better value for money and realises the policy intention of a truly portable and reusable scheme by harnessing new technology.

There will be a cost associated with renewal of scheme membership to incentivise those who ought to leave the PVG Scheme to do so. It will be necessary to ensure that anyone electing to leave the Scheme is not continuing in a protected role; this would be an offence for the individual and for the employer too.

Question 32: How long should scheme membership last in a mandatory scheme?
a) 5 years
b) 3 years
c) 1 year

Membership Card

Stakeholders have indicated support for the introduction of scheme membership cards, about the size of a debit card and including basic details of the individual such as name and scheme membership number. During pre-consultation engagement stakeholders expressed the view that a membership card would give individuals ownership of their disclosure membership.

Currently there are no membership cards for PVG Scheme members. An application for short scheme record or scheme membership statement can be used to show up to date membership status. Making an application for either of these requires an individual's scheme membership number. The introduction of a scheme membership card would offer the practical advantage of displaying information in a more accessible format that an individual could use to give access to scheme information to a prospective employer.

As proposed above, making the PVG scheme membership time-limited and requiring periodic renewal offers a better way to manage the Scheme. Membership cards including an expiry or renewal date would offer a tangible reminder to Scheme members of the need to renew their membership or to leave the Scheme if they are no longer undertaking regulated work. Likewise, prospective employers would be able to see from such cards that the person is a current scheme member. However, employers would still require disclosure of a scheme member's scheme record to make an informed recruitment decision, as a membership card would not include any details of vetting information. An employer could not simply rely on presentation of a membership card as indicating that a person could work with children or protected adults.

Membership cards would require to be included in the cost of joining the Scheme, and there would also be an associated cost with replacing lost cards. Current Scheme members would require to be retrospectively issued with membership cards also at a cost.

If the member is barred from working with children or protected adults, their membership will be terminated. The membership card should be returned, and it is our intention to make it an offence to fail to return the card when barred. If an applicant loses their membership card, another card will be issued at a cost.

Question 33: Do you think a membership card would be beneficial to you as a member of the PVG scheme?

Question 34: Do you think a membership card would be beneficial to you as an employer?

Fees and Delivery of PVG disclosures

The present system requires a £59 payment to join the PVG Scheme and £18 for each subsequent short scheme record sought. In addition, employers pay a subscription to be registered bodies capable of countersigning PVG applications (and standard or enhanced disclosures under the 1997 Act); this annual fee is currently a minimum of £75.

Under the current system individuals cannot apply online to join the PVG Scheme. Once processed, Disclosure Scotland sends a paper certificate to the individual's address and in most cases a copy is sent to the employer who countersigned the disclosure application. If there are certain convictions for which the individual has a right to apply to a sheriff for removal from the disclosure and they do not use that right (either by telling Disclosure Scotland or allowing a prescribed period of time to pass without intimating to Disclosure Scotland their intention to make an application to a sheriff), the disclosure is then subsequently sent to the countersigning person, such as an employer. If an individual does use their right to apply to a sheriff for removal of a conviction, the person who countersigned the disclosure application will not see a copy of it until the sheriff has decided whether or not a conviction should be removed.

In the future, when applying for PVG membership, we want the individual to be able to apply online and provide all the information we need in order to process their application. They will then subsequently receive the disclosure. We think that this digital information should be owned by the individual who will be able to securely route it or share it with any employer or any other person they choose to provide it to i.e. voluntary organisation.

However, only those employers or other organisations, with their credentials established, who are lawfully entitled to see the information may do so, which would require them to be registered with Disclosure Scotland. The applicant would then be able to securely share their vetting information with the prospective employer, who would only be able to electronically receive it if all of the requirements were satisfied. This puts the sharing of the information with a third party entirely in the hands of the individual who applied for the disclosure. If they choose not to do so, they may not get the job or role but the decision to share or not share the information has been theirs.

