Guidance

Criminal record checks: guidance for employers

How employers or organisations can request criminal records checks on potential employees from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Overview

An employer may request a criminal records check processed through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) as part of its recruitment process.

For certain roles the check will also include information held on the DBS’s children and adults barred lists, together with any information held locally by police forces that is reasonably considered to be relevant to the applied for post.

These checks are to assist employers in making safer recruitment and licensing decisions. However a check is just one part of robust recruitment practice. When a check has been processed by the DBS and completed the individual will receive a DBS certificate.

In this guide you can find out when, as an employer or organisation, you may access criminal records checks and how to apply for them.

How to apply for a criminal record check

You can use the guide to arranging checks as an employer if you want a quick overview of this process.

As an employer or registered body, you provide the candidate with a DBS application form to complete and return to you.

Regsitered bodies can order new forms by phoning us on 0870 90 90 811.

You ensure the application form is fully completed and the information is accurate. You also confirm the applicant’s identity and verify evidence of their name, date of birth and current address

Guidance is available on completing the form for:

Continuation sheets

Where possible, countersignatories should only record the information required in the relevant boxes provided on the application form. Where this is not possible, countersignatories should submit a DBS continuation sheet together with the application form.

Where to send the completed form

Once you have signed and dated the application form, you should send the application to:

DBS applications
PO Box 110
Liverpool
L69 3EF

Making multiple applications

Organisations can either register with DBS if they do more than 99 checks per year, or use an organisation offering umbrella body services to apply for DBS checks.

Registering as an organisation with DBS

To satisfy the conditions of registration you must:

  • submit more than 100 eligible DBS check applications per year
  • be entitled to ask exempted questions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  • comply with the code of practice
  • pay the appropriate fees in relation to applications for DBS checks, as well as registration of the organisation and countersignatories

You must also provide specific and up to date information to the DBS for registration to be granted. This includes:

  • organisation status
  • proposed countersignatories and lead countersignatory
  • the nature of your business
  • the positions of employment you intend to submit the checks for
  • how you intend to meet the threshold of 100 applications per year

Cost of registration

Registration costs £300, with a £5 cost for each countersignatory to be registered.

Your registration fee will be charged after the DBS has assessed your registration documentation, carried out pre-registration checks and invited you to register.

For further information on the registration process, email DBS customer services.

Changing your registration details

All registered bodies must keep DBS informed about any changes to their registration details.

This includes the following:

  • your organisation no longer wishes to be registered with the DBS
  • your organisation wishes to become, or cease to be, an umbrella body
  • your lead counter signatory is leaving (or has already left) and needs to be replaced by another person
  • a counter signatory(ies) is leaving or no longer performs this role
  • your organisation changes its name and/or address
  • a counter signatory changes their name, signature and/or address
  • the lead counter signatory changes their name, signature and/or address

Failure to keep your registration up to date may result in delays to the service that we provide.

You should inform the DBS in writing, on company letter-headed paper, and provide the following information:

  • registered body number
  • your (lead) countersignatory number and signature
  • details of the change(s) - such as the previous and new name/address of the Registered Body, the effective date of the change, and the name and registration number(s) of the countersignatories affected

If the lead signatory or a countersignatory is not available, a letter from a director or equivalent can be accepted.

Send your letter to:

DBS Customer Services
PO Box 110
Liverpool
L69 3EF

Using the e-bulk service

If you are registered directly with the DBS, and you submit at least 1,500 applications per year, you may be able to use the e-bulk electronic application system.

Find out more about the e-bulk service.

Using umbrella body services

An umbrella body is a registered body that gives other non-registered organisations access to DBS checks. If your organisation has a requirement for fewer than 100 checks per year you should use the services of an umbrella body. Your organisation must also be eligible to ask the exempted question.

If you are already a registered body and would like to offer an additional umbrella service, you should contact DBS customer services.

Countersignatories

Countersignatories have an important role in the DBS checking process.

A countersignatory is a person within a registered body who is registered with the DBS to countersign applications, making a declaration that the position is eligible for the DBS check requested, and see the DBS certificate.

Download guidance for completing the countersignatory application form.

A lead countersignatory is a senior figure within a registered body who will oversee the DBS process within their organisation.

Download guidance on completing the lead countersignatory application form.

The minimum age at which someone can apply to become a countersignatory is 18 years old.

Filtering

From 29 May 2013, the DBS will remove certain specified old and minor offences from criminal record certificates issued from this date. Changes to the legislation were introduced to allow us to do this.

In line with these changes, we have amended question e55 on our DBS application form guidance for a criminal record check.

Question e55 asks the applicant ‘have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence or received a caution, reprimand or warning?’

Applicants should now ignore this question and treat this question as if they were being asked ‘do you have any unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings?’

For more information about the filtering process please see the guidance documents.

Applicants’ rights

Usually a job applicant has no legal obligation to reveal spent convictions. If an applicant has a conviction that has become spent, the employer must treat the applicant as if the conviction has not happened. A refusal to employ a rehabilitated person on the grounds of a spent conviction is unlawful under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA)1974.

Certain areas of employment that are exempt under the ROA 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, for which employers may ask about spent convictions. This is known as asking an exempted question. When answering, the applicant would have a legal obligation to reveal spent convictions.

The code of practice states that information on a DBS certificate should only be used in the context of a policy on the recruitment of ex-offenders. This is designed to protect applicants from unfair discrimination on the basis of non-relevant past convictions. The DBS has developed a specimen policy on the recruitment of ex-offenders to help guide organisations.

The minimum age at which someone can be asked to apply for a DBS check is 16 years old.

To find out more information about who is eligible for a DBS check see the DBS eligibility guide.

Types of criminal record check

Standard check - £26

The standard check is available for duties, positions and licences included in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, for example, court officers, employment within a prison, and Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences.

A standard level certificate contains details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings from the Police National Computer (PNC) which have not been filtered in line with legislation.

Enhanced check - £44

The enhanced check is available for specific duties, positions and licences included in both the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) regulations, for example, regularly caring for, training, supervising or being solely in charge of children, specified activities with adults in receipt of health care or social care services and applicants for gaming and lottery licences.

An enhanced level certificate contains the same PNC information as the standard level certificate but also includes a check of information held locally by police forces.

Enhanced with a barred list check - £44

The enhanced check with barred list check(s) is only available for those individuals who are carrying out regulated activity and a small number of positions listed in Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) regulations, for example, prospective adoptive parents and taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) licences.

An enhanced level certificate with barred list check(s) contains the same PNC information and check of information held locally by police forces as an enhanced level check but in addition will check against the children’s and/or adult’s barred lists.

If your application includes a request to check the barred list(s) the DBS has a statutory duty to consider any information that suggests you may pose a risk of harm. We will write to you if you are affected.

DBS adult first check - £6

DBS adult first is a service available to organisations who can request a check of the DBS adults’ barred list. Depending on the result, a person can be permitted to start work, under supervision, with vulnerable adults before a DBS certificate has been obtained.

Read application guidance and request an adult first check.

The requests carry strict criteria:

  • the position must require a criminal record check by law
  • the position must be eligible for access to the DBS adults barred list
  • the organisation must have requested a check of the DBS adults barred list on the DBS application form

The DBS reply to an DBS adult first check request will contain one of the following responses and will clearly state that it only forms the first part of the criminal record check application process and that further information will follow:

  • option 1: ‘registered body must wait for the DBS certificate’
  • option 2: ‘no match exists for this person on the current adults barred list’

If the DBS adult first check indicates that the registered body must wait for the DBS certificate, the details provided may have indicated a match on the DBS adults barred list. However, further investigation is required to confirm this and you should await the certificate. Alternatively the check will state that no match exists for the individual on the adults barred list.

Volunteer applications

The DBS definition of a volunteer is defined in the Police Act 1997 (criminal records) Regulations 2002 as:

“Any person engaged in an activity which involves spending, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party and not a close relative.”

To qualify for a free-of-charge criminal record check, the applicant must not benefit directly from the position the DBS application is being submitted for. The applicant must not:

  • benefit directly from the position for which the DBS application is being submitted
  • receive any payment (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses)
  • be on a work placement
  • be on a course that requires them to do this job role
  • be in a trainee position that will lead to a full time role/qualification

It states on the DBS application form ‘By placing a cross in the yes box (at section 68) you confirm that the post meets the DBS definition for a free-of-charge volunteer application. Please note that DBS may recover the application fee if box 68 is marked in error and this could result in the cancellation of your DBS registration’.

