Millions of employees and volunteers will no longer have to apply for a new criminal records check each time they apply for a job, the Home Office has announced.
Individuals will only have to apply once to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for a certificate and then with consent organisations will be able to use a new online service for an instant check to find out whether the document is still valid.
And in a coup for volunteering campaigners, unpaid workers will be able to use the online service for free when they apply for different opportunities. For paid employees, there will be a small annual subscription fee.
Individuals who require a DBS check, which can take up to 28 days to complete, currently have to re-apply for a certificate every time they change jobs or in some cases move workplace.
The move is part of an overhaul of the criminal checks process by the Government. The service will be managed by the DBS, which launched at the start of the month when the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) were merged.
The initiative is part of a first wave of public services to be moved online by the Government by 2015, which will also include the National Apprenticeship Service, tax self-assessment and registering intellectual property.
Moving services online will save taxpayers up to £1.2 billion by 2015 and around £1.7 billion a year thereafter, the Cabinet Office said.
Volunteering England (VE), which led a campaign against charging unpaid workers to use the new online criminal checks system, said making the service free for volunteers would give them a "hugely important boost". Chief executive Dr Justin Davis Smith said: "This is particularly significant when charities and public services are looking to sustain the enthusiasm for volunteering created by the Olympics and Paralympics."
However, Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the need for reform goes "far beyond" making services available online.
He said: "Safety by database still seems to be the popular mindset across Whitehall and far more needs to be done to restore the system to a common sense balance. Until there are legal protections against the over-zealous use of CRB checks and proper reform so cautions and information not tested in court does not ruin people's careers, the CRB system will continue to undermine civil liberties."