A complete guide to criminal record checks


Date: 15 August 2016

A complete guide to criminal record checksDBS stands for the Disclosure and Barring Service; it was formed from the merger of the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) and ISA (Independent Safeguarding Authority) on 1st December 2012, as a result of changes made to the Protection of Freedoms Act (2012).

The DBS conducts criminal record checks on potential employees on behalf of employers across England and Wales. Once employers have this information, it allows them to make informed and safe decisions regarding recruitment, especially important if the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults.

Who needs a DBS Check?

We would recommend that anyone who is in a position of trust undergoes a DBS Check. Criminal record checks are a public service and available to any employer in order to help to make suitable recruitment decisions. Anybody can have a criminal record check, the only rules are related to the level of check they qualify for.

What types of checks are available?

There are three types of criminal record checks: Basic, Standard and Enhanced. Each goes into its own level of detail, and each is more suited for certain industries than others.

Type of check

Basic Disclosure Check

Standard DBS Check

Enhanced DBS Check

Cost (discounted rates available for bulk orders)




Who issues the check?

Disclosure Scotland
(to be taken over by Disclosure and Barring Service 1st January 2017)

Disclosure and Barring Service

Disclosure and Barring Service

Who applies?

Both organisations and individuals can apply.

Organisations only on behalf of the applicant.

Organisations only on behalf of the applicant.

What is disclosed?

Unspent criminal convictions.

Cautions, warnings, reprimands, spent and unspent convictions.

Cautions, warnings, reprimands, spent and unspent convictions.

Can also search 'barred lists'. Also includes local Police records


Basic Check

A Basic Check, also known as a Basic Disclosure, is the simplest check you can apply for. It is often conducted as part of the recruitment process. Individuals can apply for a Basic Check on themselves.

This type of check will reveal all criminal convictions that are considered to be unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974).

An application form can be requested by the individual themselves or by the organisation they are applying to work for. Applicants will be required to provide copies of the following identification:

  • Proof of ID e.g. driving licence or passport
  • Proof of home address e.g. bank statement or utility bill

How long does it take to receive a Basic Check?

It takes between one and two weeks to process your application. Generally we find that Basic Checks are returned to us in one week if there are no queries.

If an individual applies independently, the certificate will be sent to the applicant's home address. However, if a company applies through our online system, the certificate can be posted to the employer.

Standard DBS Check

A Standard DBS Check is more in-depth and will show details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands on a person's criminal record.

An employer can only able to apply for this level of check if they are in certain sectors. These include: Financial services and accountancy, health and social care, legal, contractors on regulated sites (e.g. schools), education, dental practices and childcare. A list of positions where a Standard DBS Check may be required can be found here.

How do I apply for a Standard DBS Check?

For this level of check, employers must apply on behalf of the potential candidate; an individual cannot apply themselves. Once the employer has completed the application and it has been processed, the certificate will be mailed directly to the applicant. They may be required to present this to their employer.

Generally we find that Standard DBS Checks can be returned in as little as 24 hours if there are no queries, whereas some can take a week.

Enhanced DBS Check

An Enhanced DBS Check is the highest level of check available. It will search a person's criminal record for any spent and unspent convictions, warnings, cautions and reprimands. It can also search the Children and Vulnerable Adults Barred Lists. Local police forces also have the opportunity to add any relevant information they hold on the applicant.

The Enhanced DBS Check is recommended for anybody working in a position of trust with children or vulnerable groups. The Enhanced DBS Check allows the option to conduct a search of the Children's and Adult's Barred Lists, to check the applicant isn't barred from working with these groups. This is recommended if the applicant would be carrying out activities such as teaching, caring, training or supervising.

How do I apply for an Enhanced DBS Check?

As this is the highest level of check available, applicants are not able to apply themselves. Employers will submit the application for them, and the certificate will be sent directly to the applicant. The applicant will then be required to show it to their employer.

Although there is no guarantee of certificate turnaround times, we often find that Enhanced DBS Checks can be returned to us in as little as a day, if no queries are raised, with others taking a week.

Can I pass or fail a DBS Check?

There is no pass or fail system when applying for a DBS Check. The check will show any information on a person's criminal record.

A criminal record includes cautions, warnings, reprimands and convictions; but evidence of these does not mean you have "failed". It simply means that your new employer must take into account whether the offence is relevant to the role you are applying for.

Are DBS Checks required by law?

DBS Checks are not required by law. However, many organisations such as OFSTED and the CQC will state that employers must conduct DBS Checks on their staff. These policies have been put in place for their own best practice purposes in order to make suitable hiring decisions.

How long is a DBS Check valid for?

There is no official expiry date on a DBS Check. The information provided on the most recent DBS Check will be accurate from when the check was carried out.

There is no legal requirement stating that checks need to be renewed after a certain amount of time. It is the decision of the employer to decide whether they are satisfied with the DBS Checks you have or if they want to see an up-to-date one. However, many of our clients have a policy where they will renew their staff's DBS Checks once every three years.

Can DBS Checks carry over to different jobs?

There is no legal requirement that states a DBS Check can only be completed for a certain employer. Although the DBS doesn't endorse portability, it is up to the new employer whether they are happy with the one they have been presented with or whether they would prefer to conduct a new check. One factor they may want to consider is whether the level of the existing check is high enough for the new position.

The DBS now runs an Update Service via its website. Applicants can sign up to the Update Service for an annual fee of £13. If you were to move jobs and you already had a DBS Check to your name, rather than your employer applying for a new certificate, the new employer could log on to the Update Service and confirm if there have been any changes to your criminal record. For example, if a person has a clean certificate and the Update Service confirms that nothing has changed, then both the employer and employee know that the clean record still stands. However, if the Update Service states that something has changed, it would prompt the new employer to apply for a brand new check.

Can a DBS Check stop you from being hired?

If a DBS Check shows the applicant has a criminal record, the employer has to make a hiring decision on the relevance of the offence in relation to the role being applied for. They can do this by taking into consideration the nature of the offence, their age when it was committed and what type of record it has left.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act also states that after a certain amount of time, an employer cannot discriminate against someone because of their conviction. After that time has elapsed, an employer has to treat that person the way they would any other individual, regardless of their convictions.

However, if the applicant is found to have any offences against children or vulnerable adults, or is found to be on the Children's Barred List or Adult's Barred List, then it would be illegal for the employer to hire them and place them in a position where they are working with children or vulnerable adults.

Copyright © 2016 Personnel Checks

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.