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DBS Checks in the Spotlight

The UK’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is recognized as one of the most efficient such systems in the developed world, thanks to changes made over the last few years in response to a number of national scandals. As such, the DBS has to adapt to change in order to maintain its own high standards; and in today’s ever changing world, challenges to the vetting procedure arise all the time. Over the last couple of years, circumstances have forced change on the DBS system, and this continues to be the case thanks to the current refugee crisis. All of this has meant a good deal of attention is being paid to how well the UK vets people in positions of responsibility.

Brexit and Right To Work

Although the Brexit process took many years to complete, some of its implications have been working their way through employee recruitment in the past couple of years. Specifically, one of the major changes brought about by leaving the EU is that relating to who has a Right To Work (RTW) in the UK. As a member of the block, it was the case that any EU citizen could work in any member country; this being one of the cornerstones of the Union’s constitution. Since the start of 2020, however, this no longer applies to the UK.

As well as RTW, however, this has led to major changes to the UK’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). This system of criminal record check is subject to strict legal constraints, in order to protect the public, employers and employees alike. As such, one of the basic checks carried out is proof of identity. Although this may sound obvious, establishing who an applicant is requires documentary proof which must qualify against certain criteria.

While Britain was a member of the EU, these documents were often provided by institutions within the European Economic Area (EEA); since Brexit, however, documentary proof has to come from the UK or the Republic of Ireland.

Covid and DBS

Although each criminal record check is carried out against records held on the Police National Computer (PNC), for applicants the process is somewhat more complicated. Along with changes brought in by Brexit, the covid pandemic and subsequent work and travel restrictions meant that the RTW and DBS process became intertwined. As such, the UK government decided to relax the system of document checking, with the proviso that employers could carry out more detailed checks at a later date.

This was especially useful for some workers wanting to work in essential professions like health and care work. It is precisely these professions, however, where enhanced DBS checks are essential. With pressure on hospitals and care homes, allowing employers some leeway in document checking was hailed across the industry as an excellent idea. As time progressed, however, this meant that employers had a backlog of documents to check; something they didn’t have the time or resources to do.

Another part of this process is reference checking. Much like documentary evidence, checking references is resource intensive; with many employees being on furlough, this process became very slow indeed. From an average turnaround time of six days, this extended in some cases to 15 days, leading to pressure from employers to speed up the process. Again, this pleas were heard, and six days is once more reported to be the norm once again.

Ukraine Crisis

With millions of people fleeing war-torn Ukraine, the UK government announced a Homes for Ukraine scheme, whereby UK householders can apply to take in individuals and families. Initially, the Home Secretary had been reluctant to allow such citizens into the country, due to concerns over terrorism. However, this position was reversed following national popular pressure. There were fears voiced on social media, however, that such refugees would be unable to pass the UK’s DBS checking system.

However, this proved not to be the case. The DBS system would indeed prove to be vital, but not for those entering the country. Rather, calls were made to ensure that those acting as hosts themselves had background checks carried out. This was against fears about the prospect of exploitation and modern slavery which might be imposed on desperate people.

As with the DBS system as a whole, this illustrates that wider society has a duty of care as well as a need for self protection. The period since 2020 has shown that, hopefully, DBS is resilient and flexible enough to provide these.

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