Please read through the examples in the table below based on common volunteer errors.

Examples of eligible and ineligible volunteer roles

Position applied for DBS volunteer status Reasoning
Parent helpers in schools Eligible This activity is entirely voluntary, is unpaid and is primarily aimed at providing a service to a third party
Scout/Guide Eligible This activity is entirely voluntary, is upaid and is primarily aimed at providing a service to a third party
Adoptive parents and other household members over 18 years old Eligible This activity is entirely voluntary, is upaid and is primarily aimed at providing a service to a third party
Foster carers and members of the same household over 18 years old Ineligible This activity is entirely voluntary but foster carers usually receive payments for these activities therefore it is deemed that neither foster carers nor other members of the household are entitled to free checks
Individuals working abroad on volunteering projects Ineligible This activity is entirely voluntary and is primarily aimed at providing a service to a third party, but these persons usually receive payment of a local salary, and lump sum payments, above and beyond what could be described as “travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses”.
Medical/teaching/social work student on work placement, as part of training Ineligible This activity is a mandatory course requirement, is usually paid and is primarily undertaken to benefit the student

If you need further guidance please email the DBS customer services team.

Avoiding common mistakes on application forms

This list, which is updated monthly, outlines the most common errors made on the DBS application form and what you should do to avoid them.

We also publish guidance for countersignatories on how to complete the DBS application form and a new e-guide is available to help you through the application form process.

Section X61

You will need to make sure this section is completed correctly otherwise we may need to contact you to obtain further information resulting in recruitment process delays.

Please complete the field as follows:

x61 line 1: You must now include the relevant workforce(s). Chose the approriate:

  • Child workforce
  • Adult workforce
  • Child and Adult workforce
  • Other workforce (use this when the person is not working with children or adults).

x61 line 2: Enter a description of the ‘position applied for’ up to 30 characters.

Workforce guidance is available for registered bodies to identify the type of workforce that a DBS applicant will be working in.

Section X68: Is the application form for a free of charge volunteer?

The form will be rejected if:

  • both fields are completed
  • the field is left blank
  • the application is submitted for a volunteer and a cross (X) is placed in the ‘yes’ box, but a payment is also received

Section W59: Has the evidence checker established the applicant’s identity and verified the information?

The form will be rejected if:

  • the field is left blank or is illegible
  • both fields are completed

Section Y70: Countersignatory number

The form will be rejected if:

  • this field is left blank or is illegible (without attached explanation)
  • if any digits are missing from the countersignatory number
  • the first 6 digits of the countersignatory number do not match up with registered body number (section Y69)

General: 5-year address not supplied

The form will be rejected if:

  • a full 5-year address history is not supplied including from and to dates in the correct format of: mm/yyyy,or
  • if there are gaps between address dates provided

Section Y73: Date of countersignature

The form will be rejected if:

  • the date is not completed using the correct format of dd/mm/yyyy
  • this field is left blank or is illegible (without attached explanation)

Section A23: Driving licence number middle name

The form will be rejected if:

  • this field is left blank or is illegible where section A22 (Do you hold a valid UK driving licence?) has been crossed ‘yes’
  • first 5 characters of driving licence number do not match the first 5 characters of the current or any previous surname (if driving licence was issued in a previous name)
  • 12th driving licence character does not match the first character of forename (section A3)
  • 13th driving licence character does not match the first character of the second forename (middle name) of section A3 (forename section)

Section A12: Other forename(s)

The form will be rejected if:

  • this field is left blank or is illegible when the surname (sections A5) and/or dates from and to (section A7) contain information
  • this field contains information and the surname (section A5) and dates from and to (section A7) are blank

To clarify - for each name you provide, you must ensure that the forename and surname fields are both completed.

Section X62: Organisation name

The form will be rejected if:

  • this field is left blank or is illegible (without attached explanation)

Section Y72: Declaration by registered person

The form will be rejected if:

  • this field is left blank or is illegible (without attached explanation)

Section a: Driving licence number

This form will be rejected if:

  • the applicant has confirmed ‘Yes’ to holding a valid UK licence but has not provided a driving licence number

Section X66: Does position involve working with children or vunerable adults at applicant’s home address?

