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Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

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Criminal record checks are available from a central agency, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Organisations that need to complete more than 100 checks a year can register with the DBS to apply for checks themselves. Organisations who will not complete this number of checks can work with an ‘umbrella body’ (which usually charges a fee) to process the checks for them. A list of umbrella bodies is provided on the DBS website.

A DBS check provides information about a volunteer’s criminal history at that point in time. It can help volunteer-involving organisations determine whether a person is a suitable candidate for the role for which they are applying. It forms one part of the wider volunteer safeguarding process. Careful consideration should be given to whether it is necessary to conduct a check or whether other safeguarding measures provide adequate protection. Only certain volunteer roles and activities are eligible for checks, and it is an offence to apply for a DBS check if the role is not eligible for one. DBS checks should not be used simply as a ‘just in case’ box ticking exercise.

Technical information

Not all criminal conviction information needs to be revealed on a disclosure or by a volunteer.

Spent and unspent convictions

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 created the idea of ‘spent’ convictions so ex-offenders had a better chance of finding work. After a period of time most convictions become spent and do not have to be revealed to potential employers. More serious crimes take longer to become spent than less serious crimes.

Convictions for which a person has received a custodial sentence of more than 30 months can never become spent.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 says organisations can ask about spent convictions for some roles in organisations that involve people working with children or vulnerable adults, as well as in the health, pharmacy, legal, banking and financial professions.

This means that unless organisations are recruiting for a role that falls into the Exceptions Order, they can only ask volunteers to reveal unspent convictions. They cannot apply for standard or enhanced DBS disclosures, because these reveal spent convictions and other information that most organisations do not have the right to see.

Standard and Enhanced DBS disclosures reveal both spent and unspent convictions.

Filtering

Some minor offences may be removed from a person’s criminal record, including from enhanced disclosures. These must be the only offence that the person has committed, which resulted in a non-custodial sentence. If a person was under 18 at the time of a criminal conviction, it is ‘filtered’ after six years (or after two years for a caution). For adults it takes 11 years for a conviction to be filtered and 5.5 years for a caution. Some offences, including those of a violent or sexual nature, will never be filtered.

Organisations that ask about convictions or do criminal record checks should make sure they think about rehabilitation of ex-offenders. Convictions should only be taken into account if they are relevant, and any information must be treated in the strictest confidence and the Data Protection Act 1998 (and any subsequent legislation) should be followed. Anyone who receives disclosures from DBS must follow with the DBS code of practice on how the information is used, stored and destroyed.

It is an offence to apply for a check unless the role is eligible for one. You must also tell the volunteer why they are being checked.

There are four levels of check or ‘disclosures’ that are available.

Basic disclosure

DBS England and Wales provides a Basic check service if the individual is living or working in England or Wales. If a person lives in Scotland, they should apply to Disclosure Scotland. If a person lives or works in Northern Ireland, they should apply to AccessNI.

Basic checks provide details of unspent convictions only (after a period of time some convictions can be considered ‘spent’ – that is, they can effectively be ignored after a specified amount of time and do not have to be revealed to an employer). Any volunteers can be checked, as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 says that all employers can ask about unspent convictions.

Organisations should think about whether they need to get these details about volunteers. Generally, people are happy to have criminal record checks if they will be working with children or vulnerable adults, but it may put people off general roles. The cost of a basic disclosure is £25.

Standard disclosure

Standard disclosures contain details of all convictions (spent and unspent) as well as details of any cautions, reprimands or warnings. They are only available for roles listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (as amended).

Enhanced disclosures without a barred list check

Enhanced disclosures contain the same details as standard disclosures, but if there is more information from the local police force that is relevant to the role, this will be included. This extra information is sometimes called ‘soft information’ and can include:

  • Fixed Penalty Notices
  • Penalty Notices for Disorder
  • findings of innocence
  • acquittals
  • cautions and convictions of people that the person lives with
  • unproven allegations.

Enhanced disclosures are only available for roles listed  in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and the purpose of the check must be one of those included in regulation 5A of the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002, which includes considering the applicant’s suitability in the circumstances set out in regulations 5C and 5B.

Enhanced disclosure with a barred list check

These enhanced disclosures include the same information as an enhanced disclosure without a barred list check. In addition, it includes a check of the list of people barred from working with children and/or vulnerable adults depending on the role.

