Event Roundup – Innovation in criminal record checking: Digital futures

Event Roundup – Innovation in criminal record checking: Digital futures

In this webinar, we invited representatives from the Better Hiring Institute, Disclosure Scotland, and DBS to discuss the new developments and innovations that are modernising the criminal record checking process. Presenting were:

Keith Rosser – Director of Reed Screening & Chair of the Better Hiring Institute

Laura McCluskey – Deputy Chief Executive for Business Strategy, Disclosure Scotland

Cathy Taylor & David McLaren – Regional outreach Manager, and Head of Policy (respectively), Disclosure and Barring Service.

The Criminal Records Trade Body (CRTB)

Keith spoke about the CRTB, an authoritative and independent voice representing a wide range of sectors using criminal record check information. The CRTB represents about half of all police checks being processed across the UK. Their aims and objectives are:

  1. To support the UK’s safeguarding agenda
  2. To encourage the adoption of enhanced identity verification processes
  3. To support candidates and users to understand the eligibility checks, and highlight the work of JobsAware in preventing employment screening scams
  4. To contribute and comment on the development of policy and legislation
  5. To promote industry practices and awareness of overseas criminal record checks

The CRTB’s 5 Point Plan includes:

  1. Improve quality of the Registered Body (RB) Network
  2. Promote the adoption and development of Digital Criminal Records Identity check
  3. Increase usage of Basics checks
  4. Drive Safer Recruitment through increased knowledge
  5. Modernise the Disclosure application process

Criminal record checking in hiring

Recent figures show that there are over 12 million people with convictions in England and Wales (1 in 6 across the UK).  Almost 4.5 million Standard & Enhanced checks were issued by DBS in the year 2021/22.

Employers are split between those who would recruit a worker with a previous conviction (45%, up 20% from 2010 figures), and those who would instantly reject a job-seeker if they disclosed a previous conviction, even though this was not always the organisation’s policy (30%).

For many, the risk of re-offending is a major factor, with a REC survey showing that 60% of employers feel anxiety around this.

However, only 17% of ex-offenders manage to obtain work within six months of release, and there are concerns over the risk of bias in AI throughout the hiring process. This shows a need to ensure that AI introduction doesn't exacerbate existing issues in the hiring process.

How do we overcome these challenges?

In order to drive fairness in hiring as well as ensuring safety, it’s important to work towards breaking down unnecessary barriers for work seekers with convictions by:

  • Promoting fast and frictionless hiring by ensuring alignment between digital schemes
  • Minimising the threat to fair hiring by cracking down on the growth of other unregulated background checks
  • Drive better knowledge and awareness around:
    • Fair recruitment decisions for people with convictions
    • Eligibility of roles
    • The importance of criminal record checking for safer recruitment
    • Dispelling myths and promoting best practice.

Strategy and vision for Disclosure Scotland’s future

Laura described Disclosure Scotland’s vision and strategy for 2025.

Disclosure Scotland operate around three core functions:

Disclose: disclosure of criminal records information

Protect: compliance activities relating to the use of disclosure data and that they're being used for the right process. Also barring and protecting vulnerable individuals.

Promote: marketing, communications and engagement around the products we offer, as well as consultation services and user-centred design spaces to improve digital services we're offering.

The vision for Disclosure Scotland is to help Scotland flourish and become a safer, more inclusive place to live, underpinned by the following outcomes:

  • Communities are safer by making sure unsuitable people do not work with people who are vulnerable.
  • Recruitment in Scotland is fair and inclusive, where employers have the right information at the right time to make informed decisions.
  • The life chances of people with past convictions are improved as they can move on from their past and positively contribute to society.