The form will be rejected if:

  • both fields are completed
  • field is left blank or is illegible when applying for enhanced check
  • if level of DBS check has been crossed as standard and this field is ‘yes’

(Note: this section can be left blank if check applied for is standard.)

e55

On 29 May 2013 changes in legislation led us to remove certain specified old and minor offences from DBS certificates.

You now need to advise applicants completing e55 to treat this question as if they were being asked:

“Do you have any convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings which would not be filtered in line with current guidance?”.

DBS filtering guidance is available for you to view.

Section A26: Nationality

If question A24 - Do you hold a current passport? - is completed ?Yes?, then A25-27 are mandatory and need to be completed. If not, the form will be rejected.

If A24 is completed ?No?, then A25-27 should be left blank. If either A25 or A26 are completed, the form will be rejected.

Overseas applicants

Checking via the DBS

DBS cannot access criminal records held overseas, but it is possible to submit an application while the applicant is overseas.

In a small number of cases, overseas criminal records are held on the Police National Computer and these would be revealed as part of a criminal record check. You must still verify the identity of an overseas applicant.

As the DBS cannot access criminal records held overseas, a criminal record check may not provide a complete picture of an individual’s criminal record.

For more information please see the Home Office guidance Criminal records checks for overseas applicants

Checking via embassies

If you are recruiting people from overseas and wish to check their overseas criminal record, you should contact the embassy or High Commission of the country in question.

Find contact details for embassies and High Commissions in the UK on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.

You can also contact the FCO Response Centre Helpline on 020 7008 1500.

If the foreign check needs translating, the embassy of the country concerned may be able to help.

The DBS is not involved in the processing of applications made by individuals to overseas authorities and will not be responsible for the contents or the length of time taken for information to be returned.

Certificates of good conduct

You should try to obtain a certificate of good conduct and any other references from potential overseas employees. The standard of foreign police checks varies. To find out the standard, you should contact either the authorities in a particular country, or their embassy.

Either you or the employee should obtain a certified translation of the certificate of good conduct. The DBS does not offer a translation service.

Checking an applicant’s right to work in the UK

The DBS does not check whether an applicant is permitted to work in the UK. The employer is responsible for ensuring employees have the right to work within the UK.

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) provides protective security advice. This is for companies and organisations that deliver the UK’s essential services.

You can find information about overseas criminal records checks on the CPNI website.

The code of practice

The code of practice is issued under section 122(2) of the Police Act 1997.

Organisations using the DBS checking service must comply with the code of practice. The code is there to ensure organisations are aware of their obligations that the information released will be used fairly.

The code also ensures that sensitive personal information, disclosed by the DBS is handled and stored appropriately and is kept for only as long as necessary.

Find the code of practice for registered persons and other recipients of DBS check information.

Storing information

The correct storage of information from a DBS certificate is important. The code of practice requires that the information revealed is considered only for the purpose for which it was obtained (It should be destroyed after a suitable period has passed - usually not more than 6 months.)

Organisations must use information revealed on DBS certificate fairly. More information on the handling and storage of DBS certificate information is available. They must also satisfy the DBS that they are complying with the code of practice. This means means cooperating with requests from the DBS to undertake assurance checks, as well as reporting any suspected malpractice in relation to the code or misuse of DBS certificates.

The DBS can refuse to issue a DBS certificate if it believes that the code of practice is not being adhered to.

Tracking applications

The DBS provides a free, online tracking service that allows you to follow the progress of either of these types of application:

You will be able to see:

  • what stage the application has reached in the checking process
  • if an application had to be returned due to errors
  • if the results of the criminal record check have been dispatched

Tracking individual applications

You will need:

  • an application form submitted to the DBS
  • an application form reference number
  • the date of birth of the applicant

Tracking multiple applications

You will need to provide the:

  • registered body number
  • countersignatory number
  • countersignatory’s date of birth

Stages of the DBS checking process

Stage 1 - application form received and validated

The application form is checked for errors or omissions. The form is either scanned onto the DBS system or returned for correction to the countersignatory within 24 hours of receipt.

Stage 2 - Police National Computer (PNC) searched

Stage 3 - Children and adults barred lists searched (where applicable)

Stage 4 - Records held by the police searched

Enhanced checks are sent by secure, electronic means to the police for an additional check of local records before the information is sent back to the DBS.

