The practise of carrying out background criminal record checks for potential employees in the UK is becoming ever more common. This is partly because of the changes in employment restrictions brought about by Brexit, but there are other reasons. A two year hiatus in the normal process of hiring new staff during the covid pandemic came right after Brexit, and meant as many people as possible working from home. This in turn made background checks harder to achieve, and has led to several cases of fraud. Understandably, then, when employers got the chance to check people properly (i.e. face to face), they did so very carefully.
It is also the case that data protection laws are being tightened up very regularly, giving ever more chance for individuals to sue businesses and public organizations for breach of privacy. With this in mind, jobs which once would require no background checking now do so. In most cases, this is the minimal, Basic level check; but if an employer can prove that their worker may come into contact with certain group/s of people, they are more likely than ever to require Standard and Enhanced Checks. All of these should have a two day turnaround, but increased numbers have led to delays in the last year or so.
DBS Checking Processing
Background employment checks are referred to in a few different ways in the UK, due to the history of the checking process. Many employers and recruiters refer to the process as CRB checking, which is a reference to the Criminal Records Bureau. This was a department of the Home Office which held the criminal records of every British citizen, as gathered from old paper and card based record systems from across the country; thus, an employer may advertise for a job which requires an “Enhanced CRB Check”. In fact, the CRB was eventually replaced by the Police National Computer (PNC), to which all hard copy records were eventually updated.
In 2012, the CRB was combined with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), under a system known as the Disclosure and Barring Service. As the ISA title suggests, safeguarding of individuals’ rights is now seen as being just as important as revealing an individual’s criminal record. As well as protecting vulnerable groups from contact with inappropriate individuals in work situations, job applicants are also safeguarded, in the form of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). This makes it illegal for organizations to refuse employment on the basis of spent convictions, if those convictions are not relevant to the job in question.
DBS checks come in three basic levels; basic, standard and enhanced. Basic checking is carried out on behalf of any individual who asks for it, as long as it relates to them personally. This means supplying home address for the last five years, national insurance (NI) number, and a valid identification document, such as a passport or driving licence. Once these are supplied, a DBS certificate will be returned within about 48 hours, at a cost of £18. This was reduced from £23 in April as an acknowledgement of the growth in application numbers. Basic checks only reveal unspent convictions; i.e. those which still have some penalty attached to them, whether that be a fine or time period.
Standard and Enhanced Checks
Standard and Enhanced DBS checks are requested by potential employers, or Responsible Organization (RO). Also knows as an Umbrella Body, the latter term refers to a disinterested organization which is licensed to ask for these checks, and does so a prescribed minimum amount of times each year. Both checks have to satisfy criteria laid down by the ROA, as they disclose spent convictions, final warnings, police cautions and reprimands. They also include written notes kept by police, if these are deemed relevant to the job being applied for.
If a DBS check is delayed, it is usually at this stage, known as Stage Four. This is especially true if the applicant has moved address in the last five years; and in some cases, longer than that. For enhanced checks, there is also the possibility of checking children’s and vulnerable adults Barred lists. This is where an individual appears on a list of people who should never be allowed to be in unsupervised contact with the group/s concerned. Viewing either of these lists has to be specifically requested, and must satisfy the ROA.
In April 2022, the DBS opened a live webchat service. This bot-based system is set to be active between 10am and 4pm from Mondays to Fridays, and pops up when applicants use the Disclosure and Barring Service link on the gov.uk website. If users want to check on the status of a clearance request, however, this live service is not the way to go. The DBS makes it clear that their webchat is only there to answer general questions about the clearance process, not individual applications. As such, it is designed to take away the percentage of phone calls where staff deal with general enquiries; freeing these staff up to answer specific queries.
The DBS website does, however, have a tracking service. Once initial processing has been done, and the Service is satisfied that all appropriate details have been supplied, they will issue a reference number. This refers to the application form for individuals/s DBS Certificate being checked, even if this is on behalf of a potential employer.
For basic checks requested by the individual themselves, the link is to their own DBS online account. One time verification will be issued, then the applicant can view the status of their certificate or the check stage. For standard and enhanced checks, there is a different link; this time, to the DBS tracking service. This can be accessed by the applicant themselves if they have an online account; it can also be viewed by the potential employer or responsible body if they enter the Applicant Form Reference, individual’s surname and date of birth.