To achieve these, Disclosure Scotland’s strategic objectives include:

  • make Scotland's people safer by barring unsuitable people from working with vulnerable people and providing a quality, effective and efficient disclosure regime to support safe recruitment decisions
  • use their influence and expertise beyond their organisational boundaries to integrate disclosure with wider initiatives in the service of Scotland, supporting the Scottish Government to deliver its National Outcomes
  • innovate to deliver high quality services in an affordable way by boosting efficiency, innovation and reducing costs to deliver value for public money
  • innovate digital technology in partnership with customers and build a disclosure service that is affordable, efficient, accurate and easily accessible
  • deliver a comprehensive programme of digital and policy disclosure reform to make Scotland safer and fairer
  • invest in the development of their people to grow a talented, diverse and inclusive workforce tailored to deliver disclosure and safeguarding national outcomes

Turning strategy into results

The strategy envelopes Disclosure Scotland’s vision, values, purpose and strategic goals, and will be integrated into their operating model, which includes:

  • policy
  • people
  • technology
  • processes
  • data
  • operating costs
  • organisational structure
  • governance and KPIs
  • location
  • customer experience,

in order to deliver results that include Scotland’s National Outcomes, plus organisational and individual outcomes, as well as value for money and qualitative and quantitative results.

Currently, the operating model is transitioning from a paper based system to a fully digital one; digital checks are being offered at a basic level, and piloting digital options for high level disclosures is currently taking place, with great success. Disclosure Scotland now have a working proof of concept for digital results which they are now prioritising over the next 6-8 months in terms of scaling the offer and increasing participation.

The operating design process is based on six pillars:

  1. Governance
  2. People
  3. Service design model
  4. Functional processes
  5. Technology
  6. Performance insights and data.

Disclosure Scotland’s priority as an organisation is and always will be safeguarding, however Laura explained that there's a lot more involved in criminal record checks - they're a helpful tool for employers, individuals and society for making sure that the right people are working in the right places at the right time.

An integrated service model

Disclosure Scotland has a level of integration across all of their services, including their Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) service, which integrates with their Compliance and Barring services, enabling the barring of individuals as appropriate. There are also other referral mechanisms from employers and the courts, which will change as aspects of the Disclosure Act 2020 (coming into force next year) are implemented, aimed at improving safeguarding and ensuring individuals who are where they shouldn’t be can be removed quickly and with minimal bureaucracy.

Once the Disclosure Act 2020 has come into force, the disclosure system will be more accessible through simplification; there'll be two levels and four separate disclosure products, instead of the current four levels and seven products. This will help towards making individuals more aware of which service they need to apply to and why.

People will receive results safely and digitally which they'll then be able to share with employers as they desire for the purpose of employment or volunteering.

Digital technology will also work to improve Disclosure Scotland’s delivery timescales, through the introduction of digital applications and automation to speed the process where appropriate at all levels of their disclosure products.

Future innovations at Disclosure and Barring service

Cathy and David spoke about future developments for DBS, in response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report and the Independent Review of the Disclosure and Barring Regime (The Bailey Report).

Within the final IICSA report there are three recommendations applicable to DBS:

  1. Extended use of the barred list of people unsuitable for work with children.
  2. Improved compliance with statutory duties to inform the Disclosure and Barring Service about individuals who may pose a risk of harm to children.
  3. Extending the disclosure regime to those working with children overseas.

The government accepted all but one of the recommendations and DBS will be working with Home Office to consider IICSA and Bailey review recommendations, although there is no timetable at present.

They also spoke about other developments happening at DBS. In the past year, DBS has published a digital scheme allowing checks to be made digitally for the first time, and allowing IDSP's to be formally accredited to assure DBS checks are done to the highest standards.

Processes are soon to be updated, and they are likely to include the permanent adoption of the checks temporarily made allowable during the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e. virtual document checks which are then confirmed in person on the first day of work.

For the time being, document-based processes will remain in place to ensure DBS’s disclosure products remain accessible to all.

Digitalisation and modernisation

With DBS’s new ID verification process, employers or RBs engage a DBS certified IDSP to verify an applicant’s identity including their current address. In the event that the IDSP cannot verify the applicant’s current address, they report back to the employer or RB, and applicants are given 90 days to provide paper verification. Once ID and address have been verified, the RB can submit the application to DBS.

If an applicant doesn’t have enough documents to prove their address, the option of using digital copies of credit card or bank statements has been ruled out. David said, “we don't foresee this becoming an option as there's no safe framework in which we could ask for an online statement.”

There are number of modernisation projects ongoing inside DBS:

Online application capability for Standard and Enhanced checks to those Registered Bodies that do not have access to e-Bulk.

Online application capability will provide improved accessibility for customers and improved accuracy for DBS. Paper application forms require a higher level of corrections than e-bulk submissions, and DBS are working to ensure this is as accessible as possible.

