Ultimate Guide to DBS Checks

 (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Disclosure and Barring Service checks, or DBS checks as they are known to most people, are needed for a wide range of jobs. Despite so many people having a check or going through the process every year, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the system in general, the levels of checks and who actually needs one. If you’re a bit confused about the whole thing then here’s our straightforward, ultimate guide to Disclosure and Barring Service Checks.

DBS, PVG, CRB Check – what does it all mean?

Part of the reason that there’s so much confusion is that there is lots of jargon to get your head around. Terminology changes through the years, with some bodies adopting new names entirely. A bit of jargon is inevitable, so let’s start by running through some of the most common abbreviations and jargon terms. 

  • DBS – Disclosure and Barring Service. This is the name of the official government body which runs the system. 

  • CRB – Criminal Records Bureau. This is the previous name of the criminal records checking agency, which no longer exists. 

  • PVG – Protecting Vulnerable Groups. The equivalent of a DBS check for people living in Scotland. 

  • AccessNI – the equivalent body for criminal checks in Northern Ireland. 

  • PNC – Police National Computer. The large database where the police store information about arrests, charges and cautions. 

  • Basic – the least detailed level of DBS check.

  • Standard – the middle level of checking. 

  • Enhanced – the most detailed level of check. 

  • Barring – formal lists which are held of people legally banned from taking up specific jobs.

Who Needs a DBS Check Anyway?

The whole idea behind criminal records checks is to give employers a better idea of the background of people working for them. Most people think that criminal records checks are only needed for people working with children, but that isn’t the case. There is in fact a wide range of work which is defined as “regulated activity” – government jargon meaning “a job which needs a DBS check”. Although some of these jobs are indeed working in schools or nurseries, regulated activity also covers a wide range of financial services, legal and healthcare positions too. A bank, for example, might want to make sure that the new teller who is spending his day handling cash doesn’t have a long history of convictions for fraud or theft. 

Basic DBS Check

As well as checks for people undertaking regulated activity, there is another basic sort of check which anyone can ask for. All a basic DBS certificate will show is someone’s current criminal record. Under the UK’s rehabilitation law, certain crimes or convictions don’t have to be mentioned to employers after a certain period of time. These are what’s known as spent convictions. The length of time it will take a conviction to be spent will depend on two main factors:

  • Your age at the time of the crime/caution

  • The length of sentence. 

In general terms, convictions and cautions received under the age of 18 are spent much more quickly than cautions or convictions registered against an older person. Also, the longer the sentence, the longer the period until it is considered spent. For example, a community service order given to someone under the age of 18 is spent six months after the community service is completed. At the other end of the scale, if you were sentenced to a prison term of over 4 years as an adult, that will never be spent. 

A basic disclosure certificate will only show convictions and cautions which aren’t spent in terms of Rehabilitation. Anyone can ask for a basic DBS check for an employee, or you can even apply for your own certificate as a type of character reference. 

Standard DBS Check

The “middle” level of DBS certificate is a standard check. This sort of check can only be carried out for people who are going to be working in one of the qualifying jobs. It’s up to employers to work out whether they are employing people in roles which fall into regulated activity. Usually the requirement for a DBS check will be mentioned in the job advertisement and the checking process starts after you’ve been offered a job. It’s not practical to check all applicants for a position.