In the wake of several scandals surrounding vetting and criminal records checking for police officers and civilian workers for the Metropolitan Police, London’s City Hall has expressed concerns about the limited vetting powers of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) for new recruits. Currently, the LFB can only conduct basic police checks through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on new staff, while other emergency services in the capital have the authority to carry out enhanced DBS checks, which are more detailed. Concerns about vetting and police checking in the fire service were raised after a highly critical report last year, which labelled the culture in the Fire Brigade as "institutionally misogynist and racist."
Basic DBS Checks
A basic DBS check, which was previously known as a Criminal Records Bureau check or CRB check, looks at someone’s current criminal record only. Asking candidates to apply for a CRB check or basic DBS checks is a standard part of the hiring process for many positions and is not linked to any specific work, or industry sector. A basic DBS check will only reveal unspent convictions, which means that anything in someone’s more distant past might not appear on a certificate. As such, a basic DBS check is usually only taken as a general indication of someone’s character. For other emergency service jobs involving closer contact with members of the public such as in the police or ambulance service, workers require an enhanced DBS check, which looks at the entirety of someone’s criminal past.
Improved Fire Service Vetting
The chair of the London Assembly’s fire, resilience, and emergency planning committee emphasised the need for improved selection and vetting processes for LFB staff, especially those undertaking trusted frontline roles involving dealing directly with members of the public in highly stressful situations. The committee has written to the Minister of State for Crime, Policing, and Fire, urging the government to allow enhanced DBS checks for the London Fire Brigade. Any changes to the level of checking required for fire service staff would have to be government authorised, as standard and enhanced DBS checking is restricted to regulated activity which is defined in law. Companies, whether private or public, cannot choose to run an enhanced DBS check if the work being done does not fit into the definition of regulated activity.
Standard DBS Checking
The Home Office, when approached for comment, mentioned ongoing legislation to allow fire brigades across England and Wales to carry out standard DBS checks, which fall between basic and enhanced checks in the level of detail provided on the certificate. While basic checks provide information on unspent cautions and convictions, standard DBS checks include details on spent convictions, cautions, reprimands, and final warnings, subject to filtering rules. Enhanced disclosure certificates go further, by revealing any other police information or intelligence which is held on the police computer. Any changes to the legislation are likely to affect not just London, but fire services across England and Wales.