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November 11th, 2021 | Sterling

Digital Identity: The future of UK Criminal Record Checks

Selfie for digital identity verification

The new hiring landscape

Over the past year, employers and the workforce alike have had a lot to consider.  A dynamic, candidate-led hiring landscape that’s seen vast changes.  If we turn back the clock to pre-pandemic times, there was already a steady increase in remote working – in the UK, 5% of employees were working from home. The pandemic has presented what could be seen as a catalyst for how many of us are now working, and in many instances for those across the UK and the globe, how we are now hiring. Whether this takes the form of a virtual-first or hybrid approach, the impact of Covid-19 can be felt by all.

The furlough response to the pandemic accounted for 8.86 million people working within limited capacity roles or unable to work altogether, but over the past year we have steadily seen large contingents return to work. We’re also in the midst of a talent crisis in the UK, with 1.1 million job vacancies, reaching a record high and making the swift onboarding and hiring of employees at this time even more critical.

In our webinar, ‘Digital Identity and the Future of Criminal Record Checks in the UK’ featuring Mark Sugden, Head of Identity at the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), and Steve Smith, Managing Director of Sterling EMEA – 32% of our audience acknowledged the importance of fast turnaround times when onboarding new candidates, followed closely by providing brilliant candidate experiences and accuracy of background checks.  At a time when large-scale hiring volumes can overwhelm HR teams –many organisations are looking towards reputable and trusted screening partners such as Sterling to help maintain onboarding velocity without compromising safe and accurate background checks.   

Digital identity for DBS checks

Over the course of our webinar, Mark explains the DBS’s plans to introduce digital identity as part of a new-look criminal record check process, which we’ll touch on within this blog. But before we compare the new and current process, let’s take a look at how digital identity relates to the purpose and strategy of the DBS themselves at a higher level and the services they offer.

First and foremost, this contributes to the protection of the public while allowing employers to make safer recruitment decisions and may bar those individuals that pose a risk to vulnerable groups, such as children or adults in care more specifically.

Digital identity in particular, has the potential to benefit employer mobility by helping people get back into work, by speeding up the hiring process and empowering remote onboarding. This is an ideal scenario for industries that experience high levels of volume in recruitment, short notice periods and immediate starts. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s (DCMS) research suggests that £800 million could be saved through widespread use of digital ID.

This technology could also be leveraged to significantly reduce the threat of ID fraud. You may have seen stories in the news of illegal immigrants using fake IDs to land work with vulnerable groups. As the individual is in the UK illegally, it’s likely they’ll want to remain undetected by the authorities should anything untoward happen within the workplace, and as result they may not be able to fulfil their safeguarding duties or carry out their role effectively – they may not even have the required credentials for the role in question, which is a significant cause for concern. 41% of our webinar audience agreed that the most significant benefit of digital identity would be safer and more accurate checks, which would help to reduce the threat of ID fraud once and for all at a macro level.

The current vs future criminal record check process

As part of the current ‘manual’ criminal record check process, the applicant presents original copies of documents to a named ID checker, these are original paper copies face-to-face or via online means. The identity is then confirmed, and the application is sent to the DBS. As part of this process, there is a U-bend which involves the employer receiving documentation and then reviewing, before it’s sent to the responsible body and prior to submission to the DBS. Some reports suggest that in extreme cases it can take up to 11 days, not to mention miles of travel in some instances. 

In contrast to this process, the proposed and streamlined user experience features an identity service provider that acts as the go-between, between the applicant and the registered body, this also removes the troublesome U-bend in the process, which saves significant time. This may feature cryptographic security features that allow the chip on an e-passport to be detected by the smartphone, selfie likeness technology and facial recognition checks. As part of this, an API with an authoritative body such as a bank, could verify the address and name of the individual within a matter of minutes, without the need for a bank statement or utility bill. For example, if you’re a UK national looking to do a criminal record check through the DBS, this identity check process could be done anywhere in the world.  This could also be the case, even if you’re not a UK national, provided you have an e-passport and an adequate smartphone. While the DBS is currently undergoing a consultation period, in order to implement these ideas, the DBS will:

  • Issue new ID guidelines enabling digital identity– this will set out what the standards need to be and further enable industry and commerce to drive innovation;
  • Align to government frameworks:
    •  GPG45 – How to provide and verify someone’s identity
    • Home Office ID Assurance Frameworks
    • UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework;
  • Create a list of certified identity providers – these will be approved to work within the sector.

Here at Sterling, we’ll help to keep you updated with the developments of the criminal record check process and digital identity as it unfolds. If you’re a current customer, our experienced Customer Success team will be able to advise on any changes to the process and recommend the best course of action for your screening programme. Or, if you’re currently exploring whether to outsource your background checks, our “Practical Considerations to Outsourcing a Background Screening Programme” white paper may be a helpful resource – highlighting how a trusted partner can help you to ensure regulatory compliance, improve the candidate experience and increase speed without comprising on accuracy – these are just a few of the advantages.

Still have questions about digital identity or the future direction of criminal record checks? Catch-up on the great work the DBS and Sterling are doing in our on-demand webinar.

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.