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Scope for project creep lies at the very heart of the SVGA. The definition of regulated activity with children, for instance, starts out sensibly enough by specifying activities such as teaching, training and childminding. Unfortunately, it then adds the obligatory catch-all, which says that a person engages in regulated activity if they have the opportunity "in consequence of anything [they are] permitted or required to do in connection with the activity, to have contact with children".

That is broad. There are some counter-trends. The government acknowledges that it would be silly if someone was required to be checked on account of a single exposure to children. So the SVGA includes a 'period condition': regulated activity only occurs if someone does it intensively or "at any time on more than two days in any period of 30 days".

Creeping it in the family

But here comes that project creep that IT professionals know and loathe: an activity is also regulated if it is carried out frequently, so the government is minded to issue guidance that this means "once a month or more often".

Childminders will be required to register - but new guidelines suggest that this requirement will also now extend to other adults in their household.

Another large tranche of individuals likely to be drawn into registration is anyone who might be viewed as being in a position of authority. Evidence is already out there that some public bodies are beginning to equate "having authority" to working for an Authority, which raises the numbers considerably.

It is very clear that government is worried about being seen to over-regulate. The most recent consultation twists itself into agonies over whether regulation should occur when contact with vulnerable groups is "incidental" to another activity or as part of "mixed age" groups. The Cabinet Office has issued guidance to the voluntary sector reminding groups that they should only have individuals checked where necessary. But because so much of the language of those concerned with the SVGA is couched in terms of 'may' and 'might', this guidance is probably futile.

This leads inevitably to 'back protection', which is made that much worse by government insistence that it is not for central government to dictate when and where checking will take place. Serious penalties await employers who employ anyone in a regulated position when they are barred: so playing safe is likely to become the norm.

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