You hear people about passing and failing things all the time – exams, driving tests, credit checks, and DBS checks. You’ll even see it in job adverts, where recruiters say that appointment is conditional on passing a criminal records check. The problem is that this language isn’t really accurate and paints a false picture of how the system operates in practice.
Although it’s tempting to think of your DBS like a school exam where you’re graded or given a percentage score, that’s not how it works at all. A DBS certificate doesn’t make any recommendations or tell an employer whether they should take you on or not. All a DBS check does is lays out the facts of any convictions on your record which might be relevant to the position you are applying for. After that, it’s up to the recruiter what they do with the information. Even in positions in education or healthcare, there is no law which says people with criminal convictions shouldn’t be employed. The onus is on the employer to demonstrate that they have conducted a proper risk assessment and that their safeguarding policies and processes are working properly.
In the UK, we have fairly strict laws around rehabilitation of offenders. The law is long and complex (and available in full online should you have a desire to plough through it) but the essence of it is that after a certain period of time, your old convictions and cautions become “spent”. Spent, in practical terms, means that you don’t have to declare them when applying for jobs, and that they have been forgotten. The length of time it takes for an offence to be spent depends on both the age of the person at conviction, and the type of offence. Some very serious offences, which involve a longer prison sentence, will never fall into the spent category. Spent convictions are not removed from the police national computer though.
Spent convictions will never show up on a Basic DBS check, as this level of check is only a record of your current criminal cautions and convictions. Anyone can apply for a basic check for any reason. The other two levels of check, called standard and enhanced, have to be obtained in connection with a specific job which falls into the correct category. Standard and enhanced disclosures can involve a closer inspection of your criminal record and will look at offences which in other situations are spent. That doesn’t mean though that the Police will just print off everything they find on a record and pass it to the employer.
Filtering Out Offences
If there are convictions or cautions on your record, the Police officer conducting the DBS check will go through a further process called filtering. Filtering involves looking at the information on someone’s record and then deciding how relevant it is to the position they are applying for. There are a few broad rules to guide this decision. In general terms, the older the conviction, the more likely it is to be disregarded, especially if it’s the only thing on someone’s record. Youth cautions, which are usually for very minor offences, are also filtered out unless they are the start of a longer pattern of offending. At the other end of the scale, crimes involving violence or with a sexual motive are unlikely to be filtered out on a disclosure certificate. Employers will never see what has been filtered out by the police and have no right to find out about this information.
Can an Employer Refuse to Employ Someone With Convictions?
Employers can choose to employ who they like, as long as they are abiding by discrimination legislation. Having criminal convictions isn’t a protected characteristic, so should employers choose not to employ anyone with a criminal record, they are breaking no laws. Most employers approach the issue of ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis, with no hard and fast rules one way or the other. Many may be happy to take on people with a criminal record, as long as they can demonstrate that they have not offended for a certain period of time, and can supply references and have the right experience for the job. Applicants can help their case by being honest, and in interview concentrating on the positives rather than dwelling on what has gone wrong in the past.
There is still a lot of stigma around people who have a criminal record though and finding an employer willing to give you a chance can be tricky. The probation service can help people get back into work after conviction, and there are other independent ex-offenders charities such as Unlock who can offer free and impartial advice for anyone concerned about these issues.