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All about the Importance of Background Checks

Last updated on 20th December 2023

When we think of background checks, most people think we’re referring to DBS checks – that is checks conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service, the government agency responsible for checking an individual’s criminal record history. Though these are one aspect of background checks, they’re not the only type of check.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about background checks, including DBS checks, their importance, when they’re needed, what information they contain and what benefits there are to carrying out these checks.

What is a background check?

Essentially, a background check involves examining an individual’s personal, educational, professional and criminal history. The typical place where a background check is usually undertaken is through an employer or other organisation before they make decisions on employment, volunteer placements, or even things like rental agreements.

Depending on the type of information needed, a background check will use various sources to collect information. This might be public records, databases, credit reports or references. The purpose of this is usually to assess the individual’s credibility, character and qualifications (where relevant) to ensure they meet the standards and requirements as set out by the requesting party.

The specific elements of a background check will vary depending on the purpose of the check and the extent of it. The check might look at references (for employment, tenancy agreements, etc.), educational credentials (qualifications), employment history, credit history and driving records (if driving is a requirement, for example).

Overall, background checks are a crucial part of decision-making regarding a person’s suitability for a particular role, position or engagement. They promote safety, security and trust.

Employer doing background checks

What is a DBS check?

A DBS check provides information about an individual’s criminal record history or, in some cases, confirms that the person has no relevant convictions. According to official statistics, over 1 million enhanced DBS checks are carried out per quarter.

The check is carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service and involves accessing various databases and records to gather information.

There are four types of DBS checks:

1. A Basic DBS Check.

2. A Standard DBS Check.

3. An Enhanced DBS Check – excluding the barred list check.

4. An Enhanced DBS Check – included the barred list check.

The Basic DBS Check

This is the most basic level of check and it provides details of any unspent convictions an individual has. It is available to anyone and can be requested for personal reasons or by employers for roles that don’t involve working with vulnerable people.

The Standard DBS Check

The standard DBS check includes information about unspent convictions, spent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings. It doesn’t include things like fixed penalty notices or penalty notices for disorder.

This type of check is usually requested for positions that involve regular contact with vulnerable individuals, such as for those working in healthcare settings or social services.

Enhanced DBS Checks

There are two types of enhanced DBS checks. One that includes checking the Children’s or Adults’ Barred Lists. Both types check unspent and spent convictions, warnings, reprimands and cautions and other relevant police information. The ‘other relevant police information’ includes things like fixed penalty notices (FPNs), penalty notices for disorder (PNDs), findings of innocence, acquittals, cautions and convictions of people in the same household and other police intelligence like allegations.

The highest level of DBS check also includes checking the Children’s Barred List and Adults’ Barred List. These lists have been created to protect vulnerable adults and children.

These checks are conducted for roles that involve close and unsupervised contact with vulnerable populations, including children and adults.

DBS checks can only be requested by eligible organisations and individuals who have a legal right to access the information. The results of such checks help organisations make informed decisions about the suitability of individuals for specific roles, particularly those involving positions of trust and responsibility.

Here is our guide to DBS checks.

Who would need to do a background check?

Background checks are important for various situations.

Here are some examples of when background checks are required:

  • Employers: Almost all employers, regardless of size or industry, check their potential employees’ backgrounds. These checks are usually in the form of requesting to see examination certificates and getting references from existing and past employers.
  • Industries with regulations: Certain sectors require more substantial background checks. For example, in the education sector, schools, colleges and universities often conduct comprehensive background checks on teachers, administrators and other staff members to ensure the safety and well-being of students. Similarly, healthcare professionals and those who work in financial institutions and government agencies may have stringent background check procedures due to the sensitivity of the information they handle and the nature of their work.
  • Volunteer organisations: These organisations often involve vulnerable populations like children, the elderly or those with disabilities. As such, the volunteers need background checks to ensure the safety of those they serve.
  • Adoption and foster care agencies: Background checks are essential for these processes in order to assess the suitability of potential foster care providers and adoptive parents. These background checks will help determine if individuals have a history of child abuse, neglect or other factors that may affect their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children.
  • Security and law enforcement: Background checks are essential for those seeking employment in security firms and law enforcement agencies as well as employment that has positions with access to sensitive information.
  • Professional licensing boards: Professionals that require a licence like lawyers and doctors often need to have background checks as a part of their licence issuing procedures. These checks help to maintain the integrity and trustworthiness of professionals within their respective fields.
Background check for adoption

Why are background checks important?

Background checks are vital. They hold specific importance following the tragic murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 by a school caretaker. This devastating event exposed the need for tighter background check protocols. As a result, the United Kingdom took significant steps to enhance its screening procedures.

Background checks remain vital for numerous reasons. They serve as a means to ensure the safety of individuals in a range of areas like education, healthcare and law enforcement. By conducting thorough screenings, organisations can identify potential risks and make informed decisions about hiring employees or approving individuals for sensitive roles.