The positions that can be checked at this level  must be eligible for an enhanced disclosure as above and be listed in Regulation 5 or 6 of the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Record) (No 2) Regulations 2009. This includes applications made for the purposes of considering the applicant’s suitability to engage in any activity which is a ‘regulated activity’ in relation to children or vulnerable adults within the meaning Schedule 4 to the SVGA 2006.

What is Regulated Activity?

Regulated Activity is work a person who appears on the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) barred lists is prohibited from doing. This includes work that involves close and unsupervised contact with vulnerable groups, including children. There are two types of Regulated Activity; Regulated Activity relating to Children and Regulated Activity relating to Adults. If the tasks undertaken by a volunteer fall within either of these categories an organisation may request an Enhanced Check and a check against the respective DBS barred list.

It is against the law for organisations to employ someone or allow them to volunteer for this kind of work if they know they’re on the relevant barred list.

The reforms introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 reduced the scope of Regulated Activity, so that some roles that previously needed a barred list check no longer do so. However, those posts taken out of Regulated Activity remain eligible for Enhanced Checks.

a) Is the volunteer engaged in Regulated Activity with Children?

NCVO has a user-friendly guide to help determine whether a volunteer’s role is classified as Regulated Activity relating to Children. This should be read in conjunction with the full guidance from the Department for Education.

Activities that place a volunteer in Regulated Activity with Children include:

  1. teaching, training, instructing, caring for or supervising children if the person is unsupervised, or providing any form of advice or guidance on well-being; moderating a public electronic interactive communication service (e.g. an online forum) which is likely to be used wholly or mainly by children; or driving a vehicle only for children; or
  2. work for a limited range of establishments (‘specified places’), with opportunity for contact with children: for example, schools, children’s homes, childcare premises. Not work by supervised volunteers
  3. relevant personal care, for example washing or dressing; or health care by or supervised by a professional, even if done once.
  4. registered child minding; and foster-carers.

Work under (1) or (2) is Regulated Activity only if done regularly. ‘Regularly’ means carried out by the same person frequently (once a week or more) or on three or more days in a 30-day period (or in some cases overnight).

Activity under (3) and (4) does not have a frequency restriction and is Regulated Activity even if performed only once.

Broadly speaking the new definition of Regulated Activity relating to children no longer includes certain activities done on an irregular or ad-hoc basis or some activities properly supervised by someone who themselves is in Regulated Activity. It is important organisations understand the distinction between supervised and unsupervised by referring to the Department for Education’s guidance on supervision.

A person whose role includes the day to day management or supervision of any person who is engaging in Regulated Activity, is also in Regulated Activity.

b) Is the volunteer engaged in Regulated Activity with Adults?

NCVO has a user-friendly guide to help determine whether a volunteer’s role is classified as Regulated Activity relating to Adults. This should be read in conjunction with the full guidance from the Department for Health.

Activities that place a volunteer in Regulated Activity with Adults:

  1. Healthcare: if they are a regulated health care professional or are acting under the direction or supervision of one (eg doctors, nurses, physiotherapists).
  2. Personal care: assistance with washing and dressing, eating, drinking and toileting or teaching or prompting someone to do one of these tasks.
  3. Social work: provision by a social care worker of social work which is required in connection with any health services or social services.
  4. Assistance with a person’s cash, bills or shopping because of their age, illness or disability.
  5. Assistance with the conduct of an adult’s own affairs, eg lasting or enduring powers of attorney, or deputies appointed under the Mental Health Act.
  6. Conveying adults for reasons of age, illness or disability to, from or between places where they receive healthcare, personal care or social work (excludes friends, family or taxi drivers).

Regulated Activity relating to adults identifies the activities which lead to an adult being considered vulnerable at that particular time. As such the setting of the activity and the personal characteristics of the adult are extraneous. There is no requirement for a person to do the activities a certain number of times before they are engaging in Regulated Activity in relation to adults.

A person whose role includes the day to day management or supervision of any person who is engaging in Regulated Activity with Adults, is also engaged in Regulated Activity with Adults.

Available routes for checking volunteers

When can you carry out criminal record checks?

Organisations can find it challenging to identify when it is appropriate to carry out criminal record checks for volunteers. The DBS now provides a simple tool to help organisations decide whether they are allowed to check roles. Below is an explanation.

Roles eligible for a standard disclosure (ie included within the exceptions order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act) are set out in the DBS guide to eligibility on GOV.UK.

Roles in which the individual will be working or volunteering with children or vulnerable adults usually need an enhanced disclosure. If the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults doing anything on the list of regulated activities in part 1 (Regulated Activity Relating to Children) of schedule 4 or part 2 (Regulated Activity Relating to Vulnerable Adults) of the SVGA 2006, an enhanced disclosure including a check of the barred list can be obtained.

