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Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and Disclosure Scotland (DS)


The primary role of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is to help employers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland make safer recruitment decisions and prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable adults and children. They are responsible for:

  • processing requests for criminal records checks (in England and Wales) and
  • deciding whether it is appropriate for a person to be placed on or removed from a barred list (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

In Scotland, the checking and barring service is operated by Disclosure Scotland (DS) and in Northern Ireland disclosure is operated by AccessNI.

Disclosure: criminal record checks

Checks are requested by the employer and include information held by local police and centralised computer records. There is no time limit on how long the information can be held.

There is no official expiry date for a criminal record certificate. Information should be accurate at the time the certificate was issued.

New checks may be required periodically or by law in accordance with sector-specific guidance. You should check your local policy and the terms and conditions of your contract as some employers may cover the cost of required periodic checks.

There is more about the DBS Update Service below.

There are normally three levels of criminal record checks: basic, standard and enhanced. Enhanced disclosures also check the adults' and children's barred lists.

The information disclosed can include convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings recorded on police central records. They can also include spent and unspent convictions, plus information held locally by police forces that might be considered relevant to the post.

Relevant police information can include details about unsuccessful prosecutions, non-conviction material or other relevant information that is considered ought to be disclosed.

It is possible to challenge a certificate within three months of the date of issue, if you believe there’s been one of the following mistakes:

  • a dispute relating to your personal details such as your name, address or your employer's details are wrong, or
  • a dispute relating to criminal record information that has been disclosed such as the disclosure being wrong, inaccurate or not relevant.

Please contact us if you wish to dispute any disclosure on your certificate as we will be able to advise you on the process and next steps. 

An employer or licensing authority can also raise a dispute about your DBS certificate after talking to you first.

If there is a mistake in your records, the police may ask for fingerprints to prove your identity.

Further information on the dispute process can be found at

Individuals cannot request a DBS check. There are a number of options available if you are self employed including:

  • you may wish to register with an agency who can apply for a DBS check on your behalf, or,
  • if you are working with individual clients, they may be able to apply.

Alternatively, you can contact your local police force to make a 'subject access request'. This will provide up to date information on any criminal records held on the database in the UK.

If you are based in Scotland, you can obtain a basic check from Disclosure Scotland.

The DBS removes, or 'filters' certain specified old and minor offences from criminal record certificates.

There are certain circumstances however where serious convictions, convictions that resulted in custodial sentences or where there is more than one conviction, will never be removed or open to filtering. 

There are however some exceptions where there is more than one conviction, for instance when considering the age, history and nature of the convictions and you should seek advice from us if you think this may be relevant to you. 

The Ministry of Justice suggest that employers use the following question as a template for their recruitment and hiring processes: ‘Do you have any convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings that are not "protected" as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (as amended in 2013) by SI 2013 1198’.

You may wish to consider this question as if you were being asked: "Do you have any unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings?". The filtering rules and the list of offences that will never be filtered is available from

The question of whether a specific conviction is protected or not is beyond the scope of this advice. If you believe that this may apply to you, please seek advice from us.

The DBS Update Service enables applicants to keep their DBS certificates up to date online and also allows employers to check a certificate online.

Applicants can join online at The service is currently only available in England and Wales. Disclosure Scotland operates the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) membership scheme. There is no equivalent update system currently in Northern Ireland. 

The benefits of joining

The DBS Update Service reduces the need for repeated checks every time an applicant changes jobs, provided the same type and level of check is required, within the same workforce. 

When signed up to the DBS Update Service registered bodies/employers will no longer automatically receive a copy of your DBS certificate when you apply for a criminal records check. However, your current or a prospective employer will still ask for sight of your DBS certificate and some employers may require you to join the service as a condition of employment for relevant roles.

The Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG Scheme) replaced the previous disclosure arrangements for people who work with vulnerable groups. Disclosure Scotland recommends that a new disclosure be sought for each new recruit or when someone is moving to another post, where the posts are appropriate for disclosure.

PVG Scheme members should not need to complete a detailed application form every time a disclosure check is required. People who work with vulnerable groups on a regular basis can join the PVG Scheme and, from then on, their membership records will be automatically updated if any new vetting information arises.

NHS employers in Scotland have agreed to pay the PVG membership fees for staff.

For more information, see Disclosure Scotland website.

In Northern Ireland, criminal records disclosures will continue to be managed by AccessNI, and applications for disclosure in Northern Ireland should be requested from AccessNI criminal records checks. You can access this service from the Northern Ireland government services website. The DBS, however, makes barring decisions in relation to Northern Ireland.

Legislation which came into force in 2013 provides limited tax relief for fees paid or reimbursed by an employer (in England and Wales) for the DBS Update Service. It also includes tax relief on fees for DBS disclosure certificates when the individual subscribes, or has already subscribed, to the update service. The Home Office estimates that currently around 80 per cent of DBS checks relate to public sector employees, most of whom will either have the fee paid or reimbursed by their employer.

Employers and other providers of regulated activity can refer a person to the DBS or DS. In certain circumstances, there is a duty to make a referral to the DBS when the worker has been dismissed or moved from working in regulated activity following harm to a child or vulnerable adult, or where there is a risk of harm.

The DBS and DS have no powers to investigate or impose interim bars or suspensions. They do have the power to gather information, but not to call witnesses. The decision-making process is confidential and undertaken without a hearing. 

The barred lists

The barred lists provide details of individuals barred from working with vulnerable groups. A check of the barred lists should only be undertaken if the position being applied for is within 'regulated activity'. 'Regulated activity' includes positions required to have access to children and/or vulnerable adults, in defined circumstances including the provision of health care. 

Referral to the DBS or DS for relevant behaviour, offences, cautions and convictions can result in being placed on a barred list.  

A person who is barred from working with children, vulnerable adults or both in Scotland, will also be barred throughout the rest of the UK and vice versa, as the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme in Scotland will dovetail with the systems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

All persons referred to the DBS or DS now have the right to make representations before being barred in all but the most serious of offences. 

It is possible to appeal (or in some circumstances request a review) of a barring decision, providing certain criteria are met.  Very strict and tight timeframes apply however so you should contact us immediately and as soon as you receive correspondence from DBS Barring and/or any barring decision for advice.

If you have, or might be, referred to the DBS/DS or want to challenge the information contained in your DBS certificate, please contact us once you have received the DBS/DS letter or certificate. 

We would suggest that you contact us as soon as possible upon receiving correspondence from the DBS/DS (or your DBS certificate) or a letter from the police inviting representations regarding a proposed disclosure. Time frames for you to give your response are often very short. 

You must have been in the correct category of membership at the time of the alleged incident in order to access RCN support.

Our Legal team will ask for:

  • the DBS/DS letter, your DBS/DS certificate or any other relevant correspondence, such as a police letter
  • a statement of facts from you; what happened and when?
  • any relevant training certificates that address the concerns that have been raised about you
  • any paperwork relating to workplace investigations, if relevant.

While you wait to hear from our Legal team, please also:

  • consider the names and contact details of anyone who may be able to supply a reference or testimonial for you in relation to your work
  • consider what background information would be useful for the team to know; what was the surrounding context and have you taken any steps to address the concerns?

If as a result of a DBS/DS check you lose your job or are unsuccessful in securing employment, please contact us to discuss your options.

We can also offer telephone counselling, career, welfare or immigration advice.


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Page last updated - 21/06/2024