Moving on: Criminal record checks for employment

This month we’ve written a further article for Insidetime ‘Through the Gate’ Section which provides information on the type of criminal record checks that employers carry out and what is disclosed on them.

As your release date gets closer, understandably your thoughts will probably be turning to employment. For anybody with a criminal record, the most worrying part of the whole recruitment process can be the thought of having a criminal record check.

It’s important to know as much as possible about the types of criminal record checks that an employer may do, as this will usually determine what you’ll need to disclose.

To be clear, there are 3 main types of criminal record check – basic, standard and enhanced. They are all carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and what type of check an employer can do will depend on the job you’re applying for.

What do criminal record checks disclose?

Irrespective of the type of check that’s being carried out, all certificates follow the same format. For each conviction listed the certificate will state the court you were convicted in, the date of conviction, the offence and the sentence or disposal you received. It will only give factual information; it doesn’t give a description of the offence or the circumstances surrounding it – that’s down to you to do as part of your disclosure to an employer.

Basic disclosure

Approximately 28% of all criminal record checks carried out are basic. They are commonly used for jobs which are covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and include office work, jobs in the hospitality industry or retail and many government or civil service roles. A basic certificate will only disclose unspent convictions.

On leaving prison your conviction will be deemed unspent and will appear on your basic disclosure certificate. However, unless you’ve received a prison sentence of over 4 years, then your conviction will be spent at some time in the future. Once spent, it will no longer appear on your basic certificate and you can answer “No” if an employer asks you about unspent convictions.

For many people this will be a significant stage in their journey through the criminal justice system; and for anybody who has found it difficult to find a job due to their conviction, the world of work will open up.

Unlike the other criminal record checks, you can apply online for your own basic check. This can be a really good way of seeing exactly what an employer will see.

Standard and enhanced disclosures

Standard and enhanced checks are used by employers recruiting for certain positions which are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

Standard checks are carried out for those wishing to work in the security industry or as accountants. Enhanced checks are usually for roles which will have frequent and intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults, for example teachers, nurses or social workers.

Standard and enhanced checks disclose both spent and unspent convictions and cautions. Enhanced disclosures will also include any relevant information which is held by local police, for example allegations or acquittals. As part of the enhanced disclosure a check of the barred list will also be carried out to ascertain whether you’ve been disqualified from working with certain groups.

Will I be refused a job if my certificate isn’t ‘clean’?

It’s really important to remember that just having information disclosed on your certificate doesn’t mean that an employer won’t employ you. Criminal record checks can be used by employers to verify information you’ve already disclosed or to provide them with a formal record of your conviction.

However, if you fail to disclose when asked and your conviction subsequently appears on your criminal record certificate, then employers will often assume that you’ve been dishonest (even if it’s a genuine mistake). When this happens, you may find your job offer being withdrawn or you get sacked if you’ve already started work.

What should I do if I think an employer is carrying out the wrong level of criminal record check?

The way legislation is structured means that all job roles are eligible for a basic check but will only be eligible for a standard or enhanced if it meets certain requirements. If you don’t feel that an employer is entitled to apply for a standard or enhanced check then the DBS has a process to challenge this. However, it’s only worth challenging if you have spent convictions. If all your convictions are unspent, even if you are successful in your challenge, the employer would still be entitled to carry out a basic check and your unspent convictions would still come to light.

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Debbie Sadler