It might sound obvious, but our name is one of the main ways in which we identify ourselves. A name is the starting point for applying for a passport, DBS check and any other type of identity document. It’s therefore worrying that a Freedom of Information request has revealed that 913 people with a conviction for sex offences have “disappeared” from police records after simply changing their names.
Changing Your Name – the Law
For most people, changing your name is not illegal. Thousands of people change their surname every year when they get married or divorced. Thousands more go through the legal Deed Poll process, which allows someone to change any part of their name, for whatever reason they choose. Once your deed poll is registered, you can then use the document to apply for bank accounts, passport and other documents under your new name. However, a condition of sentencing for most sex offenders is that they inform the police of any change of address or name. This helps the police keep track of people who have a history of offending in the past. A recent Freedom of Information request found 913 people had disappeared from records, and it’s thought that most of them have simply adopted a new identity and have moved away.
Names, and all names you might have used previously, also come into play when someone has applied for a DBS criminal records check. Police use name and date of birth to record offences on their database, so when we apply for a DBS certificate, we give not only our current name, but all previous names too. The fact that someone has changed their name isn’t suspicious on its own and it shouldn’t be assumed that they have something to hide. However, the DBS admits that it might not be able to identify situations where people are not being entirely truthful about their previous identities, and there is the risk that some of these cases slip through the net.
If you’ve changed your name in the past, the key thing to remember is to declare all of your previous names on a DBS checks. This includes “known as” names, which may not have involved an official or legal change.
Safeguarding and DBS Checks
Although many of us think of DBS checks as the only way of ensuring that vulnerable groups are kept safe, they are just one tool in the range of options which any organisation should be using. In addition to a system for running DBS checks and renewing them on a regular basis, any organisation will have a wider safeguarding policy. This could include anonymous reporting, whistleblowing policies or a facility for parents or patients to report anything worrying them. As it is an offence for people on the Sex Offender’s register to change their name or address without telling anyone, the Police also have to play their part in keeping better tabs on offenders who have been released from prison.