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DBS Guide for the Self-Employed

Last updated on 28th March 2023

Our DBS guide is for any self-employed people. You’re going to need a DBS check if you are working in certain roles. Current rules in the UK mean that only the lowest level of check is available to individuals. So, how do you get an enhanced DBS check when you’re self-employed?

There are lots of roles where you are going to need an enhanced or standard DBS check to be able to work safely. It might feel like a challenge to organise this as a self-employed person, but it is possible.

We are going to cover:

  • The history and background of DBS checks in the UK
  • What types of DBS checks there are available and when you will need them
  • How to get a DBS check as a self-employed person

This will ensure that you’ve got all the information you need to be able to get your DBS check and start your self-employed career.

What is a DBS check?

A DBS check is a way for your employer to understand if you’ve got any history of convictions or other criminal activity in your past. DBS stands for Disclosure and Barring Service. It’s a government agency that falls under the Home Office. The organisation issues a hard-copy or online certificate with your information.

Before the DBS, there was the CRB, or Criminal Records Bureau. This was an office set up to allow employers to check if the person they were about to take on had a criminal history. The system was based on the National Police Computer and only looked at information about cautions and convictions.

This limitation had tragic consequences. In 2002, as the CRB was being formed, two young girls – Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman – were murdered by the caretaker at their school in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The murderer, Ian Huntley, had slipped through the cracks of the system. He’d had reports of sexual misconduct with minors made against him, but this wasn’t flagged by the system.

In response to the failings to stop Huntley working with young girls, the Bichard Inquiry recommended setting up a system that brought together criminal record checks and a system to share police intelligence such as reports and cautions. From the recommendations, the DBS was formed in December 2012, merging the CRB and Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Now, there are three levels of DBS check that can be carried out by an employer to check that people working with children and vulnerable adults haven’t committed any crime that would make them a risk.

Woman who is self-employed filling in DBS form

How do DBS checks protect employers, children, and vulnerable adults?

A DBS check is an essential part of safeguarding. It checks that there is no history of physically, mentally, or emotionally harming people for people working:

  • In a care setting
  • With children
  • With vulnerable adults.

These checks should prevent those with a record from working with vulnerable people.

The highest level of check, called an enhanced check, looks at barred lists. It will see whether a person has ever committed an offence that means they are barred from having access to children or vulnerable adults.

Doing a DBS check is part of safer recruitment. You can be sure that when you recruit for roles that come into contact with vulnerable people that you’re fulfilling your safeguarding obligations.

Just because someone has a conviction or other type of criminal record, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t employ them. A person with a drink driving conviction, for example, wouldn’t automatically be unsuitable to work in a nursing home.

Do self-employed people need a DBS check?

A self-employed person will need a DBS check if the role they carry out requires it. There is government guidance about the type of roles that would require a DBS check before starting work. There are some that you may find surprising, and lots of roles that could be done on a self-employed basis.

Here are some roles that you may do as a self-employed person for which a standard DBS check will be necessary:

An enhanced DBS check has more information, which we’ll cover in a moment. If you carry out these, or some other roles, whilst self-employed, you’ll need an enhanced check:

  • Providing health care to adults
  • Childminding
  • Website moderator that has children’s content
  • Running a shop that sells National Lottery tickets.

If you’re at all unsure of whether you should have a standard or enhanced DBS check carried out for the self-employed role you undertake, speak to your local authority or professional association for advice.

What are the different types of DBS checks?

Annually, over six million requests for DBS checks are processed by the agency. Not every check is the same. There are three levels, plus an extra check at the highest level, that may be required. Each level gives different information and takes a different amount of time to be returned.

We’ve put together a handy guide for you to illustrate the differences in DBS checks.

Basic DBS Check Standard DBS Check Enhanced DBS Check Enhanced DBS Check with barring lists
What is disclosed? Any convictions or conditional cautions that are unspent Any convictions, cautions, reprimands, and finals warnings, spent or unspent Any convictions, cautions, reprimands, and finals warnings, spent or unspent, plus other local police intelligence held Any convictions, cautions, reprimands, and finals warnings, spent or unspent, plus other local police intelligence held
Who can apply? Your employer can ask you to apply Only responsible organisations Only responsible organisations Only responsible organisations
How long is it valid? There’s no expiry date, but each new employer can ask for one There is no expiry and you can use the Update Service There is no expiry and you can use the Update Service There is no expiry and you can use the Update Service
What job can ask for it? There are no rules about who can ask for this check Any job detailed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and Exceptions Order 1975 Any job detailed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and Exceptions Order 1975 and Police Act Regulations Jobs that require you to work in care or hospital settings, schools, and nurseries
How long should it take? 14 calendar days 21 calendar days 21 calendar days 21 calendar days
Self-employed nanny looking after two young children

What is the DBS Update Service?

