Guidelines on criminal records checks and employing people with a criminal conviction


1. Background

1.1       For all vacancies the University advertises, the application process includes declaring any ‘unspent’ criminal convictions as defined in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. However, where the post involves regulated activity or otherwise requires a criminal records check (see section 3 below), the University is entitled to make enquiries about the applicant’s entire criminal record and will seek a disclosure through the Disclosure and Barring Service (“DBS”) [1] to do this. Any role that involves regulated activity will also require a check of the DBS Barred Lists (which lists people barred from working within regulated activity).  It is a criminal offence for the University to knowingly employ a barred individual to undertake regulated activity. 

1.2       Guidance on the DBS disclosure process is outlined in sections 3. and 4. below.

1.3       Having a criminal record does not necessarily preclude an individual from working at the University of Bristol. This will depend on the nature of the job, the outcome of any DBS disclosure and/or check of the DBS Barred Lists, and/or the circumstances and background of the offences. The University encourages self-disclosure by applicants.

1.4       For the majority of University posts DBS disclosure will not be required and applicants are only required to declare unspent criminal convictions. The procedure for considering any declared unspent convictions is outlined in section 4 below.

1.5       The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was introduced to ensure that ex-offenders who have not re-offended for a period of time since the date of their conviction are not discriminated against when applying for jobs. The Act enables ex-offenders to ‘wipe the slate clean’ of their criminal record, except for the most serious offences, after a specified time (i.e. the conviction becomes 'spent'). The Act defines time periods after which different types of convictions become spent. It also makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an ex-offender on the grounds of a spent conviction.

1.6       These guidelines apply irrespective of how the University becomes aware of an applicant’s criminal convictions, and therefore includes self-disclosure by the applicant, DBS disclosure and checks of the DBS Barred Lists.

[1] The DBS is an executive agency of the Home Office and its primary purpose is to help employers make safer recruitment decisions and appointments. By conducting checks and providing details of criminal records and other information (i.e. the disclosure report), the DBS will help identify applicants who may be unsuitable for certain work and positions, especially those involving contact with children or other vulnerable groups.


2. Confidentiality

2.1       Information provided in a DBS disclosure report must be kept confidential and on a need-to-know basis. Such information will be handled in accordance with the University’s Policy statement on the secure storage, handling, use, retention and disposal of disclosures and disclosure Information. Any other information regarding offences must be kept securely and in accordance with the University’s Guidelines on the Data Protection Act.

2.2       Applicants need to feel confident that information about their convictions will not be disclosed to colleagues unless there is a specific reason for doing so. You should ensure that when you appoint an individual with a conviction, they are advised as to whom within the organisation knows of their conviction and the reasons why the information has been disclosed.


3. Assessing whether a post requires a criminal records check

3.1      The University is only permitted and required to carry out a DBS check for roles engaged in regulated activity or otherwise identified in relevant legislation, as prescribed in the DBS guidance on types of criminal records check. Human Resources has worked with schools and departments to identify a list of the types of roles across the University that require a DBS check, cross-checked with the DBS guidance above. Such posts are formally flagged as requiring a DBS check as part of the recruitment process.

3.2     Where a role has some limited, short-term or supervised contact with children or adults in a vulnerable situation (for instance work experience placements, summer schools, undertaking normal teaching duties or carrying out standard out-reach activities) this is unlikely to require a DBS check.

3.3      DBS disclosure for University clinical staff who have an honorary contract with an NHS Trust for their clinical responsibilities will be obtained by the Trust rather than the University.

3.4     If an individual requires an NHS Research Passport (which includes a DBS check) to undertake research involving the NHS, guidance can be found on the Research and Enterprise Development (RED) web site.

3.5      Further advice on the circumstances in which a DBS check may be required can be obtained from the HR Resourcing Manager.


4. The criminal records check process

4.1       Advertising the post and the selection process

4.1.1   Where the University is recruiting to a post that requires a DBS check (see section 3 above), the further particulars will confirm that a satisfactory DBS disclosure will be a requirement of the appointment.

