What is a DBS check?

What is a DBS check?

DBS checks aren’t always just a ‘nice-to-have’ when it comes to hiring new employees - in some jobs, this type of check is a legal requirement, particularly when the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults.

What exactly is a DBS, how does it differ from a CRB and what does the process involve? If you want the answers to such questions, you’re in the right place! Read on to find out everything you need to know about DBS checks as an employer.

What does DBS stand for?

DBS stands for Disclosure and Barring Service. The DBS communicates with various bodies, including police forces, the Criminal Records Office (ACRO) and responsible organisations or bodies that are registered to submit DBS checks.

A DBS check tells you information about an employee, including criminal convictions, cautions and more. As an employer, you can decide that a DBS check is needed for any job role in your business, but generally, employers only ask for a check to be carried out if the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults, including disabled people and patients in a hospital. The checks are there to help you as an employer make a safer recruitment decision and ensure that vulnerable people and children are being cared for by trustworthy individuals.

It is important to note that there are different rules for undergoing a criminal record check in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is the difference between a DBS and CRB?

DBS checks were previously known as CRB checks (Criminal Records Bureau), but the Protection of Freedoms Act in 2012 brought about the name change. This is because the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) and the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) merged to form the DBS.

Sometimes DBS checks are still referred to as CRBs, however they are the same thing.

What are the types of DBS checks?

There are four types of DBS check - basic, standard, enhanced and enhanced with list checks. The type that a person needs depends on the job they are applying for.

Basic DBS checks

A basic DBS check can be used for any purpose and will supply information about an individual regarding their unspent convictions or cautions. This is the only type of check that a person can apply for themselves, without requiring a separate organisation and they can complete their application online.

Standard DBS checks

A standard DBS check is one step up from the basic version. It provides additional information such as both spent and unspent convictions, cautions and final warnings. In order to appear in the check, these things must appear on the Police National Computer.

An individual cannot apply for this type of DBS themselves ‒ they will need a business or employer to provide them with the application, which is then sent to the DBS via the employer.

Enhanced DBS checks

An enhanced DBS check is the one you should request for your employees when working with children or vulnerable adults. In these instances, a standard or basic check may not be enough, and it’s important that you safeguard such people and ensure your employees are trustworthy.

All of the same information will be included as in a standard check, in addition to any non-conviction data held by local police forces that they believe may be relevant to the job role.

Enhanced DBS checks with list checks

Finally, the enhanced DBS check with additional list checks includes everything as above, but will also investigate whether the individual is mentioned on the DBS’ barred lists. A barred list contains the names of people that are banned from working with children or vulnerable adults, and this step could be an excellent precaution to take should the job involve working in a school or hospital.

How much does each type of check cost?

The basic and standard DBS checks cost £23, and the enhanced versions cost £40*. Generally, this cost will be covered by you, the employer, as it’s usually the case that you’re requesting this information or it is a legal requirement.

DBS checks on volunteers are free of charge. The DBS states that a volunteer is “any person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party and not a close relative”. This means, for instance, a son or daughter who looks after a family member unpaid won’t qualify for a free DBS, but an unpaid carer of a non-family member would. You can find more information about volunteer applications here.

What does the DBS process involve?

A person can apply for a basic DBS check themselves, but for the other types of checks, an employer must have first requested the information.

Once you’ve offered someone a job, you can require that they have a DBS check. You must provide them with the relevant forms to fill in, and you will need to tell them the reasons why they are being checked.

The employee can fill in the form and return it to you with the necessary documents that prove their identity. With this information, you can submit the form to the DBS and they will perform all the relevant checks for you. Once the checks have been completed, the applicant will be sent a certificate directly. You need to then ask the applicant to see their certificate.

How long does a DBS check take?

A basic DBS check takes the shortest amount of time, and the process should be complete in around two weeks. However, standard and enhanced checks may take longer, and you should allow up to eight weeks for the employee to receive their certificate.

The good news is the majority of DBSs are processed in two to four weeks. The DBS aims for:

  • 75% of all disclosures to be issued within 14 days from receipt
  • 90% of all disclosures to be issued within 28 days from receipt
  • 99% of all disclosures to be issued within 60 days from receipt

DBS checks for charities and businesses

It's likely that, if you work with children or vulnerable people, your business or charity insurance policy will state that your organisation must carry out DBS checks on all members of staff. This is to ensure that suitable people are working in positions of trust.

It is your decision when it comes to updating a DBS check, as they have no official expiry date. Any information gathered is accurate only at the time the check was completed and subsequent convictions will not be listed.

Always remember that proper safeguarding goes far wider than DBS checks. It also involves how you induct, support and train your workforce. If you are a charity and would like to learn more, read our quick guide to training volunteers.


*Prices of DBS checks stated are correct as of December 2021. These figures may be subject to change.


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