Navigating Criminal History Checks: Understanding the Process in the UK

Last Updated: 

April 12, 2024

When hiring new employees, employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe and trustworthy work environment. One crucial aspect of this process is conducting criminal history checks to verify the background of potential candidates. 

In the United Kingdom, employers have access to several methods for checking criminal records, each with its own requirements and limitations. Let's explore how employers check criminal history records in the UK:

Key Takeaways on Criminal History Checks in the UK:

  1. Basic Disclosure: Provides information on unspent convictions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, suitable for verifying a candidate's criminal history.
  2. Standard DBS Check: Offers more detailed information, including spent and unspent convictions, cautions, and warnings, often required for roles with greater responsibility or positions of trust.
  3. Enhanced DBS Check: Most comprehensive check, includes additional information held by local police forces, necessary for roles involving regular contact with vulnerable groups or significant responsibility.
  4. Disclosure Scotland Checks: Similar to DBS checks, available in Scotland for employers needing Basic, Standard, or Enhanced disclosure checks.
  5. AccessNI Checks: Conducted in Northern Ireland, offering Basic, Standard, and Enhanced checks, fulfilling legal requirements for employers in the region.
  6. Legal Obligations: Employers must understand legal requirements and safeguarding considerations when conducting criminal record checks, ensuring compliance with data protection laws like GDPR.
  7. Fair Treatment and Rehabilitation: While checks are essential, employers should treat all applicants fairly and consider rehabilitation periods outlined in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
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Basic Disclosure

Basic Disclosure is the simplest form of criminal record check available to employers in the UK. It provides information on any unspent convictions a candidate may have under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Basic Disclosure checks are conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Disclosure Scotland, depending on the applicant's residence. Employers can request Basic Disclosure checks directly from these agencies or through a registered umbrella body, such as a recruitment agency or an employer's association.

Standard DBS Check

For roles involving greater responsibility or positions of trust, employers may require a Standard DBS Check. This check provides more detailed information than a Basic Disclosure, including both spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings held on the Police National Computer. 

Standard DBS Checks are often required for roles working with vulnerable adults or children, such as healthcare professionals, teachers or social workers. Employers must apply for Standard DBS Checks through the DBS or an authorised umbrella body, like Online DBS Check.

Enhanced DBS Check

The Enhanced DBS Check is the most comprehensive type of criminal record check available in the UK. It includes all the information provided in a Standard DBS Check, as well as any additional relevant information held by local police forces. 

Enhanced DBS Checks are typically required for positions involving regular contact with vulnerable groups or positions of significant responsibility, such as roles in education, healthcare or social care. Employers must apply for Enhanced DBS Checks through the DBS or an authorised umbrella body.

Disclosure Scotland Checks

In Scotland, criminal record checks are carried out by Disclosure Scotland rather than the DBS. Disclosure Scotland offers Basic, Standard and Enhanced Disclosure checks, similar to those available in England and Wales. Employers in Scotland must request Disclosure Scotland checks for their employees or prospective candidates, depending on the requirements of the role.

AccessNI Checks

In Northern Ireland, criminal record checks are conducted by AccessNI. Similar to Disclosure Scotland and the DBS, AccessNI offers Basic, Standard and Enhanced checks to employers and organisations. Employers in Northern Ireland must request AccessNI checks for their employees or candidates, depending on the nature of the role and any legal requirements.

Legal Requirements and Safeguarding Considerations

It's essential for employers to understand their legal obligations and safeguarding responsibilities when conducting criminal record checks. Certain industries, such as healthcare, education and social care, may have specific regulations governing the use of criminal record information and the types of checks required for certain roles. 

All UK Employers, like Funky Socks, Tescos and others, must also ensure compliance with data protection laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when handling sensitive personal information such as criminal records.

Fair Treatment and Rehabilitation

While criminal record checks are an important tool for assessing candidates' suitability for certain roles, employers must treat all applicants fairly and consider individual circumstances. 

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows for certain convictions to become spent after a specified period, during which individuals are considered rehabilitated and no longer required to disclose their convictions in most circumstances. 

Employers should be mindful of the principles of fair treatment and rehabilitation when making employment decisions based on criminal record information.

Drawing Things To An End

Employers in the UK have access to various methods for checking criminal history records, including Basic Disclosure, Standard DBS Checks, Enhanced DBS Checks and checks conducted by Disclosure Scotland or AccessNI. 

It's essential for employers to understand the different types of checks available, their legal obligations and their safeguarding responsibilities when conducting criminal record checks. By following proper procedures and treating all applicants fairly, employers can make informed hiring decisions and maintain a safe and trustworthy work environment.

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