The issue of criminal records checks in the UK is not one many people think they will have to face, on the grounds that they are not criminals. While this may be true, having one’s criminal record checked does not actually mean having a criminal record. What it does mean is that the police will carry out a check against an individual’s name to see what, if any, offences there are recorded against it. Again, for the majority of people, the answer to this will be “none”. The point of these checks, however, is to give assurance to employers that they are employing the right people. In order to do this, the UK has in place a centralised background checking system.
All police checks in Great Britain are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). This has been in operation since 2012, and is provided by the Home Office. As such, it replaces what some people still refer to as the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checking system, which had evolved over many years to collate records from England’s numerous police forces, plus those in Scotland and Wales. These records are confidential, so access to them is strictly limited. The DBS system means that only those who are entitled to look at a person’s police history (even if there is none) are allowed to do so.
DBS operates on three broad levels; Basic, Standard and Enhanced checking. There are also other criteria which can be accessed, but this is only in exceptional circumstances. Basic DBS checks can only be carried out at the request of the person to which the record belongs. These checks are very quick and, therefore cost the least to carry out. A Basic check can be returned within 48 hours at a cost of less than £20. Further up the scale, Standard and Enhanced checks cost slightly more depending on the criteria involved, but can in some cases come back in less than 24 hours.
Although the Basic check has to be requested by the individual themselves, this is often done because a potential employer has asked the person to have it done. Basic checks only show up unspent convictions, in the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). This act was brought in to ensure that job applicants were not discriminated against for having committed offences in the past, even if this involved fine/s or custodial sentence/s. Since the Act came into force in 1975, it has been a crime to discriminate against any applicant on this basis.
As the Basic check is done at the request of the individual, there are no legal requirements for the search. This is in stark contrast to the Standard and Enhanced checks. From an employer’s point of view, however, it might be deemed useful to see if an applicant has any unspent convictions against their name, especially if this is relevant to the job on offer. In this case, the employer must stipulate this condition in the advertisement.
The ROA comes into effect from the Standard level upwards. To qualify for a Standard DBS check, an employer must satisfy the Service that the job being advertised requires the check. This is because Standard checks disclose all convictions, spent and unspent, plus all police cautions, reprimands and final warnings. These checks can also be applied for via a third party – known as a Responsible Organization (RO) – on behalf of the employer. When applying, the employer or RO must detail exactly which parts of the advertised job satisfy the terms of the ROA.
It is sometimes the case that the likelihood of an employee being in a certain physical location regularly will be enough to satisfy the DBS / ROA. In these cases, it is not the job itself which may cause problems, rather than the fact that certain groups of people will be in close proximity to an employee on a regular basis
The Enhanced CRB check (or DBS check) will be carried out for anyone who applies for work in sectors such as teaching, healthcare and social work. As such, they will be regularly in contact with potentially vulnerable people. There are also extra checks within the Enhanced tier, whereby protected offences can be disclosed. Of course, anyone applying for this type of work will be well aware that these checks are carried out.