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What is a DBS or CRB Check?

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We love our acronyms and abbreviations in the UK. If you’ve seen DBS or CRB on job adverts or in the press, don’t assume that everyone is an expert on the terminology. It’s actually quite complex, so read on for the basics of what it’s all about.


Disclosure and Barring Service

Let’s start with the abbreviations. DBS stands for Disclosure and Barring Service. This is a government body which looks after checking people’s criminal records. About 10 years ago it replaced a body called the Criminal Records Bureau, or CRB. Some people still use the old name, but they are talking about the same thing.


Who Needs a DBS Check

Not everyone needs a DBS check. The system was set up to try to protect vulnerable groups of people in society. This might be children, elderly people, disabled adults, or patients in hospital. We want to be able to trust that the people who are working with our kids or looking after our sick relative are trustworthy and honest. Similarly, we want to know that the people who are given licences to run a pub, drive a taxi or work in our court system are honest too. There is a long list of the types of occupations which require a DBS check, and the level of check they need. Employers are usually up to speed with what jobs need checks, and it should be clearly stated on job advertisements too.


Applying for a DBS Check

Employers might have their own process for guiding staff through the DBS application process. However, the basic steps are the same for every applicant.

  1. Complete the application form – most people do this online, but your employer might ask you to fill in a paper form.
  2. Prove who you are – it’s very important that checks are done on the right people. The second part of the process is to provide documents to show both who you are, and where you live.
  3. Run the checks – once your form has been submitted and checked, your local police force will search to see what details they have about you on their systems.
  4. Certificate – finally, the DBS prints out the certificate and sends it out to you at your home address.


Criminal Records and Recruitment

It’s a common misconception that DBS means that anyone with a criminal record can’t get a job in certain sectors. That’s not true at all. What it does mean is that people with serious convictions, or who have lots of minor conviction can’t get jobs working with vulnerable people. In many cases, minor convictions or cautions won’t be disclosed at all.


Regional Variations

To make things a little more complicated, the Disclosure and Barring Service covers England and Wales only. As Scotland and Northern Ireland have different legal systems, the process is different too. In Scotland, the body is called Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG). In Northern Ireland, disclosures are done by Access NI. Although the names are different, the process is broadly similar.