MP's and campaigners are calling for the closure of a loophole in legislation which allows convicted sex offenders to change their names, effectively disappearing from Police records. The latest figures show that between 2017 and 2020, 900 offenders who were required to be listed on the sex offenders’ register went missing, with police not knowing their whereabouts.
Currently, there is no law stopping anyone who has been convicted of a crime from changing their name, irrespective of their reasons for doing so. The sex offending legislation does state that anyone on the register who wants to change their name should inform the police, but many fail to do so, making them untraceable. In 2022, there were 1,641 cautions or convictions of people on the sex offending register and the concern is that the name changing loophole covers up the true scale of offending.
Call for Markers on Files
With an official deed poll certificate, an offender can then go on to apply for a passport and driving licence in their new legal identity. With these key identity documents, an offender can then go on to apply for a disclosure certificate. Although offenders are committing a crime by not informing the police about their new identity, in practical terms it is almost impossible for the police to connect the old identity with the new. Because of this difficulty in matching identities, campaigners are calling on the Home Office to introduce a system to put markers on files of sex offenders at the DVLA and Passport Office, to ensure that whenever someone tries to apply for a new passport or driving licence in their new identity, this triggers an automatic report to the police. The Home Office has admitted that it is aware of the problem, and has said it is reviewing internal systems.
DBS Checks and Name Changes
One of the main issues with allowing offenders to change their names and leave their old identities is around DBS checks. Criminal records checks are an essential part of the vetting process for many different occupations, and are especially important for people who are going to be working with children and other vulnerable groups. One of the things which is asked for on the DBS application form is for all previous names. People who have legally changed their names must still give the DBS their previous names to allow comprehensive searches to be carried out.
Should the Home Office decide to go ahead and put digital markers on the files of people at the DVLA and the passport office, this should also trigger a notification to the Disclosure and Barring service too. This would help the DBS identify any previous names someone has gone by, even when these have not been disclosed by the applicant. This is a simple step which would allow the DBS to succeed in its safeguarding mission. There is however unlikely to be any official statement about how the DBS will match current and previous identities to combat further fraud.