This would change to a limited extent the current arrangements that employers typically have for countersigning higher-level disclosures. There will still be a requirement to have staff who have been vetted by Disclosure Scotland to receive the information shared by the individual.

It will be unlawful for any employer or any other person to request access to an individual's PVG account in order to circumvent proper checks on their legal entitlement to see higher level disclosure information - the only permitted way will be via the appropriate electronic sharing of the information with accredited parties.

Registered body fees

Currently the cost for a registered body to allow them to countersign is £75 per year, and this allows the registered person and four countersignatories to countersign applications. If an organisation wishes to have more than four countersignatories, there is an annual fee of £15 for each additional person. It is our proposal that this registration fee should increase to £90. This rise is in line with inflation since the fees came into force in 2011. We are not proposing to increase the fee for additional countersignatories above four.

The current conditions for registered bodies are set out in the Police Act 1997 and the Code of Practice published by the Scottish Ministers under section 120 of the 1997 Act. It is our intention to review these conditions to ensure they are suitable going forward. We also want to develop a scheme that can be delivered digitally, that includes registered body duties where possible.

Question 35: Do you agree with these proposals?

Membership and fees

The table below sets out the options for membership (in line with the proposals earlier in this chapter) and the costs for the membership.

Current PVG Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
Fee £59 £15 (every year) £36 (3 yearly) £65 (5 yearly)
Length of membership Lifetime 1 year 3 years 5 years
Method of delivery Certificate posted to applicant Digital service Digital service Digital service
Age restriction None apply Not available to those under 16 Not available to those under 16 Not available to those under 16
Authentication of Identity Checked by CSG Possible online identification and verification Possible online identification and verification Possible online identification and verification

Option 1

This option would allow the applicant year round access to their account to update information etc. The applicant would be entitled twice, with no additional fee, to share information with employers etc. Any additional sharing required would be subject to a £10 fee which could be payable by the applicant or employer. The applicant would have to pay the renewal fee each year.

Subject to provisions regarding fees/fee waiver for volunteers in Qualifying Voluntary Organisations, any applicant who joins the Scheme subject to these provisions who then takes up paid employment, will be subsequently charged the appropriate fee as soon as paid employment begins.

Option 2

This option would allow the applicant year round access to their account to update information etc. The applicant would be entitled four times, with no additional fee, in their three year membership to share information with employers etc. Any additional sharing required would be subject to a £10 fee which could be payable by the applicant or employer. The applicant would have to pay the renewal fee after three years.

Subject to provisions regarding fees/fee waiver for volunteers in Qualifying Voluntary Organisations, any applicant who joins the Scheme subject to these provisions who then takes up paid employment, will be subsequently charged the appropriate fee as soon as paid employment begins.

Option 3

This option would allow the applicant year round access to their account to update information etc. The applicant would be entitled six times, with no additional fee, in their five year membership to share information with employers etc. Any additional sharing required would be subject to a £10 fee which could be payable by the applicant or employer. The applicant would have to pay the renewal fee after five years.

Subject to provisions regarding fees/fee waiver for volunteers in Qualifying Voluntary Organisations, any applicant who joins the Scheme subject to these provisions who then takes up paid employment, will be subsequently charged the appropriate fee as soon as paid employment begins.

Question 36: What is your preferred option?
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

In relation to these options, arrangements will be needed to enable individuals and Disclosure Scotland to manage membership. In line with the general move to provide services online, Ministers believe that a secure electronic / online portal offers the most efficient way to interact with Disclosure Scotland. Using that method, members could update personal information, or permit access to and sharing of membership information including vetting information in line with the Level of disclosure sought, and the fee structure that is put in place.

If such online interaction about scheme membership is possible it follows that online arrangements are also needed with regard to payment of membership fees. Ministers' preference is for payment to be arranged online. This could be achieved, for example, by direct debit, by mobile phone text or any other online solution available and offered by Disclosure Scotland at the time. Ministers are also committed to looking at different payment options for members, for example a one off payment or instalments.

