Napo have been working on ViSOR related issues for some years now. Our main concerns are the workload implications of using an additional system for recording information and the consequences of using the Police Vetting required to access the system. At our AGM in October I reflected on the impact of the use of this level of Police Vetting on diversity in our workforce and noted that despite the fact that HMPPS now want to ensure they recruit staff with lived experience of the CJS, in Probation staff with that invaluable experience risk being sidelined and new recruits screened out at vetting stage.
Our relentless campaign on this is beginning to have an impact. At a meeting earlier this week we had our first breakthrough. Some significant changes are being made to the processes surrounding vetting and there is a real focus on avoiding inadvertent discrimination. There is undoubtedly more work to be done but in the six years since ViSOR use was announced as part of E3 we have secured significant concessions. The following is a summary of the progress made since 2015:
- Staff in employment who fail ViSOR vetting for a reason not connected to a disciplinary issue were given support to appeal and originally offered redeployment if it meant they could no longer carry out their role
- Work done at national level to ensure that issues of inconsistency and unusual outcomes were challenged
- Diversity monitoring is carried out on vetting failure rates to explore disproportionate impact on any groups with protected characteristics
It was clear however that the use of ViSOR wasn’t going to be abandoned so our campaign continued. The transfer of another 7,000 staff from CRCs was another opportunity to look again at ViSOR use and the vetting issues associated with it and just this week we attended a meeting to be told that our continuing solution-focussed approach to this has had a positive impact:
- There is now a national contract for vetting with a single Police Force to ensure consistency. This is part of the National Contractors Vetting Service (NCVI) and it allows for the use of a single form and a uniform approach to vetting.
- The NCVI arrangement also allows for work to be done with the vetting team to ensure they understand the purpose of vetting for Probation staff and that employment of those with lived experience of the CJS is encouraged
- There is now a better opportunity to appeal or challenge results and to take any learning from difficult experiences to apply to future vetting practices, the appeal deadlines have been extended to allow staff to seek support with this
- There are more staff working on vetting to avoid delays
- Applications are done wholly online and this avoids the privacy issues caused by forms being submitted on behalf of staff by administrators
- Now 9 out of 10 people whose vetting shows a hit on PNC or credit check go on to pass vetting
- The Home Office want to build a replacement for the ViSOR system and HMPPS are partners in this project. They hope to remove the need for double entry of data by ensuring the system can share information to and from nDelius in a technological way
Crucially HMPPS have finally accepted our argument that staff who fail vetting for ViSOR will be able to remain in case management but hold only those cases which do not require ViSOR use. This is a significant shift to a simple and common sense approach that we have put forward since day one. It is far less stigmatising and career limiting than the previous approach of moving staff to work in programmes or courts and while it isn’t a commitment to ditch ViSOR (or to ditch Police Vetting for ViSOR use which are Napo’s preferred options) it is a step in the right direction.
We will be continuing to work with the HMPPS team on ViSOR related issues. We will be reviewing the form now used for the national vetting service and working together to find a way for those staff who might be concerned about their vetting to give fuller information at the time of application, to ensure that even fewer people fail and have to appeal. The failure rate is currently 1.9%, this may change going forward as the vetting is done at the recruitment stage but we will monitor this closely.