In respect of regulated activities in respect of children only, are always regulated activities, such as the provision of personal care or health care by, or supervised by, a health care professional. However, certain activities are only regulated activities if they are unsupervised and done frequently by the same person.  Roles with activities that would have fallen into this second category but do not meet the ‘frequency test’ within schedule 4 of the SVGA 2006 are eligible for an enhanced disclosure. This means that volunteers do not have to be carrying out the role three or more times in a 30 day period or between 02.00 and 06.00 with the possibility of contact with children before they can be checked. This means that the regularity with which the activity is undertaken is no longer important for an enhanced disclosure without a check of the barred list(s). This latter change comes from The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2013 which amended Regulation 5C of The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002. By way of an example, a volunteer education worker in a museum supervising children but volunteering only occasionally (such as once a week) would be eligible for an enhanced disclosure, whereas a volunteer in a museum shop who was volunteering every day would not be, despite the likely presence of children. The Department for Education also provides guidance on supervision of activities of workers and volunteers with children.

Roles that can be checked at an enhanced disclosure level for work with vulnerable adults are listed in the Regulation 5B of The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 (which was amended by the Schedule of The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) (Amendment) Regulations 2013). For example, a volunteer befriender meeting someone with learning difficulties on a weekly basis could be checked at an enhanced level, while an admin volunteer in the same organisation with access to personal records would not be.

Enhanced disclosures with a barred list check are only available for volunteers or workers in ‘regulated activities’, which are listed in Schedule 4 of the SVGA 2006. These activities were defined with the intent of excluding volunteer roles where possible, so supervised volunteer roles with children are generally not in this category. This is also the case for volunteers working with vulnerable adults – for example, a befriender would only be in a regulated activity if they were managing money, paying bills or carrying out shopping for the beneficiary on a frequent basis. The DBS hosts detailed guidance on this category. Remember that if your volunteers are not in a regulated activity they may still be eligible for an enhanced disclosure.

Staff or volunteers who may train or support young people in the course of the young person’s employment (whether paid or otherwise) do not have to have criminal record checks unless:

  • the young person is under 16 and
  • the individual was recruited or moved into a post specifically to support young volunteers.

(See the SVGA 2006 Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, Schedule 4, paragraph 2, (2)) It’s important only to get disclosures for volunteers that are in the categories above to avoid breaching the of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the Police Act 1997, as well as the DBS code of practice.

The DBS Code of Practice says that disclosures must not be kept for longer than six months, except in exceptional circumstances. In its general guidance it recommends that organisations speak to DBS if they think they may need to keep disclosures for longer. See the section on Data Protection and GDPR on compliance with data protection law.

Important: It is a criminal offence for organisations to allow a volunteer who appears on either of the DBS barred lists in Regulated Activity to engage in Regulated Activity with the group from which they are barred from working. Likewise, it is a criminal offence for a person to seek work, or work in, activities from which they are barred. If you are unsure whether a particular role is eligible for a check you can contact the DBS direct via email or by telephone 0870 909 0811.

When volunteers are involved in the regulated activity identified organisations are eligible to request an enhanced DBS with a barred list check.

How to make a recruitment decision

It can be hard to know what to do if a volunteer discloses a criminal record. Unless they have been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, it is up to the organisation whether they recruit them as a volunteer.

There will be some offences that mean the person is unsuitable for certain work if there will be a safeguarding issue, but it is also important to avoid unnecessarily excluding ex-offenders.

There are many things that should be considered when deciding whether to recruit someone with a criminal record including:

  • their suitability for the role
  • the relevance of the offence
  • the level of risk they pose (to the organisation and those who come into contact with it)
  • the setting in which the volunteering activity will take place.
  • Can the person undertake the task that is required?
  • Do they have the essential skills or experience needed for the role?
  • If not, do they have the ability to develop them?

Suitability for the volunteering role

If the answer is yes, then criminal convictions should be taken into account when thinking about someone’s suitability for the volunteering role.

