There’s lots of jargon around DBS checks, and it can soon get very confusing if you aren’t legally trained. Terms like caution, unspent or charge might be second nature to police and legal professions but confusing for the lay person. Here’s our quick rundown to the most common police and DBS jargon, and what it means for your disclosure certificate.



A caution is similar to an official warning handed out for committing a minor crime. You have to admit that you’ve committed the offence to be given a caution. A caution is not the same thing as a criminal conviction, even if you’ve admitted that you’re guilty. Cautions only appear on a DBS certificate if they are very recent, or directly related to the type of work you are intending to do.



Charging means being formally accused of a crime with an intention to take it to court. This process happens at a police station. Usually, a charge means you will eventually go to court and be found guilty or not guilty. Ordinarily, being charged with something and being found not guilty, or a case being thrown out before it gets to court won’t appear on any DBS certificate. However, if you are repeatedly charged with offences which never get to court, this might be something the police will disclose on an enhanced DBS certificate.


Fixed Penalty Notice

The police deal with minor offences like speeding or being drunk and disorderly in ways other than taking people to court. If you are given a fixed penalty notice and pay the fine, it won’t be recorded as a crime and therefore won’t be on any DBS certificate. If you challenge the fixed penalty, take it to court and lose, it’s still not classed as a crime, but you are risking a bigger fine.



Under rehabilitation law, offenders have the right to leave their past behind them after a fixed period of time. The length of time will depend on the type of crime and the age of the offender. Once the conviction has been “left behind”, it is classed as spent. On the other hand, recent convictions which have not reached this expiry date are known as unspent.



If you’re picked up by the police and questioned about an offence, this is an arrest. You may or may not be charged, depending on what evidence the police uncover. You will have your photograph and fingerprints taken. Arrests won’t appear on DBS certificates unless they form a worrying pattern which the police think is important to disclose given the type of job you are applying for.


Police Order

The Police might also give you a piece of paper called a Police Order in certain situations. This usually bans you from going to certain places or seeing specific people. A Police Order doesn’t go on your criminal record and won’t appear on a DBS certificate Police will keep a record of what Orders they issue, and this might become relevant if you commit further offences in the future.