Starting a new job in the UK used to be very straightforward – do well at an interview and you’d start the next day, collecting your wages in a brown envelope at the end of the week. Things have moved on a bit since then, and not just because most of us are paid right into our bank accounts. There are a whole host of checks which employers have to carry out when taking on new workers, from establishing their right to work in the UK to checking their academic qualifications. One of these checks which applies to a large number of occupations is getting a DBS check. But what is the point of a DBS Check?


Criminal Records Checking

Part of the reason for confusion around DBS checks is because the system has changed names several times over the years. Previously, we used to talk about making a CRB Application, or an application to the Criminal Records Bureau. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are different systems, which do broadly the same thing, but which have separate names. Chasing up references for people you are thinking about employing is nothing new, and we’re all familiar with the concept of doctors, teachers or other people in positions of responsibility being “struck off”. A formal criminal record checking process is designed to protect the most vulnerable in our society from being exposed to people who want to do them harm. It is also designed to protect money and company assets from fraudsters.


Is It About Punishing People with Criminal Records?

One of the biggest misconceptions about the disclosure process is that people are given a grade, mark or can pass and fail their checks. This is not the case at all. The information on a disclosure certificate is just a statement of fact and it’s up to the employer what they do with that information. The Disclosure and Barring Service has to tread a fine line between protecting people who are vulnerable and giving people who have committed crimes in the past the chance to make a new start. The system isn’t about punishing people for things which they have done in their distant part, and part of the process is about filtering out offences and cautions which are irrelevant to the position under consideration. It’s quite right that serious offenders should have their offences disclosed, or that serial, petty offenders should have concerns raised about them too. But few people would argue that a minor teenage conviction is in any way relevant when applying for a job several decades later.


Who Needs a DBS Check?

Not all positions require a DBS check. This is where it all starts to get a bit complicated, as there are three different levels of check, each of which reveals a different level of detail. The higher “risk” potential with the job, the more detailed the check. Someone who wants to work with children, or as a carer going into people’s homes will need a more in-depth check than someone working in a hospital admin role, for example. A basic check is the least detailed level of disclosure and will only show someone’s current and unspent criminal records. Anyone can ask for this level of check for any reason, and many self-employed people will get this sort of check as a character reference or indication of good standing. If you are applying for a role where a DBS check is required, then this is usually clearly stated on the job advert. In most cases, the employer will pay the fees if there are any involved with making a DBS application. Large employers who process dozens or hundreds of DBS checks each year often also can give really good advice on completing the form and navigating the process.


Applying with a Criminal Record

Around a quarter to a third of adults in the UK have a criminal record. There are a few strategies to approaching the topic of DBS checks if you know there is a crime in your distant past. The first is to apply for positions which require just a basic check, or no check at all. Even if you are applying for jobs which delve deeper into the past, chances are that the very oldest, trivial convictions will be filtered out and won’t ever appear on a DBS certificate. Employers are on the whole understanding and will be more interested in what you’ve been doing in the years since your brush with the law than in the circumstances which got you there in the first place. If you can show a reliable work history, then an older conviction might not matter. Anything you tell your employer about your past should be treated in confidence, and not broadcast around the office or factory floor.