June 23rd, 2021 | Sterling

What Employers Need to Know about UK Criminal Record Checks

New employees are one of the biggest investments a business can make, and therefore the costs of a bad hire slipping through the net should not be underestimated. According to research, a bad hire at mid-management level could cost up to £132,000, as a result of recruitment fees and wasted training costs, not to mention the loss of productivity. With each new hire, companies invest time, training, money and resources in the hope that their new employee will contribute to the success of the company. A pre-employment background check provides a detailed look at a new hire, giving employers the insight they need to make an informed hiring decision. Depending on the industry, there may be additional compliance and legal considerations when screening a potential new employee that must be considered, such as verifying certifications, credentials, credit or DVLA records.

Why Should You Conduct Background Checks?

Background screening is important because it helps to create safer environments for employees, customers and partners wherever they may be in the world. Sterling’s Background Check 2018: Trends and Best practices Report found that 22% of employers still do not conduct background screening. For those that do perform background checks, the number one reason for doing so is improving or meeting regulatory compliance (31%), followed by enhancing the safety and security in the workplace (21%), preventing fraud or other criminal activity (11%), improving the quality of hires (9%) and protecting the reputation of the company (8%).

Each organisation is unique and will require tailored solutions for the hiring process to allow companies to bring new employees on with confidence. There are many types of background checks, from criminal record checks to education and employment verifications to social media searches. Each type of check will have specific practical considerations and compliance obligations that must be followed. To explore the nine most common check types in the UK, and the practical considerations that may help to improve your screening programme, check out Sterling’s exclusive best practice report.

What is a Criminal Record Check?

A criminal record check can be a crucial step towards a comprehensive employment screening programme for many organisations. This is particularly the case where a role involves working with vulnerable populations or positions of trust and may include roles for employers within education, healthcarefinancial services, and government organisations amongst others.

After Right to Work checks, which are obligatory for all UK employers, the criminal record check is the most commonly performed background check. There are different levels of criminal record checks, and related services available to employers in the UK. For instance, in England & Wales the most common criminal record checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS Check) include:

  • Basic DBS check
  • Standard DBS check
  • Enhanced DBS check

Here we’ll explore the different levels of criminal record check across the UK and, while they may share many similarities, there are important differences between England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Firstly, depending on the country in question, the agency conducting the criminal record check and any associated service will vary. In England & Wales, these checks are processed by the Disclosure and Barring Service, whereas In Northern Ireland, checks are conducted by AccessNI and in Scotland by Disclosure Scotland.  Depending on the industry sector and the roles in question, some organisations may require an additional layer of check such as the PVG Scheme or the DBS Update Service, as discussed in more detail below.

Basic Criminal Record Check:

The Basic criminal record check is the most commonly processed and applies to a wide array of positions and purposes, such as to support a Visa application.

  • England & Wales: A Basic DBS is available to any individual applying for or already employed in a position. The Basic DBS contains details of convictions (and conditional cautions in England and Wales) that are considered to be unspent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA).

DBS Update Service: Only applicable within England & Wales for Standard and Enhanced disclosures, this status check allows organisations to view any relevant information that has been identified about the individual since their certificate was last issued

  • Northern Ireland/Scotland: A basic check can also be used for any purpose and contains details of unspent convictions.

Standard Criminal Record Check

Similarly, for each country in the UK, the Standard Disclosure can only be used for specific roles.

  • England & Wales: The Standard DBS Check discloses details of relevant spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, and warnings on the Police National Computer (PNC).
  • Northern Ireland: In NI, this contains details of spent and unspent convictions, informed warnings and other non-court disposals from the PNC.
  • Scotland: This level of disclosure contains details of unspent convictions, relevant spent convictions and unspent cautions, although also extends to information from the Sex Offenders Register. This may include roles such as solicitors, accountants or for those services providing care according to the Scottish government.

Enhanced Criminal Record Check

In general, it’s worth noting for an Enhanced Disclosure, an individual must meet certain eligibility criteria.

  • England & Wales: While an Enhanced level DBS is used for specific purposes such as for those that work with vulnerable children or adults, this type of DBS check contains the same PNC information as the standard level certificate, but also includes an additional check of information held by the police forces if this is deemed relevant. This level of DBS can also include a check of the Child and Adult Barred lists if the role is eligible.
  • Northern Ireland: Similarly, while only applicable to certain roles such as those in vulnerable circumstances, an Enhanced Check contains details of spent and unspent convictions from the PNC, cautions, informed warnings and other non-court disposals from the PNC, along with information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (for positions in regulated activity) and information held by the police that is relevant to the role being applied for. Some older or minor convictions and non-court disposals on a criminal record may be filtered. If the role is eligible, this can also include a check of the Child and Adult Barred list.
  • Scotland: Disclosure Scotland includes the details of unspent convictions, relevant spent convictions, unspent cautions, inclusions on children’s or adult’s list if it’s relevant to the job, or other relevant information held by the Police information from the Sex Offenders Register. This may be suitable to check the suitability of those looking to adopt, apply for certain gaming or lottery licenses

PVG Scheme: PVG stands for Protecting Vulnerable Groups and applies to those doing regulated work with children and protected adults in Scotland. It details all unspent and certain conviction information, as well as any other non-conviction information that the police or other government bodies think is relevant. Disclosure Scotland keep a close eye on the PVG Scheme members’ records for vetting information such as criminal convictions that may affect the suitability of individuals to work with vulnerable groups.

Why Should a Criminal Record Check Be Conducted?

For some organisations, a criminal background check can be a legal requirement for an employer, allowing them to view the criminal record of a prospective candidate. Hiring someone in certain positions of trust without first checking for a criminal record history can potentially put other employees, customers, and the wider population at risk, not to mention the damage this could bring to an employer’s brand and reputation. While a criminal record check can be conducted as a standalone offering, to help mitigate risk further, an organisation may wish to include the check type as part of a robust and comprehensive screening programme. Examples of this, can be seen across a variety of industries as best practice or as a screening standard, such as SMR, NHS/CQC, – some of these terms are explored in more detail in a recent Sterling blog post looking to bust screening jargon.

Further considerations for companies performing a criminal record check as part of their background screening program include:

  • Determining the correct level of criminal record disclosure is critical. Checks must be aligned with and in proportion to the role in question
  • It is a criminal offence to require a candidate to exercise their subject access rights to obtain his or her own criminal record and then provide that information to a potential employer.

Using a trusted screening partner such as Sterling can help your organisation process the correct checks, mitigate compliance risks and reduce turnaround times – this can be especially valuable when dealing with the complexity of international checks. Whether using an in-house team or partnering with a third-party vendor, obtaining criminal record check information must be compliant with the Police Act 1997, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act as well as guidance issued on this matter by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK data protection authority.

To refer to country specific information relating to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act:

Whether your organisations is looking to screen internationally or you need further guidance on the type of criminal record checks you should be considering for your program – Sterling can help!  We work with a wealth of global safeguarding authorities, ensuring we are perfectly positioned to offer the appropriate level of criminal record check, where available and legally compliant – for any employment position. Learn more about the criminal record checks Sterling has to offer.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.