Recruiting Trustees with Criminal Records

It’s increasingly important that organisations are user-led, but what happens when those people have questionable histories?

For individuals with criminal records, it is often difficult to reintegrate into society – and when those histories are compounded by poverty, disadvantage, drug and alcohol addictions or other problems, the road to recovery can be littered with obstacles. Being involved as a trustee in a service-led organisation can facilitate the transition. Who, after all, is better equipped to be a trustee of a group helping addicts than a recovered addict? They navigated the pitfalls and are familiar with the problems, so they have a unique understanding of the challenges that lie ahead for those with shared experience.

Knowing that the involvement of service users helps to ensure that the needs of people are being met, many organisations endeavour to recruit them as trustees. Its good practice, but uncertainties can arise if those individuals have criminal records.

As becoming a charity trustee brings with it responsibilities and commitments, there are restrictions on who can hold these positions. Limitations include age, people who cannot manage their own affairs and a number of disqualifications under the Charities Act 2011 (Sections 178-180).

For Community Interest Companies (CIC), however, the regulations are different. The only reasons for ineligibility as a Director of a Company, including not for profit organisations, are undischarged bankrupt, disqualification from acting as a Director under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, and those under the age of 16. Because CICs are regulated by Company Law, potential directors are not required to declare any prior convictions; no credit checks are undertaken and registration applications are accepted in good faith.

This is good news for the people who have changed their lifestyle and want to make a contribution to their community, but it does mean that when recruiting new directors it is important to have a robust and clear recruitment process. Requiring the submission of application forms, holding interviews, receiving valid references, asking about an individual’s experience and a good probationary period are all good practice when recruiting trustees in the same way as when recruiting new staff.

In addition to a through recruitment process, additional precautions should also be undertaken. It is good practice to ask new trustees or directors to sign a declaration of eligibility to act before they accept an appointment. This document should be retained on file with the charity’s other formal records. A free search of the Register of Disqualified Directors maintained at Companies House can be conducted and the Charity Commission maintains a register of all persons who have been removed as a charity trustee or by an Order of the High Court since 1 January 1993. In addition, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS, formerly CRB) check should be carried out in the name of the new trustee or director if the charity works with children or vulnerable adults.

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Recruiting trustees with criminal records may present additional work, but the outcome can be enriching for the organisation, service users and the newly appointed trustee alike.

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