The relevance of the offence

In some cases, it may be necessary to hold a meeting with the potential volunteer to find out more about how the offence happened. Things to think about  include:

  • whether the conviction is relevant to the volunteering opportunity
  • the nature and seriousness of the offence
  • the circumstances surrounding the offence and the person’s explanation
  • how old the applicant was when the offence happened
  • the length of time since the offence
  • whether the behaviour that created the offence is still an issue
  • whether the reasons for that behaviour are still an issue
  • whether the person has a pattern of offending behaviour
  • whether the person’s circumstances have changed
  • what sort of attitude the person has to the offence – are they sorry and do they take responsibility for it and see the harm they caused?
  • whether the offence has since been decriminalised.

Recruiting volunteers with criminal records

If the answers to most of the questions above are reassuring, then the organisation might decide that the potential volunteer does not pose a risk. References can be taken and referees can be questioned to help with the decision. Organisations like Unlock and Clinks provide further guidance on working with people with criminal convictions.

Managing risk

Organisations working with prisoner and offender volunteers may need a different set of criteria when assessing the risk posed by an individual, particularly organisations that enable serious or high-risk offenders to have volunteering roles.

There will be different levels of risk for people in different stages of the criminal justice system.

Ways to manage risk include:

  • requiring an offender or ex-offender not to have committed an offence for a certain period of time before they can volunteer
  • changing the volunteering role to make the levels of risk lower
  • giving the volunteer extra supervision
  • seeing whether staff or other volunteers need to be aware of any health, safety or personal security issues when working with a particular volunteer or type of offender
  • changing risk management policies and procedures for offender and ex-offender volunteers
  • implementing a policy to reduce the risk of harm by the individual when working with serious offenders
  • thinking that if an offence is spent then the ex-offender should be given the same opportunities as other volunteers.

For some organisations there may be questions about when an offender becomes an ex-offender and whether they can be certain that the person no longer poses a risk of reoffending. The organisation needs to have guidelines about what it will do if an ex-offender does reoffend.

The volunteering setting

Where the volunteering work is done may affect whether to recruit an offender or ex-offender as a volunteer.

For example, for prisoner volunteers, the volunteering may happen in the prison or in the community whilst the prisoner is on day release. If the volunteering has been arranged in a statutory agency such as a prison, the organisation will need to make sure that it follows  the statutory body’s own ways of working or restrictions.

Reporting and the duty to refer

An organisation should promptly report any safeguarding concerns to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in accordance with the relevant local authority’s procedures. The LADO can provide advice and guidance, will liaise with other authorities such as the police, and will monitor the case to ensure that it is dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.

An organisation must make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) in certain circumstances which are explained in more detail below. This ‘duty to refer’ overrides any obligation to withhold information on the grounds of confidentiality. It is important organisations know their responsibilities in this regard. Further information can be found in the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Referral Guidance.

Organisations must refer someone to the DBS if  an employee or volunteer is dismissed or permanently removed (or would have been if the person had not left) from carrying out a Regulated Activity because:

  • they have engaged in ‘relevant conduct’; or
  • there is a risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult; or
  • they have been cautioned or convicted of an offence which means they are automatically barred from working with children and/or vulnerable adults (or automatically barred with the right to make representations).

‘Relevant conduct’ (which is defined in paragraph 4 (in respect of children) and paragraph 10 (in respect of vulnerable adults) of Schedule 3 to the SVGA 2006) is conduct (including by omission) which:

  • endangers or is likely to endanger a child or vulnerable adult
  • if repeated against or in relation to a child or vulnerable adult would endanger or be likely to endanger the child or vulnerable adult
  • involves sexual material relating to children (including possession of such material)
  • involves sexually explicit images depicting violence against a person (including possession of such images)
  • is of a sexual nature involving a child.

An employer is breaking the law if they don’t refer someone to DBS for any of these reasons.

Visit the website to make barring referrals to the DBS.

Appendix A: Regulated Activity relating to children and young people

Important: this chart does not apply to family arrangements and personal non-commercial arrangements (these are not covered by the DBS system) and should be read in conjunction with the full guidance from the Department for Education.

Click the image to view full-size

  1. Supervised means regular supervision by someone who themselves is in Regulated Activity. See the Department for Education's guidance on supervision
  2. Regular means carried out by the same person frequently (once a week or more) or on four or more days in a 30-day period (or in some cases overnight)

Appendix B: Regulated Activity relating to adults from the member info sheet PDF on DBS

Important: this chart does not apply to family arrangements and personal non-commercial arrangements (these are not covered by the DBS system) and should be read in conjunction with the full guidance from the Department for Education.

Click the image to view full-size

Does the role involve any of the following activities?

Note – anyone who provides day-to-day management or supervision of persons involved in these activities are in Regulated Activity

Page last edited May 31, 2019

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