Checking your Santa (and the end of CRB checks)

How can you be sure that the tall dark stranger crossing your threshold at midnight on New Years Eve is exactly who he says he is?

A brief pause for thought amidst the hustle and bustle of your preparations for Christmas. How can you be sure that the tall dark stranger crossing your threshold at midnight on New Years Eve is exactly who he says he is? Or that Santa and his elves in the grotto at your local garden centre are suitable candidates to be handing out gifts to your nearest and dearest? Well, if Santa is a garden centre employee he will almost certainly have undergone some rigorous background checks before commencing his festive duties.

You will probably be familiar with this requirement and with the system of background checks operated by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), an executive agency of the Home Office set up in 2002 to identify candidates who might be unsuitable for certain work, especially that involving children or vulnerable adults. Alongside the CRB, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) took decisions as to whether individuals should be barred from carrying out work with these groups.

However, important changes are afoot. On 1 December 2012, the CRB merged with the ISA to become the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

It is hoped that the new DBS will be a slicker and more streamlined organisation providing a ‘one stop shop’ service to all employers requiring criminal records disclosures and barring checks for employment purposes. In keeping with the Government’s stated aim to cut red tape across its administrative functions, it is envisaged by the Home Office that the formation of the new body will make the checking regime clearer and simpler for the thousands of employers that use it every year. Employers should direct to the DBS both applications for background checks and referrals in relation to potential ‘barring’ of employees from work.

The DBS will continue to carry out the functions of the CRB and ISA but a comprehensive re-branding exercise has taken place including changes to much of the terminology you may be used to. The key changes in terminology are as follows;

  • A Standard CRB check has become a Standard DBS check
  • An Enhanced CRB check has become an Enhanced DBS check
  • An Enhanced CRB check with Barred List Check has become an Enhanced Check for Regulated Activity.

So, what do you need to do in practical terms to adapt to the merger? Firstly of course, you will need to make sure that your staff are familiar with the new terminology and are briefed to recognise any correspondence from or references to the new DBS. It might be worth directing employees to the Home Office Website to read about the changes for themselves. In addition, it is likely that any precedent recruitment materials, applicant information, contracts of employment, marketing materials, websites and internal policies will refer to CRB checks or ISA referrals. Now might be a good time to bring these up to date.

You will also notice that the forms you are required to complete to make a request for background checks or a referral will have changed. The format remains the same as previously but there will be slight changes to the questions asked and, of course, references to the new wording and definitions. You can view a copy of the new referral form the new background checks application form. However, there is no need to head to the shredder just yet. The Home Office will continue to process old CRB Application forms until 28 February 2013. In fact, recent Home Office Guidance specifically requests that employers continue to use their existing stocks of CRB forms for now and think carefully about how many of the new DBS forms they need to order to smooth the transition to the new regime. There will also be minimal changes to the certificate issued on completion of the checks and to any on-line and printed guidance issued by the Home Office.

As well as these largely cosmetic changes there are further substantive changes in the pipeline for the future. It is intended that the DBS will oversee a number of key Government reforms including the introduction of ‘portable’ DBS checks, which could be carried between jobs or functions, eliminating the need for multiple checking and an online ‘update’ service to make it easier for employers to assess individuals. Also on the drawing board is a proposal to allow applicants an independent right of review to challenge the information provided about them. Watch this space in Spring 2013 for further information on these planned developments.

In essence therefore, for the present at least, we are faced with the same package gift-wrapped slightly differently and with a new label. So we can rest assured that, for now, Santas everywhere will be subject to the same level of scrutiny albeit it by a differently named organisation. Please be aware however, that the new regime makes no specific reference to tall dark strangers. If such a visitor seeks admittance this New Year’s Night (and here’s hoping!) your own checks may be advisable.

Louise Singh, Professional Support Lawyer, Louise.singh@weightmans.com

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