Board Members and Working with Vulnerable People

It is compulsory for any person (whether employed or in a voluntary capacity) who engages in a certain activity with a vulnerable person to obtain a background check and be registered with Access Canberra.[1]

The Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011 (ACT) (WWVP Act) commenced on 8 November 2012 and is designed to reduce the risk of harm and neglect to vulnerable people in the ACT. Although the WWVP Act and the requirement to be registered isn’t new, recent best practice for many organisations and the diverse role board members serve in their organisations, has resulted in a shift towards more and more people, including volunteers and board members being registered.

The WWVP Act provides that a person need only be registered if they have contact with a vulnerable person as part of engaging in the regulated activity.[2] The types of activities that are regulated are extensive and include areas such as:

  • Child protection, Justice facilities for children; Childcare services; Child education services; Child accommodation services
  • Services for homeless people
  • Victims of crime
  • Community services
  • Disability services
  • Religious organisations
  • Coaching and tuition
  • Vocational and educational training
  • Clubs, associations and movements
  • Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
  • Housing and accommodation
  • Emergency services personnel
  • Transport
  • Mental health

The definition of “contact” for board members and volunteers is particularly important, as it determines whether they need to be registered. “Contact” means contact that:

  • would reasonably be expected as a normal part of engaging in the activity;
  • is not incidental to engaging in the activity,
  • and is either:
    1. physical contact;
    2. oral communication;
    3. written communication; or
    4. the making of a decision that affects the vulnerable person.[3]

If a person has contact with a vulnerable person as part of engaging in the regulated activity, the person need only be registered if the contact is for more than:

  • 3 days in any 4-week period; and
  • 7 days in any 12-month period.[4]

Individuals that engage in a regulated activity and are not registered to do so, face maximum penalties of up to $32,000 or imprisonment for 2 years.[5] Organisations face maximum penalties of up to $162,000 or imprisonment for 2 years if they engage a person, including a board member, to carry out regulated activity and they are not registered.[6]

The role of board members across organisations vary. Some organisations require their board members to have direct contact with vulnerable people, while others do not. As organisations face strict liability for breaching the WWVP Act, it has become best practice for organisations to require all board members to be registered under the WWVP Act.

If you or your organisation require advice on the WWVP Act or the accreditation and licensing process, please contact us.

[1] s 12(1).

[2] s 9.

[3] s 10.

[4] s 12(2)(b).

[5] s 13(3).

[6] s 14.

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