10/26/2013 07:24 EDT | Updated 12/26/2013 05:12 EST

B.C. criminal record checks to be free for volunteers

The province of British Columbia is making it easier for many volunteers who work with children or vulnerable adults to get criminal record checks, by making the process free starting Nov. 30.

B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the province is assuming the cost of the checks because the $20 cost currently associated with each background check for a volunteer has been a financial burden for many groups.

"These changes are about relieving cost and time pressures for many volunteer and non-profit organizations so they can focus on delivering great services and programs," Anton said in a written statement. "Many leading groups in the sector asked for relief from the costs of criminal record checks for their volunteers, and we're making it happen because it's absolutely the right thing to do."

Though the cost for volunteers and employees of non-profit groups drops to zero, the cost for an employee of a business operating outside the non-profit sector to get a provincial record check will rise $28.

Other changes in the Criminal Records Review Act coming into effect Nov. 30 are expected to reduce the overall costs of the program, by allowing groups within the non-profit sector to share current, verified criminal record checks.

Anton said the record-sharing change will allow organizations to save time and paperwork and will allow volunteers and publicly-funded employees more mobility, as they can consent to having a single check shared among various groups.

The record-sharing provision will also extend to businesses outside the non-profit sector, which aren't eligible for free checks, in cases where employees consent and when the checks were completed within the past five years with no risk found.

The B.C. Ministry of Justice said that the provincial program provided nearly 200,000 checks of employees in 2011, while B.C. police agencies reported conducting about 80,000 for volunteers the same year.

The ministry also said that fees for police or RCMP-conducted criminal record checks or screening programs are outside the provincial program, and will not be covered under the Nov. 30 changes.