Last reviewed 6 July 2013

Michael Evans takes a look at how the Disclosure and Barring Service’s Update Service works and at the rules about filtering historic cautions and convictions.


The role of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is to help employers make safer recruitment decisions and prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups such as children. Police records are searched and, in relevant cases, Barred List information is also consulted. Following this, an appropriate DBS certificate is issued.

The DBS has several responsibilities. In addition to the processing of criminal records checks, decisions are made as to whether or not a person should be placed on a Barred List.

Referrals are made to the DBS when an employer or an organisation has concerns that an individual has caused harm, or poses a future risk to children or other vulnerable groups. This is a statutory requirement and will usually follow the dismissal or removal of an employee from working in a regulated activity following harm to a child, or when there is a risk of harm.

The DBS will then make a decision, based on the harm that has occurred and the risk of harm that is posed. This can often be a difficult and finely balanced decision in view of the potential impact that barring can have on a person’s life. Once on the Children’s or Adults’ Barred List, a person is prevented by law from working with these groups.

The criminal records checking service allows employers to access the criminal record history of people working or seeking to work in certain positions. Although it is not possible for an individual employer to conduct a search, there are many umbrella organisations that are able to undertake this.

There is also an Adult First service that allows an individual to be checked against the Adults’ Barred List while waiting for the full criminal record check to be completed.

Filtering rules

This year has seen something of a legal wrangle after the Court of Appeal ruled in January 2013 that the disclosure on a DBS certificate of all cautions and convictions was incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention of Human Rights. Initially the Home Office appealed and this had the effect of delaying the launch of the new Update Service.

However, in March the Home Office began the legislative process that would ensure that certain old and minor cautions and convictions will no longer be disclosed on DBS certificates.

A number of filtering rules have been drawn up. Certain specified offences will not be included in the removal of historic convictions or cautions from DBS certificates. Those offences that are to be removed must be one-off, with a non-custodial outcome. Eleven years is the cut-off time for adult offences and five and a half years for juveniles.

These changes will not come into force until they have received parliamentary approval, and in the meantime the status quo remains.

Update Service

An important new feature of the DBS is the Update Service. Where in the past an employer would apply for a Criminal Records Bureau certificate for all new employees, under the new procedure it is the employee who applies for the DBS certificate, which is then registered with the Update Service. This new subscription service costs individuals about £10 a year and enables them to keep their DBS certificates up to date.

A certificate will be shown to an employer when changing jobs or roles and the employer will be able to carry out a free instant online “status check” to see if any new information has come to light since the certificate was issued.

This will do away with the previous requirement that individuals had to apply for a fresh certificate every time they changed a job or role, resulting in many people having multiple certificates with identical information.

In order to carry out a status check, the employer must have the applicant’s consent, the original certificate must have been seen and checked and the person’s identity verified.

When carrying out a status check, one of several results will come back instantly.

  • There is no new information since the certificate was issued, so it remains current and no further action is required.

  • The certificate is no longer current, meaning that new information has come to light and a new DBS check must be applied for.

  • The details do not match those held on the system, which could mean that the individual has not subscribed to the Update Service, or the certificate has been removed from the Update Service by the individual, or incorrect information was entered when making the request.

To a school, the big benefits of the new Update Service are:

  • instant online checking of DBS certificates

  • not having any more CRB forms to complete

  • the likelihood of never needing to apply for DBS checks in the future

  • less bureaucracy

  • a saving of time and money

  • a simple process that can easily be incorporated into the school’s administrative system.

The DBS provides regular updates by means of monthly newsletters. Schools and other employers are invited to sign up to these, by looking for the e-database link on the DBS website.