Background checks

Not-for-profits have a duty of care to ensure a safe environment for employees, volunteers & clients


Why do I need a background check?

Not-for-profits have a range of legal obligations to protect the health and safety of their service users, visitors, volunteers and members of the public. These are especially important when the organisation works with vulnerable people such as children, older people and people with disabilities in order to protect them from any type of abuse or harm. 

Routine strategies that organisations may use to manage risks in their organisation include:  

  • Criminal history checks (Police Checks, Blue Cards, Yellow Cards)
  • Statutory Declarations
  • Referee checks
  • Policies and procedures
  • Supervision
  • Training
  • Codes of conduct
  • Insurance

There are several types of background checks an organisation may require a volunteer to get depending on the type of work the volunteer and the organisation does. These should usually be arranged by the organisation for the volunteer prior to commencement of volunteering.  

National Police Certificate

A National Police Certificate is a requirement of any organisation that is funded by the Commonwealth government to work with the elderly, but may also be required for other types of volunteer work, such as being a financial officer for an organisation. 

For an organisation to obtain a Police Certificate about you, you will be required to sign a consent form and provide them with proof of ID to submit to the Police (or police check provider). The National Police Certificate will usually be issued within a few days and will show any pending charges and unspent convictions or findings of guilt. Spent convictions may be included if the organisation has an exemption. Police Certificates only show past criminal history, so a new certificate will be required at least every 3 years. Police Certificates cost an administration fee, which is usually paid for by the organisation you are wishing to volunteer for. 

In some circumstances, such as if you have lived overseas since turning 16 years of age, you may also need to complete a Statutory Declaration stating you do not have an overseas criminal history. A Statutory Declaration is a form that must be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner for Declaration and is a legal promise, similar to taking an oath as a witness in court. It is a criminal offence to make a false Statutory Declaration.

For more information on Police Checks see the Police Certificate Guidelines for the Department of Health.

Blue Cards

All* Queensland volunteers working with children or young people in regulated employment must hold a Blue Card prior to commencing their child-related volunteering. The Blue Card screening process conducts a Working With Children criminal history check (which, unlike an ordinary National Police Certificate, also looks at charges and spent convictions of offences that may pose a threat to children). *Volunteers may be exempt from applying for a Blue Card if they have are a serving Police Officer or have a current Teacher Registration

Blue Cards are free for volunteers (there is a fee for paid staff) and may take up to 6 weeks to be approved (longer if further clarification is required). It is an offence to apply for a Blue Card if you are disqualified or otherwise ineligible.

Blue Cards require registration with the organisation you are working/volunteering for so that they are informed of any relevant changes in your criminal history. You cannot apply for a Blue Card in anticipation of volunteering or working in child-related employment. The organisation will ask you to fill in a Blue Card application form and provide ID to lodge the form on your behalf. If you have a Blue Card from working with another organisation, they can check your card is current with an Online Validation, however, you will need to complete a form authorising your Blue Card to be linked to each additional organisation.

Your Blue Card will need to be renewed every 3 years. Renewals will need to be lodged at least 4 weeks prior to expiry and new authority to link a card holder to any additional organisations will need to be submitted each time. 

You are also responsible for informing Blue Card Services and any linked organisations of any relevant changes to your criminal history or contact details.

For more information regarding Blue Cards, contact Blue Card Services on 1800 113 611.

Yellow Cards

If you volunteer with adults with a disability in Queensland for an organisation funded by NDIS or the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors, you will need to apply for a Yellow Card (via your organisation), which conducts a criminal history screening similar to the Blue Card process. Like the Blue Card, the Yellow Card is also free for volunteers and must be received prior to commencement. If you have a current Blue Card, you do not need to apply for a Yellow Card, but will need to complete an application for an exemption notice. For more information, see the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors website.

Passenger Transport Driver Authorisations

Organisations engaging drivers who are providing a particular public passenger transport service (including volunteers) are required as of 1 September 2018 to ensure their drivers obtain the appropriate driver authorisation, which includes criminal and traffic history checks, and obtain a medical certificate. For more information about these requirements, see the Department of Transport and Main Roads website. While there is a fee attached, volunteers who are only using their authorisation as part of their volunteering duties should request these be covered by the organisation.


This information is intended as a guide only and should not replace professional legal advice. Readers are encouraged to contact the relevant authorities for more detailed advice relating to their personal circumstances.


Photo: Inspiring young people