4.1.2   As with all University vacancies, applicants are required to self-disclose any unspent convictions. However, as outlined in section 5.2 above, this information will not be considered as part of the selection process.

4.1.3   When the best candidate for the post has been identified, the verbal and written offer of appointment will be made subject to a satisfactory DBS disclosure report and check of the DBS Barred Lists.

4.2       The DBS disclosure process

4.2.1   Applications for a disclosure can only be made by DBS registered bodies and the University has this designation. A designated DBS countersignatory must authorise the disclosure application and there are a number of countersignatories in Human Resources.

4.2.2   The selected candidate will be sent a DBS disclosure application form by Human Resources with the formal offer of appointment. The completed disclosure form and associated ID documentation must be verified in person. This can either be done by the line manager or, more usually, the individual making an appointment bringing the documents into Human Resources to be checked by a countersignatory. The countersignatory will check the form is fully completed, confirm which type of disclosure is required (i.e. enhanced with a DBS lists check if the role involves Regulated Activity), countersign and forward to the DBS.

4.2.3   The DBS will then process the application and return a disclosure report to the individual, who will need to present this to Human Resources to ensure that they are able to carry out the role.

4.2.4   The DBS charge a fee for producing a disclosure report, which is paid for by the University from a central budget held by Human Resources.

4.2.5   The disclosure report provides information on spent and unspent convictions, plus any cautions, reprimands and final warnings; as well as confirmation as to whether the individual is barred from working in Regulated Activity.

4.2.6   There is no official expiry date for a criminal record check issued by the DBS, and the University does not therefore routinely require repeat checks for current staff. There may be sector or profession specific requirements for fresh checks at regular intervals.  

4.2.7   Wherever possible the DBS disclosure should be obtained prior to the individual commencing employment, but sometimes this may not be possible. In such cases, if it is not feasible to delay the start date, the individual can commence employment but only on a supervised basis for those aspects of the job involving contact with children or adults in a vulnerable situation until such time as a satisfactory disclosure report is received.

4.2.8   In some cases, an applicant may already have received a satisfactory disclosure report prior to joining the University or for another roles at the University. It may be appropriate to use the existing report to assess suitability for the post, taking account of the date the report was produced (normally this would need to be within the last 6 months) and similarities between the two positions. Individuals can also register with the DBS Update Service, in which case the University is able to carry out an on-line check to ensure that the data provided in a previous disclosure report is still up to date. The HR Resourcing Manager should be consulted on such cases.

4.2.9   Disclosure reports for applicants with a substantial record of overseas residence, including current UK residents and British nationals, may not include information on convictions from outside the UK. In most circumstances however, a disclosure report should still be sought. The applicant can be requested to obtain the equivalent checks from the country in question, where available, or obtain a ‘certificate of good conduct’ from their home country.

4.2.10. Further information on the DBS disclosure process can be found on the DBS website.

4.2.11 Transgender applicants can contact the government's DBS sensitive applications team to confirm how to proceed if they don’t want to reveal details of their previous identity to a potential employer.

4.3       Exploring the relevance of information provided in the disclosure report

4.3.1 The Countersignatory will make an initial assessment of the content of the disclosure report. If the report provides no evidence of convictions or any other related information, the individual will be sent a letter confirming their appointment.

4.3.2 If the report confirms a conviction or any other related information, the HR Resourcing Manager will make an initial assessment of whether the information provided has any potential relevance to the post. If there is clearly no potential relevance, the individual will be sent a letter confirming their appointment.

4.3.3 If the report confirms a potentially relevant conviction or any other potentially relevant information further exploration will be required following the process outlined in section 5.3 below.