Stage 5 - DBS certificate printed

All the information to be disclosed is printed under highly secure procedures and sent to the applicant.

Requesting blank forms via the tracking service

Registered organisations and countersignatories who can access the multiple applications tracking service can order blank application forms online using the same login details.

Duration of criminal record check validity

There is no official expiry date for a criminal record check issued by DBS.

Any information revealed on a DBS certificate will be accurate at the time the certificate was issued. You should check the date of issue on the certificate to decide whether to request a newer one. In certain employment sectors a new criminal record check may be required periodically.

You may also be required by law to carry out a fresh check of the DBS children’s and/or adults’ barring lists in accordance with sector-specific guidance.

You can keep a DBS certificate for no longer than 6 months, to allow for consideration and resolution of any disputes or complaints after a recruitment or suitability decision is made. If it is considered necessary to keep the certificate information for longer, you should consult the DBS.

CRB certificates

Please note that following the merger of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority to form the DBS, CRB-branded certificates should be treated the same as DBS-branded certificates.

Update Service

Individuals can now join the Update Service putting them in greater control of their information; allowing them to reuse their DBS certificates when applying for similar jobs.

This will reduce bureaucracy and save them time and money. If an individual subscribes to the Update Service their employer can go online, with their consent, and carry out a free, instant check to find out if the information released on the DBS certificate is current and up-to-date.

To enable individuals to reuse their DBS certificates in the Update Service, Registered Bodies must now include the relevant Workforce in line 1 and the Position Applied For in line 2 of field x61 on the application form.

We have published a range of guidance about the Update Service on this website.

Identity validation for DBS checks

When an individual applies for a criminal record check through DBS their identity must be verified by the registered body.

Registered bodies must follow the DBS 3-route identity checking process to validate the name, date of birth and address provided by the applicant in sections a and b of the application form.

Download the DBS identity checking guidelines

Download the DBS identity checking scenarios

Failure to validate an applicant’s identity

If the applicant’s identity has not been validated by the 3-route process, the countersignatory should mark the ‘no’ box at question w59 on the application form and return the form to the DBS. You may be asked to review this decision by the DBS before the application can proceed, which may delay the overall process.

Applicants who cannot provide the necessary documents will be asked to go for fingerprinting at their local police station. This is likely to cause delay to the overall application process.

Dealing with discrepancies on the application form

If there are any discrepancies between the information on the form and the identity documents supplied, and fraud is not suspected, you should seek clarification from the applicant.

Do not attempt to amend the application form without the applicant’s knowledge and agreement, as it will invalidate the declaration by the applicant in section e of the form and may breach data protection legislation.

If you suspect that you have been presented with a false identity or documents, do not proceed with the application process. You should report suspected identity fraud on the Action Fraud website.

Disputes

For information on disputes, see the disputes section of the guide on DBS services

Accepting a previously issued DBS check

Ultimately it is for the employer to determine whether to accept previously-issued CRB/DBS checks. You should consider the following before making a decision:

  • the applicant’s criminal record or other relevant information may have changed since its issue.
  • the decision made by a Chief Police Officer to disclose information on a CRB/DBS certificate was made based on the position for which the criminal record check was originally applied for; you cannot assume that no other intelligence would be disclosed for a different position
  • the information revealed was based on the identity of the applicant, which was validated by another registered body, at the time that the original check was requested; you should ensure that the identity details on the certificate match those of the applicant

Security features of a DBS certificate

A DBS certificate contains a number of security features which can be used to verify whether it has been counterfeited or altered in any way:

  • a ‘crown seal’ watermark repeated down the right hand side of the certificate, which is visible both on the surface and when holding the certificate up to a light source
  • a background design incorporating the word ‘Disclosure’, which appears in a wave-like pattern across both sides of the document - the colour of this pattern is uniform across the front of the certificate but alternates between pink and green on the reverse side
  • ink and paper that will change colour in the presence of water or solvent-based liquid

Note that the security features for a CRB certificate, issued before 1 December 2012, are the same as for the DBS certificate.

If you are unsure whether a DBS certificate is genuine or if you think that it may have been altered, you should contact the DBS on 0870 90 90 811.

E-bulk certificates

DBS notifications sent to the registered body via the e-bulk service, which revealed no information, may be transcribed by the organisation in a letter format and will not be printed on DBS secure certificate paper.

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