Criminal record checks for job applicants are carried out by the UK Home Office’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Although this process is broadly similar across the UK’s four home nations, differences in legal systems lead to slightly different processes in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Government runs its Disclosure Scotland scheme, while Northern Ireland operates its DBS checks as part of the province’s own legal jurisdiction. In England and Wales, all checks are carried out by individuals or registered bodies, applying to see records held on the Police National Computer (PNC); this successful scheme is undergoing one or two minor changes in 2022.
Basic Check Change
The basic DBS check England and Wales’ employers ask for is by far the most widely used. This type of check is requested by an applicant for a job, voluntary post or educational placement, who is at least 16 years of age. Although there are no legal criteria governing what type of job requires such a check, it is often asked for by employers and other institutions, even if this is just a means of separating two equally suitable candidates during recruitment. Since the covid pandemic and resulting economic resurgence, more and more employers are turning to basic checks as best practice.
For the applicant, a basic check can usually be carried out in 24 hours, meaning that their efforts to secure a position will not be unduly held up. Only unspent convictions are shown at this level, meaning that the vast majority of applicants will have a “clean” record as far as the DBS (and therefore employers) are concerned. For the purposes of all concerned, any spent conviction must be treated as if it had never happened. This is in line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974, which makes it a criminal offence for employers to discriminate against anybody with a spent conviction.
As well as this convenience and speed of processing, basic DBS checks are also the cheapest to apply for. For many years, the cost has been £23 per check, as long as all details are correctly filled in according to the PNC. From spring 2022, however, this price is to be reduced to £18, a reduction of more than 20%. This reduction reflects the high demand for basic DBS checks in many sectors of the economy, as well as reported changes in the makeup of the labour market. The £18 charge is set to begin on 6 April 2022.
Developments for Enhanced Checks
For a number of positions and working environments, the type of DBS check England and Wales applicants need has to be requested by their employing organisations. These are the standard and enhanced DBS checks. These reveal all convictions on a person’s record, whether spent or unspent; they also list any cautions, reprimands and final warnings issued by police. Standard checks are required when applying for a job as a solicitor, barrister or accountant, and have long been best practice in these industries, as institutions have stepped up their efforts to combat fraud and corruption.
Enhanced DBS checks show everything revealed in standard checks, accompanied by any notes recorded by police as part of a conviction, if they think this is relevant to a current application. As only certain posts qualify for enhanced checking, this is usually quite easy to ascertain. Anyone wanting to work as a teacher, support worker or in a social care setting will be liable to an enhanced DBS check; so will applicants whose chosen position involves being present at schools, hospitals and some other settings on a regular basis. Applicants for hackney and private hire taxi licences will also need enhanced DBS checks.
During 2021, the DBS identified a number of requests with applicants’ details which did not match a previous submission; in these cases, the Service assumed that the records they held were correct, and therefore the new submissions were ineligible. The decision was taken to refuse a new search, and inform the employer or other registered body of the anomaly; therefore, the applicant themselves was unaware of what would be a delay in the process. However, in December 2021, the DBS reversed this practice, much to the relief of applicants and registered bodies alike; rather than an automatic withdrawal, requesting institutions will be notified of any anomalies, meaning a new search (costing £44) will not be necessary.
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