5. Assessing the relevance of criminal conviction information

5.1       Obtaining information from applicants (for a post that does not require a criminal records check)

5.1.1   The University’s job application form requires applicants for all posts to provide details of any unspent criminal convictions. This information is sent directly to the HR Resourcing Manager, and is not forwarded to departments with the application form. Where an unspent conviction is declared, an email will be sent to the recruiting manager confirming that they should contact the HR Resourcing Manager if the applicant is short-listed for interview – however, no information on the nature of the unspent conviction will be provided at this stage.

5.1.2    If the role is an Hourly Paid Teacher and a selection process is not involved, on receiving a declaration of an unspent conviction the HR Resourcing Manager will initiate the process outlined in section 4.3 below.

5.2       The selection process (for a post that does not require a criminal records check)

5.2.1   The first step in any selection process is to make an assessment of all applicants’ relevant skills, experience, qualifications and ability to do the job on the basis of their application, the job description and the selection criteria. The fact that an applicant has declared an unspent conviction is not for consideration at this stage.

5.2.2   If you decide that an applicant should be short-listed, and on contacting the HR Resourcing Manager receive confirmation that they have an unspent conviction, you should proceed to interview the applicant alongside the other short-listed applicants. All applicants must be judged on merit in the normal way: Do they meet the requirements identified in the selection criteria? Do they have the relevant qualifications and can they demonstrate the required experience and skills? Are they likely to show commitment to the job and a willingness to make a success of it?

5.2.3   Only after such an assessment has been completed, and a decision taken that the candidate who has declared an unspent criminal conviction is the best candidate, should the conviction and its relevance to the specific role be explored and discussed in more detail. This process will take place before an offer of employment is made.

5.3       Exploring a conviction and its relevance

5.3.1   All discussions relating to convictions must take place after the selection process has been completed and will involve the chair of the selection panel and the Faculty Human Resources Manager. As part of the decision-making process they will normally meet with the individual; the aim of this meeting will be to obtain further information and to achieve a structured, well-managed, open and honest discussion between the three parties.

5.3.2   Any convictions which are for a road traffic offence for which the individual received a fixed penalty fine with a maximum of three penalty points should be disregarded, unless driving is a core activity of the post.

5.3.3   The suitability for employment of a person with a criminal record will clearly vary, depending upon the nature of the job and the details and circumstances of any convictions. The decision should be made on the basis of a risk assessment to enable the applicant’s criminal record and circumstances to be assessed in relation to the tasks he or she will be required to perform and the circumstances in which the work is to be carried out.

5.3.4   The following job-related factors should be taken into account:

·         Does the post involve direct contact with students or the public?

·         What level of supervision will the post-holder receive?

·         What level of trust is involved? Will the nature of the job present any opportunities for the post-holder to re-offend in the place of work?

·         Does the post involve any direct responsibility for finance or items of value?

·         Does the post involve any contact with children or other vulnerable groups of employees, research subjects, etc?

5.3.5   The assessment is also likely to include consideration of the following factors relating to the individual’s offence(s):

·         The seriousness of the offence(s) and relevance to the safety of other employees, students, research subjects, the public etc;

·         The length of time since the offence(s) occurred;

·         Relevant information offered by the applicant about the circumstances that led to the offence(s) being committed, for example the influence of domestic or financial difficulties;

·         The degree of remorse, or otherwise, expressed by the applicant, and their motivation to change;

·         Whether the offence was a one-off, or part of a history of offending;

·         Whether the applicant’s circumstances have changed since the offence(s) was committed, making re-offending less likely;

·         Whether the offence has since been decriminalised.

5.3.6   Having considered carefully and thoroughly all these matters, and obtained any further information from relevant bodies such as the Probation Service, a decision can then be taken as to whether the individual should be appointed. If the decision is not to appoint, a letter will be sent to the individual confirming the reasons for this decision.

5.3.7   The above process will also be followed in the event of an unspent criminal conviction coming to light after the formal offer of employment has been made or during employment. In such cases the University would reserve the right to withdraw the offer of appointment where appropriate or terminate employment in line with the University’s Conduct procedure.