Question 37: Are you in favour of being able to interact with Disclosure Scotland online?

Question 38: Are you in favour of using electronic payment method for fees?

Question 39: Do you have an electronic payment method that you prefer?

Question 39a: If you have answered 'yes' please say what it is:

Transitional arrangements

Ministers' proposals to move away from life-time scheme membership will have an impact on individuals who are PVG scheme members on the date the changes come into force. Two issues arise, firstly the movement of existing PVG scheme members into the new mandatory scheme if they are in a protected role. Secondly the bringing into the new mandatory scheme those either not currently in the PVG Scheme but doing regulated work or those whose duties come within the scope of a protected role for the first time.

Ministers would be grateful for you proposals on how these objectives could be best achieved.

Question 40: Do you have any proposals on how the transitional arrangements should work?

Volunteer Checks

Certain checks for volunteers (those doing regulated work in a Qualifying Voluntary Organisation (“ QVO”)) are provided free at the point of use. The meaning of QVO is set out in a Scottish Statutory Instrument:, as amended. This fee waiver has been felt to be very important so as to not discourage those who would like to volunteer. However inactive scheme members also impact the QVO sector; many people who volunteer do so in the context perhaps of helping with their own children - say coaching a youth football club - but do not want to continue to do so afterwards. As the Scheme operates now, their membership remains live despite them being inactive.

The proposal to move away from lifetime scheme membership to one of the options described above offers an opportunity to address inactive scheme members across all sectors including volunteers in QVOs. We believe that this will support the policy of having a membership scheme of that is of a manageable size. However, there is still a cost to Disclosure Scotland of delivering the membership scheme in the future. In light of that, we are asking for views on whether provision should be made for volunteers in QVOs to pay a nominal fee of, for example, £10 for five years' membership.

An alternative would be to remove a volunteer from the PVG Scheme after 5 years unless an organisation actively indicated a volunteering connection with them in a relevant protected role which would qualify for a further free membership, with the option to remain in the Scheme as an unattached personal member only remaining open upon payment of the full PVG fee.

Another factor that could contribute to a solution moving forward is to consider if the meaning of QVO properly encompasses voluntary work. One way to modify it would be to introduce a clear public interest test that have to be satisfied before a volunteer could benefit either from a reduced fee, or a fee waiver.

The meaning of QVO is set out in the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Fees for Scheme Membership and Disclosure Requests) Regulations 2010 (as amended) [4] :

7(2) In this regulation-
“qualifying voluntary organisation” means an organisation which is not-
(a) a further education institution, a school, a public or local authority, or under the management of a public or local authority; and
(b) conducted primarily for profit, and any profit generated is used to further the objectives of the organisation and not distributed to its members;

(3) For the purposes of the definition of “qualifying voluntary organisation” in paragraph (2)-
“further education institution” has the same meaning as in paragraph 15 of schedule 2 to the Act; and
“school” has the same meaning as in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 but does not include a school that solely provides early learning and childcare within the meaning of Part 6 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Question 41: Should volunteers continue to receive free membership?

Question 41a: If no, should they be subject to a reduced fee?

Question 42: Do you agree that voluntary organisations seeking to benefit from a reduced fee or the fee waiver should be subject to a public interest test?

Question 42a: If so, how should that test be defined?

Question 43: Do you agree that employees and employers alike (including volunteers and volunteering bodies) who work or allow an individual to work in protected roles without joining the PVG Scheme or to stay in protected roles after membership has expired should be subject to criminal prosecution?

Question 44: Do you agree that any scheme member who fails to pay the relevant fee to renew their PVG Scheme membership and where there are no employers (or volunteering bodies) registered as having an interest in them in a protected role should exit the PVG Scheme automatically at the expiry of their membership?

Question 45: Should a person who joined the Scheme as a volunteer and benefitted from free entry later try and register a paying employer against their volunteer membership then the full fee would become payable and a new 5 years of membership would commence. Do you agree with this?


Back to top