Guidance on CQC regulation changes to improve volunteer recruitment

Read government guidance on how the changes affect recruitment to volunteer roles in the NHS.

1 March 2024

The government has issued guidance following a consultation that led to the removal of the statutory requirement for service providers to obtain a full employment history for unpaid volunteers in health and care settings, who are involved in regulated activity. 

The full details on these changes are set out in the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) Regulation 19 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008. The government response to the consultation was published on 18 December 2023 and the changes came into effect on 15 January 2024.

What does this mean in practice?

Removal of this statutory requirement does not change or remove the statutory duty for providers to ensure the suitability and safety of individuals being appointed into unpaid volunteer roles, nor does it change any of the other pre-employment checks required by the NHS Employment Check Standards or other relevant legislation. 

Employment checks for all NHS positions should be robust, without creating unnecessary barriers to entry. This change means that recruiting organisations can apply a more proportionate and balanced approach to obtaining employment history for unpaid volunteers. Employers should still request full employment history where they consider this is necessary to ensure suitability for the role based on thorough assessment of risk.

The NHS Employment Check Standards set out the minimum background check requirements to ensure an individual has the qualifications, competence, skills, and experience which are necessary for the duties performed by them in NHS positions. This includes when appointing individuals into unpaid volunteering roles. 

Why are these changes necessary? 

This action forms part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s work to develop and improve volunteering in health and care and supports the NHS Volunteering Taskforce report recommendation on improving volunteer experience through refining volunteer recruitment processes.

This change is intended to help encourage individuals to consider volunteer roles in health and care where they may otherwise be put off from applying because they are genuinely unable to provide the same type of evidence that might be required for paid employees (i.e. full employment history). This may include older people whose working life has spanned many years or those who are young and may not yet have had opportunity to build up an employment history.

Who does this apply to?

The changes apply to individuals who are applying for certain positions in an unpaid volunteer capacity in health and care settings.

This excludes senior positions such as directors, and registered managers where those individuals are volunteers, on the basis that those roles hold a level of responsibility and accountability where a full employment history is necessary for ensuring suitability and appropriateness of the role. 

What action should employers take?

NHS recruiting organisations should continue to obtain information covering a full record of volunteer applicants’ employment and volunteering history where this is relevant and useful as part of their assessment of a candidates’ suitability. This should be proportionate to risk and sufficient to ensure that the volunteer has the skills, capabilities, and experience necessary to undertake the role in question.

As a minimum, employers should aim to obtain validated references covering a consecutive period of three years immediately prior to the date of appointment.   

Where there are genuine reasons as to why an individual cannot provide a full employment history or can only provide employment for certain periods of time – for example, where they have not worked for some considerable time or have not had opportunity to build up an employment history, employers should look at what information they can reasonably gather from other sources to help them assess a person’s suitability. 

It will be helpful for providers to review adverts and other recruitment paperwork to ensure background check requirements are communicated in a language which does not create unfair or unnecessary barriers for those who wish to offer their time and services to the NHS and to ensure requirements are proportionate to risk.

Where can additional guidance be found?

Employers are strongly encouraged to utilise available guidance on the CQC website to ensure compliance with its regulatory requirements. 

For sector specific guidance on check requirements, please refer to:

The government has committed to reviewing the impact of this regulation change within two years of it coming into effect.