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Charities must be ‘creative’ over Police fee

Clare Mello

Charities should come up with their own solutions to avoid being crippled by a new Police fee, according to Clare Mello, the executive director of YouthNet.

The Centre on Philanthropy has warned that fees of $100 are to be imposed for Police checks on individuals working for charities, prompting concerns some groups could rack up bills of thousands of dollars.

Some charities have warned they may have to cut back on services to the community — but Ms Mello said she understands economic constraints faced by Government.

She added that dialogue is now essential to ensure Government and Police are fully aware of the threat the move posed to some charities.

“I don’t want to put the onus entirely on the Police Commissioner and Government to come up with solutions — I think non-profits can come up with some creative solutions themselves,” Ms Mello told The Royal Gazette.

“One option would be to hand this fee off to our volunteers or have them pay, in part, with Government. Maybe fees could be set on a scaled basis depending on how many volunteers or employees a charity has.

“A discussion is important, it might be that they [the Finance Minister and Commissioner] are not fully aware of the magnitude of the impact and the number of volunteers it is going to affect.”

The charge for a Police background check began in September 2011, but it is understood charities have until now been exempted when they recruit both employees and volunteers.

It has not been specified how often Police checks would have to be carried out but it is understood that most employers and other bodies that require vetting normally stipulate that a report must be less than six months old.

Asked whether the extra fees would affect her charity directly, Ms Mello said: “It is going to have an impact on all non-profits to a varying degree.

“In terms of YouthNet, our goal this year was to recruit an additional 60 mentors which, under this policy, would amount to $6,000. Does that have an impact? Yes. It will impact us, in the most part, in terms of expansion but all the mentors that are currently enrolled with YouthNet have police checks and I don’t know whether the checks will have to be renewed.

“We ended our year this year with 170 people — that would be $17,000 and our annual budget is $500,000.”

Yesterday, this newspaper reported how Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Centre on Philanthropy, had written to Finance Minister Bob Richards and Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva over the issue.

Ms Butterfield wrote that charities catering for society’s most vulnerable — children and the elderly — would be most affected by the move.

Patrina O’Connor-Paynter of child mentor programme Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda said her charity was subject to three police checks just last week.

She said: “As you know, with the economic climate, the charities are really trying to monitor spending and keep the spending within the programme limits while cutting back operational costs. I don’t think this is something that would be fair for us.

“We need Police checks for everyone who comes to work in the programme. We want to ensure that they understand the importance of that for us and that many charities can not afford this extra expense.”

Charles Jeffers, deputy chairman of Age Concern’s board and chairman of its advocacy committee, said the proposed fees would hit the third sector hard, especially considering hikes in payroll tax and health insurance.

“We have already had to reduce our staff. With this we may have to decide we can’t take on as many volunteers,” Mr Jeffers said.

“It could have a negative effect on people who wish to volunteer because we can’t afford to do it. It boggles my mind.

“These people are helping Government to fulfil its role of taking care of its citizens.”

Kelly Hunt, director of child and adolescent services for the Coalition for the Protection of Children, which provides protection for victims of abuse, said: “With reports of abuse on the rise, we are hopeful that this decision is reconsidered by Government as these background checks are an important policy for those who are dealing with vulnerable persons. Implementing a cost to this kind of prevention will result in avoidance; it’s counterproductive all around.”

When contacted, the Police Commissioner reiterated a statement he made in yesterday’s Royal Gazette saying he does not set government fees. “There are no options that I have the discretion to consider,” he said.

Mr Richards did not respond to our request for comment by press time.