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

This guide for RCN members covers the role of the DBS and Disclosure Scotland (DS), the duration and types of checks and how to appeal mistakes on certificates.

The role of the DBS

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 groups, including children. They are responsible for:

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

In Scotland, the checking and barring service is operated by Disclosure Scotland (DS).

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.

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Duration of checks

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 to in accordance with sector-specific guidance. Check your local policy and terms and conditions of your contract as some employers may cover the cost of required periodic checks. Find out more about the DBS Update Service below.

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Types of checks

There are normally three levels of criminal 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 attempted prosecutions that were unsuccessful or alleged behaviour that might be indicative of criminal activity.

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Appealing a mistake on your DBS certificate

After receiving your certificate you can appeal within three months if you believe there’s been one of the following mistakes:

  • the records provided have wrong or irrelevant information on your convictions
  • your personal information, like your name or your employer’s details is incorrect.

You should seek advice from us if you wish to appeal - call 0345 772 6100. Information on the appeal process can be found at Gov.uk.   

An employer or licensing authority can also appeal your DBS check after talking to you first. If there is a mistake in your records, the police may ask for fingerprints to prove your identity.

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RCN support

If there is a possibility that you might be referred to the DBS/DS or want to challenge the information contained in your certificate, please contact us on 0345 772 6100 once you have received the DBS/DS letter/certificate.  You must have been in membership at the time of the alleged incident.

We may contact the DBS on your behalf and ask for your case to be reviewed under the dispute process. The chief officer of the relevant police force may invite you to make representations before making any disclosure on your certificate.  If you receive correspondence from the chief police officer, contact us for support on 0345 772 6100.

Our legal team may require to see:

  • DBS letter/certificate
  • a statement of facts
  • any relevant training certificates
  • testimonials from current employers, (if appropriate).

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 offer telephone counselling, career, welfare or immigration advice.

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DBS checks for the self employed

There are a number of options available if you are self employed:

  • you may wish to register with an agency who can apply for a DBS check on your behalf
  • 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 in the UK.

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

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Removal of certain specified and minor offences

Following a legislative change in May 2013, the DBS now remove certain specified old and minor offences from criminal record certificates. 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’.

Treat 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 Gov.uk.

Under the current filtering rules, if you have more than one conviction all of your convictions will be disclosed and will remain on your certificate.

Whether a matter is not ‘protected’ is beyond the scope of this advice. If you believe that this may apply to you please seek advice from us.

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Referring someone to the DBS or DS

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 (no hearings) and has five decision-making stages. At each stage a decision is required for the case to progress to the next stage. If the criteria for case progression are not met, the case is closed and no further action taken.

The RCN successfully challenged the lawfulness of the automatic barring element of the former Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) scheme in a Judicial Review of the Vetting and Barring scheme.  All persons referred to the DBS or DS now have the right to make representations. Since 2012, it is now possible to appeal and request a review, providing certain criteria are met.   

Find out more about the DBS Update Service and the removal of specified old and minor offences and contact us if you are concerned.

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About the barred list

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 regarded as being in a regulated activity. Regulated activity involves those positions required to have access to children and/or vulnerable adults, in defined circumstances. 

Referral to the DBS or DS for relevant offences, cautions and convictions can result in being placed on a barred list.  A person who is barred from working with children, protected 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 being developed for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Scotland - Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG Scheme)

In February 2011, the Scottish Government introduced the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG Scheme). This 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, on a regular basis, with vulnerable groups can join the PVG Scheme and, from then on, their membership records will be automatically updated if any new vetting information arises. For more information, see Disclosure Scotland website. NHS employers in Scotland have agreed to pay the PVG membership fees for staff. 

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Northern Ireland - AccessNI

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.

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The DBS Update Service

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

Applicants can join online at Gov.uk. 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 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. 

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.

Tax relief on DBS fees

Legislation which came into force on 10 June 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.

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Further information

  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) information is available on the GOV.UK website, where you can find applicant and employer guidance documents. 
  • Criminal record checks - guidance for NHS employers
  • The Disclosure Scotland website provides information on the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG scheme). The PVG scheme operates a subscription-based service that reduces the need for applicants to complete a detailed application form every time their circumstances change. Employers will be able to check to verify that a person is a PVG scheme member and therefore not barred from working with children or protected adults or both.
  • AccessNI: criminal records checks on the nidirect website. There is no equivalent update system currently operating in Northern Ireland.
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Call the RCN on: 03457726100