Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Free police background checks to be scrapped

Once the Vulnerable Children's Bill is passed into law anyone who works with children will have to be vetted. Photo / Getty Images
Once the Vulnerable Children's Bill is passed into law anyone who works with children will have to be vetted. Photo / Getty Images

Police will soon make a step towards "user pays" by charging for criminal checks for the first time.

Police Minister Anne Tolley introduced a bill yesterday which would allow police to begin recovering costs for their services.

Cabinet has agreed vetting is the only service that police will charge for.

The fee for getting security clearance was expected to be low - between $5 to $7.

At present, police are not able to charge for their services, except for firearm licensing, and the costs of vetting came out of the department's baseline funding.

A briefing on the bill said that while most police services were provided for the benefit of the public, there was a degree of private benefit for the users of the vetting service.

Mrs Tolley said: "Demand for police vetting has almost doubled in the past decade, and staff have had to fit this around their core policing duties."

New Zealand was one of the few countries in which police did not charge for security screening. Mrs Tolley noted that criminal checks in Australia cost between $52 and $60.

Some organisations could be exempted from the charges, such as volunteers working with children or family support services, or community organisations with small budgets.

The legislation said the fee would have to be fair and could only be used to cover the cost of the service.

The charges were expected to raise $2.2 million each year, which would be used to "deliver a dedicated, more efficient and sustainable vetting service".

Police were expecting to face greater demand for their services once the Vulnerable Children's Bill passed into law.

The bill will require any person who works with children to be vetted - up to 376,000 people.

Budget 2014 allocated $33.7 million to Child, Youth and Family, part of which was to carry out the new requirements in the bill. The police budget has not been increased in five years, and was cut by $45 million in last week's Budget.

Police processed around 500,000 checks a year, and 12,000 agencies were registered to use its service.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust said it was "incensed" at the plan for new fees. Spokeswoman Ruth Money said the charge would lead to fewer criminal checks and as a result, greater risks to the public.

The changes followed a review of police's cost recovery in 2012.

- NZ Herald

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