Most of us have heard of disclosure checks, or the system which went before it, the Criminal Record Bureau checks. This is the type of police check you need for a huge range of jobs involving positions of responsibility, or working with children and vulnerable groups. There’s so much publicity about this sort of checks, and the consequence of not having one, that it’s easy to think that this is the only sort of police check around. However, there’s another sort of police record check which is available through a body called ACRO. There are important differences between the system, but some similarities too.
Why would I need an ACRO certificate?
The Criminal Records Office, or ACRO, has access to the same information as the DBS service. However, you can’t use a certificate issued by ACRO in connection with a job application. The main function of ACRO is to issue police certificates as part of a visa application process. Police checks are not needed for people going abroad on business, or on a short holiday. But if you are thinking of emigrating on a permanent basis to Canada, Australia or the United States, providing a police certificate is an essential part of the application process.
What does an ACRO certificate show?
An ACRO certificate follows similar rules about disregarding very old convictions and cautions in the same way as filtering applies to a DBS certificate. They call this process the “stepping down model”. There is lots of information on the ACRO website about how this works and what criteria they use to decide when an offence can be disregarded. In a similar way to DBS checks, offences which are very serious and resulted in a prison sentence will never be left off. The periods for offences to be forgotten are longer than in standard rehabilitation legislation as it applies to a basic DBS certificate. Some of the time periods can be as long as 30 years, and terms of 10 or 12 years generally apply to lesser offences which are spent in two or three years under standard rehabilitation legislation.
ACRO certificates show convictions from across the UK. If you’ve committed an offence in other parts of the world and information has been sent to the UK police about it, that might show on your ACRO certificate too.
It’s important to remember that having something turn up on your ACRO certificate won’t automatically mean you can’t make your dream of moving to Australia come true. However, ACRO simply provides the information and won’t be able to advise in any way on your chances of being allowed to make the move or not. That will be down to the immigration authorities in the countries concerned.
Applying for an ACRO Certificate
The easiest way of getting an ACRO certificate is by going online and applying through the ACRO website. There are similarities to the DBS application process in that there is a form to complete, and you’ll need to give proof of your identity too. When applying for an ACRO certificate you will need:
- Something to prove your current address. ACRO lists all of the documents which can be accepted on their application from. The list includes things such as driving licence, credit card statement, utility bill or a letter from a government department.
- Passport photographs – you must upload a passport style photo along with your application. This doesn’t have to be a professional photograph. Selfies taken on your phone are acceptable, as long as they come up to passport standards in terms of lighting, not wearing glasses, face fully visible etc.
- Copies of your passport – Applicants must upload colour copies of passport showing the page with the details, your signature and photograph. You can do this by scanning the documents or just by taking a clear picture of them with your phone or tablet.
- Additional documents – if you have any other documents to send such as power of attorney or other correspondence these should be submitted with the application, not sent later.
- Email address – ACRO primarily uses email to get in touch with you, so you will need a valid email address to send and receive messages. A free email provider such as Gmail is fine.
- Address history – ACRO asks for a full address history going back 10 years, not the 5 years which is standard for a DBS certificate. Full address means giving flat numbers and full postcodes, as well as the months and years you moved in and out of each property.
- Endorser – You must get your application endorsed by someone in a position of authority before sending. This is the same type of process as getting a passport application countersigned. The endorser can’t be a family member. There is a list of acceptable occupations for endorsers on the ACRO website.
- National Insurance and Driving Licence numbers – only if applicable. Giving these numbers will make it easier to track you on the system.
Payment and Turnaround Times
There is only one level of ACRO police certificate and the application fee is currently £45 per person. This is liable to rise over time in line with inflation. A standard ACRO application takes 10 working days to process. This is assuming that you have managed to scan or upload your documents; if you’re using the old school method of sending colour copies in the post, then that 10 days will start from when your application is received, not from when you post it. If you’re in a real hurry to get your ACRO returned, there is also the option of paying extra for a premium service which turns around certificates in 2 working days. This should have the certificate back to you in under a week, even including the time for postage.
If you are getting your ACRO certificate in connection with a visa application, make sure you understand the rules about validity. Some countries may only accept an ACRO certificate issued recently, so don’t get ahead of yourself and apply too soon.