Recent changes in the rules around DBS checks have put into legislation the types of offences which may be disclosed on an enhanced DBS certificate. These changes are part of a wider move to improve the job prospects of people who may have had minor criminal convictions in their distant past, but who have reformed and moved on. Rehabilitation legislation is nothing new; there has been legislation around since the 1970s which sets out how long it takes for an offence or caution to drop off the end of someone’s criminal record.

Although once a police matter is considered “spent” in terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, it could resurface on a standard or enhanced disclosure form. This is because these more detailed levels of checks look deeper into someone’s criminal record and may show older convictions or cautions. Until the recent change, it was a matter of discretion for the police to decide what to list on a certificate, and what to leave off.


Defining Minor Cautions

A caution is a tool which the police have to deal with minor misdemeanours which aren’t worth going to court over. If everyone who got into a fight on a Saturday night or was caught spraying graffiti on a bridge was given a court appearance, the system would grind to a halt. A caution can be thought of as an official warning. It goes on your record but doesn’t constitute a conviction. By accepting a police caution, you’re not agreeing that you’re guilty of anything either. Cautions usually are spent within a year or two, more quickly if you are under 18 at the time. Courts may however take cautions into account if someone is charged with a more serious offence in the future.


Filtering and DBS Checks

If you received your caution recently, and it is not considered spent under rehabilitation law, then then it will definitely appear on a DBS certificate, whatever level of certificate you apply for. Once they are considered spent, they will not appear on a basic disclosure check. When it comes to the more detailed checks, police apply a filtering process. Filtering is a process which involves looking at the specific information on someone’s criminal record and assessing it against the type of employment the person intends to do. Anything which is felt to be irrelevant to the employment will be filtered out and will not appear on the certificate. This will include most cautions unless they are an indication of a wider pattern of offending.

The new guidance which came into effect in July 2020 just formalises this filtering process, giving the police firmer guidelines about what to disclose, and when. It should mean that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a solitary caution will no longer appear on even the most detailed DBS check. This is great news for people who have in the past been put off applying for positions which require enhanced background checking, over fear of what might be disclosed.