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Should you background check charity workers?

Occupational fraud is a fraud committed by an employee against their employer, and can consist of asset misappropriation, corruption, or financial statement fraud.

We delve into more detail on occupational fraud in our previous article, which you can find here.

Occupational fraud within charities

Sadly, occupational fraud can exist in any type of business, even within charities. Although a shocking notion, there are many examples of employees taking advantage of their positions within charities. In a world population review it has been revealed that the UK has the second highest charity donation rate in the world, so it is no surprise that the thought of fraud within charities feels so outrageous to us.

There are three factors present when employees are committing these acts according to CIFAS, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Community:

1. An opportunity to commit fraud;

2. A motivation; and

3. The perpetrator must be able to rationalise the fraud.

The opportunity to commit occupation fraud even within a charitable organisation is clear, and is similar to any other business sector insomuch as it only takes access to data or accounts for an opportunity to present itself.

Motivationally speaking it is often hard to ascertain why someone would commit a crime like this, although it is fair to say that in some instances an individual may have been coerced by others, or could be experiencing financial hardship.

The hardest factor to understand is the ability for the perpetrator to rationalise the fraud. As a nation of charitable people, it is hard to fathom that anyone could justify stealing from a charity, but there are many examples of people doing just that.

In July 2021 Liverpool Crown Court heard the case of Susan Kay, who was employed as a hospice charity shop manager and stole £9000, despite having a record of stealing from a previous charity. And in March 2021 the founder of the Little Heroes Cancer Trust was sentenced to 20 months in prison after being found guilty of stealing £87,000 from the charity.

How can I lower the risk of fraud within my charity?

There are a number of measure that can be put in place to try and mitigate the risk of fraud, such as introduction a countersigning process for senior executives and implementing a whistleblowing policy.

One of the most important things to ensure if that all employees of the charity, be that shop volunteers, senior executives or members of the finance team must be adequately background checked. This is often overlooked within charities as there is an undertone of mistrust associated to a background check that could be perceived as an additional barrier for hard-to-find volunteers. It is vitally important that this doesn’t happen, and that background checks are run across the business.

Additionally, if your volunteers will be working with children or vulnerable adults, by law you can get a Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS, formerly the Criminal Records Bureau) on them.

The DBS will search police records to identify people who are unsuitable for certain types of work, especially work involving children and vulnerable adults.

It is also beneficial to note that DBS checks are free for volunteers.

How do I complete background checks?

There are many ways to complete background checks, all varying in complexity, cost and resource requirements.

You could choose to complete background checks manually, which would involve running all the legal checks through the relevant regulatory bodies (such as DBS) and then personally reaching out to individual candidate referees, whilst keeping a manual log of the status of each check.

You could choose to outsource the whole process to a specialist reference checking company, which would incur additional costs.

Alternatively, you could use an online tool such as VettingGateway. Using a simple online platform you can complete pre-employment screening, criminal record and credit checks, and any industry specific regulatory checks you might need all in one place. The tool is automated, which means it will chase referees automatically, leaving you to get on with your day job. Contact VettingGateway today to start using it for free.


The information Provided by VettingGateway in this blog was published on the 30/12/2021, all information was relevant at the time of publishing however as our landscape is forever changing this information may not remain valid.

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