Besides DBS checks, other background checks like references and qualifications are important for any role to ensure that the people employed are who they say they are. These background checks are also a legal requirement in certain circumstances.

When would a background check take place?

Typically, background checks take place at various stages, depending on the specific context.

Here are some examples of when background checks are commonly conducted:

  • Pre-employment: Background checks are frequently conducted during the pre-employment stage. After a candidate has gone through the initial screening process, including interviews and assessments, and is deemed a potential fit for the position, employers often initiate a background check. This allows organisations to verify the information and ensure the candidate’s qualifications, experience and character align with the requirements of the role.
  • Job offer: In some cases, a job offer (a teaching role, for example) will be conditional until there has been a satisfactory background check. If any concerning information is found during the check, it may impact the final decision regarding the job offer.
  • Voluntary work: Organisations that rely on volunteers, particularly those working with vulnerable populations, may conduct background checks as a part of the screening process. This helps to ensure the safety of those they serve and to maintain the reputation of the organisation.
  • Rental applications: Property management companies or landlords might perform background checks on potential tenants to assess their creditworthiness and rental history. This helps landlords to decide on lease agreements to mitigate risks associated with non-payment and property damage, for example.

What information is viewed in a background check?

Depending on the type of background check, various types of information can be viewed in order to gather a comprehensive picture of an individual’s background and suitability.

Here are some common elements of a background check:

  • Employment history: Background checks often include verification of an individual’s employment history. This helps confirm the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate, including job titles, dates of employment, and responsibilities. It ensures that the candidate’s work experience aligns with their CV or job application form.
  • Criminal records: One of the critical components of a background check is the examination of an individual’s criminal history. This involves searching databases and records to identify any past convictions, arrests or pending charges. The purpose is to assess potential risks and determine whether the individual has a history of criminal behaviour that may impact their suitability for a particular role or responsibility.
  • Driving records: Background checks for positions that involve driving or operating vehicles often include a review of the candidate’s driving records. This provides insights into the individual’s driving history, such as traffic violations, accidents and licence status. Employers or organisations may consider this information to evaluate the candidate’s ability to meet job requirements that involve driving or operating vehicles safely.
  • Education and credential verification: Background checks may involve verifying an individual’s educational credentials, such as degrees, certifications or diplomas. This helps ensure that the candidate has the necessary qualifications and credentials claimed for the position. Institutions and authorities may be contacted to verify the authenticity of the educational background.
  • Credit history: In some cases, background checks may include a review of an individual’s credit history. This is particularly relevant for positions that involve financial responsibilities or require handling sensitive financial information. The credit check provides insights into an individual’s financial stability, payment history and potential risk factors.
  • Reference checks: Background checks often include contacting provided references to gather insights and feedback about the individual’s character, work ethic and performance. References may be supervisors, colleagues or other individuals who can provide valuable information about the candidate’s professional qualities.
Checking employment history

Benefits of background checks when hiring

Background checks offer numerous benefits to employers when it comes to making informed hiring decisions.

Here are some key advantages of conducting background checks during the hiring process:

  • Enhanced Hiring Decisions
    Background checks provide employers with valuable information. This allows them to make informed hiring decisions as they examine an individual’s employment history, education and qualifications. This reduces the risk of hiring individuals who may not possess the necessary knowledge, skills or experience required for the role.
  • Risk Mitigation
    Background checks help to mitigate potential risks associated with negligent hiring. By conducting thorough screenings, employers can identify any past criminal activity, including convictions or arrests, that may pose a risk to the workplace or other employees. This promotes a safer work environment and reduces the chances of potential legal liability.
  • Improved Workplace Safety
    Background checks contribute to ensuring a safe and secure workplace environment. By uncovering past risky behaviours like violence or substance abuse, employers can take proactive measures to protect their employees and minimise potential workplace incidents.
  • Protection of Company Reputation
    Background checks help safeguard the reputation of a company and its brand image by ensuring that individuals with integrity and good character are brought on board. This fosters trust among customers, clients and stakeholders.
  • Compliance with Regulations
    Conducting background checks helps organisations comply with legal requirements. Certain industries like healthcare and education have specific mandates for employee background screenings.
  • Reduction in Employee Turnover
    Background checks contribute to a reduction in employee turnover. This is because by verifying employment history and qualifications, employers can make more accurate hiring decisions, leading to the selection of candidates who are a better fit for the position. This increases the likelihood of employee satisfaction and longevity within the organisation.

Final thoughts on background checks

Overall, background checks, including employment history, references, DBS checks, and credit checks, play a pivotal role in hiring processes, rental agreements, and adoption or foster care applications among others.

They provide valuable insights to help aid informed decisions, mitigate risks, ensure safety, and protect reputations. They are also necessary in certain sectors to comply with regulations. All parts of background checks (employment history, references, DBS, credit checks) have their part to play in protecting stakeholders, service users, businesses and reputations.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.

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