Government does not know how background check information is used, report says

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The Government is in the dark over how many people have been stopped from working with children or vulnerable adults as a result of disclosures made in background checks, a watchdog report suggests.

No checks are made on how employers have responded to details provided by a body that processes requests for criminal records and other information, the National Audit Office (NAO) noted.

The Home Office said it has never been the purpose of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to record whether or not people go on to be hired.

Established in 2012, the DBS accesses data held on police databases to help organisations make recruitment decisions.

It is widely used in the public, private and voluntary sector, such as schools and care homes, to check prospective staff and volunteers.

The NAO’s report said: “There are no checks on how employers use information provided by DBS.

“DBS’s role is to process the safeguarding information that the police hold and provide this to employers on request.

“Employers are responsible for complying with legislation when they make employment decisions.

“There is no check on what employers have done with the information provided by DBS.

“Government does not know how many people this information prevented from working with children or vulnerable adults.”

Some four million disclosures were issued in 2016-17, of which 260,000, or 6.1%, contained information that was “potentially relevant to safeguarding”, according to figures cited in the assessment.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “I am concerned that although DBS provides employers with the background checks they need to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, the Government doesn’t check up on how the information is actually used.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The DBS provides criminal record disclosure certificates and it is for the employer to judge the suitability of the applicant for any particular role. 

“It has never been the purpose of the DBS to record whether or not employers hire those with criminal records who are legally entitled to pursue employment.

“As part of their inspections, regulatory bodies such as Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission check that employers have undertaken the appropriate criminal record checks on staff. The NAO makes no recommendation that this system should change.”

Adele Downey, chief executive of the DBS, said since its foundation the service has issued more than 22 million disclosure certificates to help employers make safer recruitment decisions and have barred more than 15,000 people from working with vulnerable groups.

“Ultimately, under current legislation, whatever information a DBS check reveals the decision to employ someone rests with the employer as part of their normal recruitment processes.

“They must carry out their own assessment as to someone’s suitability for a particular role but we strongly believe that without the information provided by the DBS this would be a far greater challenge and potentially put society’s most vulnerable people at an increased risk.”

Elsewhere, the NAO’s report said a planned modernisation of the service is currently running more than three-and-a-half years late.

The spending watchdog also found a new product allowing employers to check any changes to safeguarding information has been used less than expected.

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