Criminal Record Check Changes for England and Wales


Since 2012, criminal record checks in most of the UK have been carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), a non-departmental arm of the Home Office. Prior to that year, these checks used information held by the Criminal Records Bureau; indeed, many people still refer to them as CRB checks. Now well established and codified by the DBS system, checks are slightly different depending on where within the UK the subject lives. Scotland has its own legal system, and a unified police service; as such, it provides the Disclosure Scotland service. Northern Ireland also has its own police jurisdiction. From 2022, however, DBS checks in England and Wales are subject to some alterations.

Cost of a Basic Check

Basic level checks are by far the most common of those carried out by the DBS, in any of the UK’s four nations. They are the easiest to obtain, and can be applied for by any individual aged 16 or over who can provide appropriate proof of identity. Unlike more stringent checks, there is no restriction imposed by law as to who can apply for a Basic check. The primary reason for this is that it is the person themselves who requests the search; as such, there is no danger (ID provided) of the results being seen by anyone who shouldn’t. Basic checks only reveal unspent convictions; i.e. those where any given sanction and / or period of time has not been served.

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The definition of “spent” is that laid down in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) and subsequent legislation. Under this legislation, it is a crime for any potential employer to discriminate against an applicant (this also applies to voluntary organisations) because of a spent conviction, no matter what the offence. As employment options have changed over the course of the covid pandemic, a growing number of employers and voluntary bodies are asking their applicants to apply for Basic DBS checks as a matter of course.

Due to their relative ease of processing, Basic checks are quick to turn around, and therefore cheap. With the increasing demand for these checks and the need for workers across many sectors of the UK economy, it has been decided that their cost should be even cheaper. As of the 6th of April 2022, the cost of a Basic DBS check fell from £23 to £18. It is hoped that this will make it even easier for workers and volunteers – especially those of younger age groups – to fill some of the gaps in the UK’s workforce.

Standard and Enhanced Checks

Standard and Enhanced DBS checks are more involved that those at the Basic level. In large part, this is because of the restrictions put in place by the ROA; and also because of what they disclose. Standard and Enhanced checks must be applied for by a responsible body, which is often a potential employer, but can also be a registered third party. The rules of the ROA mean that the body requesting either type of search must justify their reasons for doing so; the position being applied for must present a plausible risk to certain sections of the public.

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These checks disclose any and all previous convictions, unless these are protected under the ROA. In this sense, there is no such thing as a spent conviction, regardless of how old the offence is / was. Also disclosed are all police cautions, warnings and final reprimands. For any individual subject to these checks, then, who can see them is a a very sensitive issue. A wide range of jobs require enhanced checks, including taxi driver.

Problems with System

For such a sensitive process, any glitches cause understandable concern. Such problems arose in 2021, when the DBS rejected a high volume of Standard and Enhanced check requests because of incorrectly entered details. In fact, this actually meant that the details entered did not match exactly those of a previous search. The DBS took the view that their own records were correct, and therefore the new search was invalid; they did not, however, inform the subject of the check. This led to delays beyond the control of the individuals concerned, who sometimes missed out on work as a result.

Fortunately, the DBS has since reviewed this procedure, so that at least he subject of an application is aware of any differences in detail. As important jobs are carried out by those subject to Standard and Enhanced checks, this is welcome news.


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