It’s perhaps understandable that there is a lot of confusion about the Disclosure and Barring Service. Three different levels of disclosure checks, different systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland and separate rules for volunteers – it’s all very complicated. In most cases, understanding everything about the DBS system isn’t necessary. As long as you know how to fill in the form and what identity documents to provide, getting your certificate should be easy. Also, if you’re getting your DBS check for a job, your employer usually has someone who can help you. In other circumstances though you’re on your own. One of the least understood aspects of the system is the Update function. What’s it all about, and is it worth joining?


What Update Does

DBS Update is an attempt to move from a paper based certificate system into a digital system. Disclosure certificates aren’t the only thing which is moving to an online system. It’s part of a wider government move to let us do things like completing a tax return or applying for a passport online too. The idea of Update is to provide subscribers with access to their DBS information through a secure website. If you need a new certificate for a new employer, you don’t need to go through the whole application process again. Members can just share their access with their new employer and allow them to see current, up to date DBS information.

Someone who is a member of Update has any new information about them on the police database automatically added to their DBS file too. This has been one of the main problems with the paper-based system. Once a paper certificate has been issued, there’s no simple way of adding details of any future convictions or cautions to that certificate. So in theory, someone could have a clear DBS certificate but a criminal record too. Update was designed to get around this issue and ensure that all information was up to date.


Being A Member

Any application to join the DBS Update service has to start with an application for a DBS certificate in the usual way. Members of the public can only apply for a basic disclosure for themselves. This level of check is the least detailed, and just shows your current, unspent criminal record. More detailed disclosures can only be done for specific jobs which require them. You are not able to ask for a standard or enhanced disclosure unless you are being employed in something called “regulated activity”. This usually means being in a position of responsibility, or working with vulnerable groups like children.

When you apply for your first certificate at any level, there will be a box to tick on the form allowing you to join Update at the same time. If you forget to join at this point, or just don’t understand the benefits properly, you can join within 30 days of the date of issue printed on your certificate. There is an annual membership fee for the DBS Update service. This is a set fee, whatever the level of check. The fee is less than the cost of another full DBS check.


Accessing Your Information

After your application to join DBS Update has been approved, you will receive notification of your unique ID. This is your user name which you will then use to log back into the system. All official Update user ids start with a letter C, which is then followed by 10 digits. This number isn’t the same as the number on your DBS certificate. You can use your number to log into you account not only to see your current DBS information but to do other tasks on your account too. You can update your contact information, view which companies or organisations have looked at your information and when, cancel your DBS Update subscription or renew it when it is due to expire.


Limitations to DBS Update

Update is an optional extra to the standard DBS system and so far, uptake has been low. The DBS hasn’t put much money into promoting and advertising the service, and levels of awareness are fairly low. This means that many people asking for DBS certificates don’t understand how the system works, and neither do employers. This lack of knowledge can lead to employers refusing to use the DBS Update service and insisting that you go through the whole process again. If they’re happy to foot the bill for a new DBS check this can be frustrating, but won’t cost you anything. If however they’re asking you to pay the money for a check when you know they can access the information online, the frustration levels are multiplied somewhat.

The other main issue is that people are only members of Update at the level of check they originally get. So if you are in a job which requires a standard disclosure and tick the box saying that you want to join Update, you can only use your Update information for other jobs which need a standard disclosure. If you switch into a role which needs a more detailed enhanced disclosure, your Update information is no use. Similarly, if you have been working for example as a home carer for the elderly and have joined Update, you may still be asked for a new disclosure check if you apply for work in a nursery or school. This is because the information Police may disclose is different in both cases.


Our Advice on Update

Update is a great idea in essence, but needs a bit more work before it become the standard option for anyone applying for a disclosure check. Until this happens, it’s really only useful for people who swap between similar roles frequently. If however you’re working in healthcare, or as a nursery nurse who is going into different nurseries every two weeks, being a member is going to save a lot of time and effort. It might also make you more attractive as an employee, if you can start work straight away.