The two year long covid pandemic has diverted attention from many things. One of the most important of these for the UK’s economy is the need to re-establish the British workforce post-Brexit. As the first lockdown was introduced a few weeks after the UK eventually left the European Union (at the end of January 2020), all such considerations suddenly seemed irrelevant. Now that the country is trying to get back to business, there are some very important sectors which need workers. Whereas many of these workers would have come from the EU, this is now much more problematic. High demand for key workers, however, must not come at the expense of careful criminal record checks.
DBS Checks for EU Nationals
Criminal record checks for UK nationals are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service, or DBS. These checks are sometimes still referred to as CRB checks, referring to the Criminal Records Bureau, which used to house these records. When the UK was an EU member state, it also had access to the SIS II and ECRIS systems. These are EU-wide records which can be check against any citizen applying for work in an EU country. Since Brexit, however, the UK police can no longer view these records.
The international law enforcement agency Interpol has its own database of criminal records, which cover citizens in 195 countries around the world. When checking an incoming worker’s background, police can access these records in certain circumstances. The Interpol database, however, has no direct link to the UK’s Police National Computer (PNC), which holds British citizens’ criminal records. As such, it is often not as well trusted by UK authorities.
Basic Level DBS Check
Part of the reason Interpol checks are less valued than those by DBS is the level of disclosures available. Within the UK, what can and cannot be disclosed about an individual’s criminal record is strictly proscribed by law. At the lowest, or Basic level, only the individual themselves can apply for disclosure. Basic checks only reveal any unspent convictions held on the PNC; this protects the individual in line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). This makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against any applicant for spent convictions.
A Basic check can be obtained within 48 hours, at a cost of £18. Anyone can ask to see their unspent convictions, although many people obtain these Basic checks at the request of a potential employer. If this is the case, that employer must have stipulated that a such a check would be required when advertising the position in question. When applying for British job, therefore, no EU citizen without UK nationality will be able to access a Basic check.
Standard DBS Checks
Although they sound similar, Basic and Standard DBS checks are very different. Again, the reason for this is the ROA, which stipulates who can ask for what access, and why. As Basic checks can be obtained by the person they relate to, there is no legal restriction as to why they are needed, provided the applicant can prove their identity. Standard checks, however, cannot be applied for by the individual concerned; this is done by a potential employer, or a Responsible Body like a third party checking service.
When the UK left the EU, it is reported that 200,000 EU citizens left the country. Many of these citizens carried out seasonal and / or manual work, which did not require criminal record checks. Some, however, required Standard checks; these apply to any employee in the legal or financial professions. Standard checks disclose all convictions, as well as police warnings, cautions and reprimands. Since Brexit, employers have had to rely on Interpol’s nearest interpretation of these rules.
The highest level of criminal record check in the UK is the Enhanced DBS Check. These are carried out on any applicant for a job in certain professions; particularly the health, teaching and social care sectors. Health and social care are two of the areas where the UK suffers a major shortage of qualified staff; this situation has been exacerbated by Brexit. The NHS published its own figures which showed that, in 2021, the service as a whole was understaffed to the tune of almost 94,000 workers.
Enhanced checks come with details recorded by police at the time of any arrest. Such details can be very valuable when employing people in positions of trust. Once again, since Brexit, Interpol’s best efforts are now needed to try and obtain this level of disclosure.