An Introduction to United Kingdom Criminal Record Searches

March 20, 2019

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In the United Kingdom, criminal records for employment come in the form of a “Disclosure Certificate” that is issued by one of three main sources: the Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) in England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland in Scotland, and AccessNI in Northern Ireland. This Disclosure Certificate is often referred to as a “Certificate” or a “Disclosure.”

Other sources of criminal records exist, such as directly from a police agency, but these may not be used for employment purposes. They are only available for subject access requests (similar to a FACT Act request in the United States, where the subject has a right to know what information an entity holds on them.)

In the UK, offenders enter a ‘rehabilitation period’ following a custodial sentence, the length of which depends on the length of sentence and age of the offender. When the rehabilitation period has elapsed, the conviction becomes ‘spent’ meaning that the individual does not have to declare it when applying for most jobs, insurance or housing. In May 2014, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) was amended to increase the length of custodial sentence that can never become ‘spent’ from two and a half to four years.

Under the ROA some criminal convictions can be treated as ‘spent’ – meaning they cannot be released on some types of disclosure after a certain length of time, called the “rehabilitation period.”

It should also be noted that the ROA applies in England, Wales and Scotland – however, there are some differences in the way in which it, and related legislation, operates in Scotland.

Types of Disclosure

There are three main types of criminal record disclosure available in the UK; Basic, Standard and Enhanced. Only certain roles are eligible for a Standard or Enhanced disclosure, whereas a Basic disclosure is permissible for all roles.


Basic Standard Enhanced Enhanced with lists
Unspent Convictions

Spent Convictions

Cautions, reprimands and warnings

Local Police information

Barred Lists

About Spent Convictions

In order to understand the different types of Disclosure Certificates available, it is important to understand the limitations around spent convictions. Under the ROA, individuals are not required to disclose any spent convictions when applying for a job, unless the role being applied for is contained in the list of ‘exceptions’ as detailed in the ROA (the Exceptions Order 1975).

The Act specifically states: “[t]he person questioned shall not be subjected to any liability or otherwise prejudiced in law by reason of any failure to acknowledge or disclose a spent conviction or any circumstances ancillary to a spent conviction in his answer to the question” and “[a] conviction which has become spent or any circumstances ancillary thereto, or any failure to disclose a spent conviction or any such circumstances, shall not be a proper ground for dismissing or excluding a person from any office, profession, occupation or employment, or for prejudicing him in any way in any occupation or employment.”1 An employer should be able to say if an exception applies and, if so, where it can be found on the Exceptions Order.



Basic Disclosures Standard Disclosures

With candidate consent, a Basic disclosure is permissible for any employed or voluntary role, making it one of the most common checks performed across all industries.

Basic disclosures only reveal ‘unspent’ convictions as defined by the ROA and held on the Police National Computer. Therefore, depending on whether the rehabilitation period for a given sentence has become spent, a previous conviction may or may not appear on an individual’s Basic disclosure certificate.

A Standard disclosure provides a full history of convictions – spent and unspent – as well as details of any cautions, reprimands or warning held on the Police National Computer. Only certain roles qualify for a Standard disclosure, as listed in the ROA Exceptions Order 1975, including:

  • Any role that requires registration as a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ‘Senior Manager’
  • Medical practitioners, barristers, accountants and other financial service roles, vets and opticians
  • Law enforcement, such as judges, police and prison officers
  • Regulated occupations such as firearm dealers, directors of insurance companies, nursing home staff and taxi drivers
  • Care services for vulnerable adults, health services and working with children
  • Occupations with national security implications, such as air traffic control and certain employees of the Crown

Standard disclosure requests must be submitted by a registered umbrella body, such as First Advantage.

Enhanced Disclosures Enhanced Disclosures with Barred Lists

An Enhanced disclosure includes the same information as a Standard Disclosure, plus any additional information held by local police that is “reasonably considered relevant to the workforce being applied for” (adults, child or ‘other’).

To be eligible for an enhanced disclosure, the role must be listed in the Exceptions Order 1975 and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations.

In addition to the Enhanced disclosure, either or both of the DBS ‘barred lists’ (Children and adults) may also be searched. To be eligible for this search, the role must qualify for an Enhanced disclosure and involve caring for, supervising or being in sole charge of children or adults.