Background checks are becoming increasingly common in many aspects of everyday life, including employment screening, visa applications, and even getting a position as a volunteer. The two most widely used types of background checks are the ACRO (Association of Chief Police Officers Criminal Records Office) and DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks.

While both kinds of check have the common goal of giving information about an individual’s criminal history, they differ in their scope, purpose, and the details they reveal. They are also issued by different bodies, and the process for getting an ACRO check also differs from the DBS process.


ACRO Background Checks

ACRO background checks are generally only needed for international purposes, such as emigrating from the UK to another country, visa applications, or overseas employment. ACRO is the designated authority in the UK which issues criminal record certificates for use overseas. These checks involve accessing the Police National Computer (PNC) in the United Kingdom and looking at someone’s criminal records information.

Key features of ACRO background checks:

  • International Scope – ACRO checks about providing criminal records information for people applying for visas or jobs outside of the United Kingdom.
  • Criminal Focused – ACRO checks typically concentrate on criminal convictions and may not have any information about things which did not end in a conviction.
  • UK Limited – ACRO checks only gather criminal records data from the UK Police National Computer and not from any police force overseas.


DBS Checks

On the other hand, DBS checks are only used within the United Kingdom. The Disclosure and Barring Service processes these checks and gives access to criminal record information for individuals working in specific sectors or roles, particularly those involving contact with children or vulnerable adults.

Key features of DBS background checks:

  • Domestic – A DBS check might be required for some jobs in the UK, such as working in schools or healthcare. Not all positions require a DBS check though.
  • Levels of Check – the DBS system has three levels of checks of increasing detail, and the type of check you need will depend on the job you are taking on.
  • More information – Depending on the level of check, a DBS certificate might show cautions, warnings, and other police information in addition to convictions.


How Do I Know Which Check I Need?

Be guided by the reason you need to get a background police check. ACRO checks are mainly for international applications, for employment or visas outside the UK. DBS checks are used within the United Kingdom, particularly for roles involving children or vulnerable adults. The good news is that you will be guided by the organisation you are applying through, who will tell you what sort of check you need to get and will offer help in completing the form. Although the application is mostly online, certificates are sent out in the post to the address you provide, so factor this postal delay into your timescales so you don’t miss out on that great overseas opportunity because you’re waiting for paperwork.