To try and make DBS checks quicker for people in jobs that need them, the Update Service has been introduced. Once your DBS check has been completed, you can register online and pay an annual fee of £13 so that any employer can look at your certificate online.

The Update Service only carries over when the check is for the same role that you’ve already be checked for. For example, if you’ve had an enhanced check to be a childminder and then get a job as a teaching assistant, you’d need a new DBS check. However, if you’re a self-employed driver and go on to be a driver for a hospital, you may be able to use the Update Service.

Why can’t a self-employed person get a standard or enhanced DBS check?

The current legislation about DBS checks means that only responsible organisations (ROs) are allowed to apply for a standard or enhanced check. The information in either of these checks is very sensitive and therefore there needs to be a level of accountability when they are requested.

To register with the DBS, a company must meet the following requirements:

  • It must submit more than 100 DBS checks each year.
  • It must be allowed to ask exempted questions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  • It must comply with the DBS code of practice.
  • It must complete registration with the DBS including paying the right fees.

With such stringent regulatory requirements, a self-employed person wouldn’t be able to get registered.

These processes are there to ensure that data isn’t given out to the wrong person, or to an organisation that doesn’t have the right to access the information. It does, however, leave self-employed people rather stuck.

Man using laptop to apply for his DBS check

How can a self-employed person get an enhanced or standard DBS check?

You shouldn’t be put off from being self-employed in fields that require standard or enhanced DBS checks. The rules aren’t there to stop you earning a living, they’re there to protect you and the people you work with.

The work that you want to do whilst self-employed will determine how to get a DBS check. Here are some options that you can consider depending on your circumstances:

  • Approach your professional body to apply on your behalf if you’re an accountant or financial adviser, for example.
  • Speak with your local authority; it’s in charge of local safeguarding and can help you determine if your role requires a standard or enhanced DBS check and help process the check if needed.
  • Discuss the check with the company or organisation you’re contracting with. If you’re running workshops in a care home, the HR department should organise the check for you, as an example.
  • OFSTED can help people in an educational setting, such as childminders, access the right DBS check for their role.
  • Talk to a recruitment consultant in your field of work. The company will be able to help you source a responsible organisation if it’s not registered already.

If you’re moving into self-employment after working for a company for a long time, you may be able to take your current DBS check with you using the Update Service we just covered. This would possibly work if you had been a speech therapist at a clinic and decide to go freelance. However, only ROs registered with the DBS will be able to access your online certificates.

How long does a DBS check last for?

There is not expiry date on a DBS check; technically it lasts forever. We all know that our circumstances can change over the years, so your basic DBS check from five years ago is unlikely to be accepted by an employer.

An employer asking for a basic DBS check can request a fresh one even if your certificate was issued recently. As a self-employed person, if you’re using a DBS check to show you’re trustworthy then consider getting an updated one every year or so.

There were over 1.5 million live subscribers to the DBS Update Service in 2018-19. The service keeps your DBS certificate up to date for the role that you’re currently in. As we’ve discussed above, it only applies when you do the same role in a different company.

You can hold more than one DBS certificate on the system and carry them all over with you. For example, you can have a certificate for working with adults and another for working with children stored.


DBS checks were borne out of tragic circumstances. Even so, they serve an important purpose – to ensure people with a history of causing harm to others don’t work with vulnerable people.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to safeguard those around us. Employers must check whether a standard or enhanced check is needed for the scope of the role you’re working in. As a self-employed person, you must determine for yourself if your role is going to bring you into contact with a vulnerable person.

Once you know that you need to get a DBS check for your self-employed role, you need to find an organisation that will do it for you. To ensure the system is used responsibly, individuals can’t get standard or enhanced checks.

After getting the check you need, through a professional association, your local authority, or the company you will contract with, you should use the DBS Update Service. You’ve put in a lot of effort to get your self-employed DBS check done and this service will hold it on record for others to check when they need it.

Getting an enhanced DBS check for self-employed people can be a little more complicated than for a regular job. It shouldn’t put you off though. The type of jobs that require a DBS check – enhanced or standard – are rewarding roles that work with people in need of help and support.

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About the author

Joanne Rushton

Joanne began her career in customer services in a UK bank before moving to South East Asia to discover the world. After time in Malaysia and Australia, she settled in Hanoi, Vietnam to become an English teacher. She's now a full-time writer covering, travel, education, and technology.

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