Delivery of online results/certificates.

There are numerous benefits to this including:

  • lower costs which might lead to lower application fees in future,
  • supports sustainability aims and leads to quicker delivery,
  • greater protection against fraud,
  • supports greater use of the update service as people won't need to present a paper certificate if they have a digital one.

Reviewing the DBS update service.

The update service enables employers who have given consent to request update checks to be notified of any changes in certificate status. DBS are consulting with users and non-users to gather opinions on how better to support people using the update service.

Digital Wallets

DBS is closely involved with third party collaborations on digital wallets containing everything an individual would need to quickly and safely onboard with a new employer. Including:

  • A validated identity
  • DBS check/Update Service status
  • Academic credentials
  • Professional credentials
  • Immunisation status (for specialist roles requiring this)
  • Employment references

Insights from our attendees

We took the opportunity to get a gauge on the experiences and opinions of our attendees.

What remains the most time consuming part of the hiring process?

Referencing – 66%

Obtaining information from candidates – 16%

Criminal record checks – 16%

Proving qualifications – 0%

Would you employ someone with a criminal record?

Yes – 6%

No – 2%

Dependant on the conviction & role – 90%

Are you positive about criminal record checks becoming an entirely digital process?

Yes – 77%

No – 10%

Don’t know – 12%

According to two thirds of our attendees, referencing still remains the most time consuming part of the hiring process, showing that more needs to be done to accelerate this process.

90% of our attendees were open to the prospect of hiring someone with a criminal record, but it depended on the manner of the conviction and the role for which they were recruiting. This is promising in the drive towards fairer and safer hiring practices for people with a criminal record.

Digital criminal record checks are a positive thing according to over three quarters of our attendees, while 12% were unsure, and 10% thought it was a negative development.

Questions from our attendees

I appreciate the rationale around online documents, however why can we not use online documents provided by official government websites – i.e. online proof of NINO letters?

David - The issue we have is with online documents, it's the wild west. Fraud in terms of somebody trying to use a document they'd created themselves but also abuse of vulnerable people - e.g. somebody could be talked into presenting their secure details and giving somebody access to their online accounts to "view documents". Nobody else in government or the private sector has been able to grasp this nettle. This is why we're trying to move to genuine online ID to move past this. Keith mentioned legislation allowing access to broader government information for online ID checks - that will be a real tipping point in terms of quality and accessibility of the ID checks we can do online. If we can access HMRC and DWP data we get much closer to having the information we need. We need to be able to offer ID assurance to everybody, not just those with an in date passport, which is why we're working closely with government on this.

 As a volume employer across Scotland, England & Wales – are there any plans in the roadmap to DS and DBS to collaborate on the changes to try to give employers one process?

David - I have recently had a conversation with my opposite number in Scotland on improving our guidance to make it clearer who goes where. I don't foresee us having a single point of reference any time soon and there are good reasons for that as legislation and responsibility is devolved, however as more people work flexibly it's worth reviewing that guidance to ensure it's as clear as possible and people know which organisation they need to go through.

Laura - we do have regular communication cross-border, but there's not going to be a single UK-wide service because we're a devolved administration.

There are similar products but also different ones currently in Scotland - i.e. PVG scheme for regulated work and ongoing monitoring services don’t exist in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. There's not a high uptake on standard or enhanced products in Scotland because most of this falls into PVG. We're simplifying the products but there is still parity with the UK. Level 1 is comparable to a basic or standard DBS in the English and Welsh framework. Level 2 will have elements of enhanced and PVG. PVG is enhanced checks with ongoing monitoring to enhance our safeguarding services so while they seem different they are comparable. What we will be doing is ensuring that as we develop and launch these products we'll absolutely be consulting and engaging with employers to make sure everything is clear.

Do DBS plan on addressing the length of time Enhanced checks can take to speed them up?

David - Absolutely - information needs to be accurate but also timely. We've been ahead of our targets for a number of years but have seen challenges in staffing at certain regional police forces, so some users might have seen delays to enhanced checks in certain areas of the country. We do now have a number of extra resources in those areas and should see an upswing in performance in the next 6-8 weeks. We're acutely aware that delayed checks are a safeguarding risk so we're constantly looking at improving this.