Most British workers are aware that in order to work with certain vulnerable groups, staff members need to be checked over by the authorities to make sure they are suitable for that type of work. Many other countries have similar legislation, aimed at protecting children from people who might cause them harm. There are separate bodies for checking people depending on whether you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or England and Wales, and in most cases employers are fairly good at knowing the law and making sure they adhere to requirements. It’s not always easy to know where to turn if you are confused though.
Self-Employed Disclosure and Freelancers
One of the most complex situations is that of a self-employed worker running classes or other activities for children or vulnerable adults, and who is not part of a larger organisation. This could be people like art teachers, dance teachers, yoga coaches and so on. If there is no umbrella organisation and no employer, who does the checking? The only option is to approach Disclosure Scotland for a basic check. Despite the fact that it is a Scottish organisation which is carrying out the checks, anyone resident in the UK can apply for a basic check, which will show details of unspent convictions. This is a less detailed type of check than other types of disclosures usually done for people employed working with children and will not show cautions or other police intelligence which might be relevant. This is a major drawback for people who are trying to set up their own business without any larger organisation to supervise them.
Inappropriate Disclosure Checks
All areas of the UK recognise that people have the right to a private life, and in many cases, have the right to disregard minor criminal offences which happened a long time ago, or were committed when they were under the age of 18. Employers cannot pick and choose who they want to do disclosure checks on. They must have a consistent policy and only check people in those roles which involve direct contact with people in vulnerable groups. Guidance can be sought from the DBS or other organisations if employers are not sure whether they should be checking or not. Applicants also have the right to challenge their employer if they believe they are asking for checks which are not justified.
Use the Helpline
Background checking and disclosures is a complex area of law and it’s not just the people being checked who are often unsure about what to do – employers and voluntary organisations sometimes get it wrong too. All three main organisations – DBS in England and Wales, AccessNI and Disclosure Scotland, have helplines which you can call during office hours and speak to someone who can talk you through the specifics of your situation. Many also offer email customer services lines. Use these to talk through any issues which you have, anonymously if you need to. These lines can also be used to raise issues with employers trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities.