A criminal waste

From this autumn, employers
in charge of recruiting staff to work in close contact with children or other vulnerable
groups will have an additional tool with which to check out applicants. Will
the Criminal Records Bureau help weed out potential miscreants or does it
encourage discriminatory recruitment policies? Sarah-Jane north investigates

The disclosure system operated
by the newly formed Criminal Records Bureau will enable employers to discover
any skeletons in the cupboards of those it is considering taking on. Plans have
already been made to extend the CRB’s service to provide basic disclosure for
anyone who believes they need to prove they have nothing to hide, regardless of
their field of work.

The Criminal Records Bureau, an
executive agency of the Home Office, was borne out of rising concerns that
people with flawed employment records, even those already banned from working
with certain groups, were slipping through the net. However, concerns have been
voiced about the potential for employers to abuse this new service and possibly
discriminate against anyone with even the slightest blemish on their CV.

For many, the CRB’s key selling
point will be its ability to tap into a variety of information sources to
discover a person’s criminal, or law-abiding, past. At present, records of a
person’s criminal convictions or their unsuitability for posts are held on
numerous databases. Through the CRB an employer gains access not only to the
Police National Computer (PNC), the centralised information point for the
police forces of England and Wales, but also to records held by local police
forces.

The CRB can also access records
held by the Department of Health about people considered unsuitable for work
with children or with vulnerable adults and similar records held by the
Department for Education and Employment. The CRB will also access records held
in Scotland and Northern Ireland when appropriate. According to the nature of
the job or position involved, information will be drawn from the PNC alone or
every source.

“The CRB has come out of the
whole issue of child protection and the recognition that current arrangements
for making checks into an individual’s past were too limited,” explains bureau
chief executive Bernard Herdan. “The CRB is about opening up access to
information and joining together the various sources.”

But employers’ organisations
and civil liberties campaigners have raised concerns about fraudulent access to
sensitive information, as well as the potential for abuse of disclosed
information and discrimination against people with minor or irrelevant criminal
episodes in their past. The CRB claims these concerns have helped shape the
service it aims to provide.

The individual applying for a
job must make the application for a disclosure. Standard and enhanced
disclosures need to be endorsed by a person or organisation registered in
advance with the CRB. The CRB will start registering organisations wishing to
become registered bodies in May. Those registering must sign up to the CRB’s
code of practice, designed to ensure that all disclosure information is handled
confidentially and fairly. All disclosures must be kept securely and be
disposed of once a decision based on them has been made.

“We are concerned that
employers may use this information to exclude ex-offenders from a number of
jobs,” explains Meera Dhingra, spokeswoman for prisoner resettlement charity
Nacro. “This would work against other government measures to get ex-offenders
into work and may also increase crime, as unemployed ex-offenders are far more
likely to re-offend.”

Not a means of shortlisting

The CRB is keen to communicate
a strong message to employers that the details supplied by the bureau are
intended to be only one part of a thorough recruitment process which checks the
suitability of successful candidates. Employers should not rely on criminal
records alone to gain a full picture of a person’s fitness for the job.

“We acknowledge that there is a
danger of employers using the information as a means of shortlisting
applicants,” admits Herdan. “An uneducated employer might misunderstand the
intentions of this service. It should be used only when the employer is ready
to make a job offer.”

By requiring the job candidate
to make the disclosure application, the CRB claims it is making the process
more transparent and ending a tradition of rooting around for such information
behind an applicant’s back. The requirement for a candidate’s consent to the
checks is also consistent with human rights and data protection legislation
concerning personal privacy. Herdan is urging employers to make it clear that a
disclosure will be required for a job and to offer applicants the opportunity
to declare any convictions .

The CRB is working with the
CIPD and ex-offenders organisation, the Apex Trust, to produce guidance for
employers on how to use the information, its confidentiality and the relevancy
of offences to different jobs. A caution, for example, for the possession of
cannabis while a student should not affect the job prospects of a 50-year-old.

“Anecdotal evidence and
research have both revealed that as far as employers are concerned a criminal
record is one of the worst things to have on your CV. Most tend to have blanket
exclusion policies,” says Dianah Worman, adviser on diversity and equality for
the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

“We need to make sure that
employers know about this useful recruitment tool, but also how to use it
responsibly. There is a legitimate concern that employers will start to require
a basic disclosure for all jobs. But what they need to realise is that in most
cases all they will get is a blank sheet of paper.”

Having been among the lucky few
who already had access to such information, local government employers face
less of a learning curve as to how to handle and assess disclosures. However,
it has one concern that will undoubtedly also be in the minds of many
organisations. The sector is suffering severe recruitment problems in areas
such as teaching and social services and needs no further obstacles to
encouraging job candidates. But Mike Walker, assistant director of the Local
Government Employers Organisation, says he is concerned that ministers have
made no additional provision to foot the bill for disclosures.

At present the cost for
providing a disclosure is to be borne by the job applicant. However, it will be
open to employers to reimburse the cost to the applicant, much as they do train
fares and other expenses to attend interviews. The Government recently
announced that Standard and Enhanced Disclosures will be free of charge for
volunteers. The charges for other applicants have yet to be set but are
expected to be in the region of  £10 per
disclosure.

“We are worried that with
recruitment problems in many areas a further barrier to applicants will be
unhelpful,” says Walker.

The Disclosure scheme

From early autumn 2001 two
levels of disclosure, Standard and Enhanced, will be available, dependent on
the type of work involved. The CRB will offer advice and as to which kind of
disclosure is needed in individual cases. Each disclosure will contain the date
it was produced and will be accurate as of this date. The original will be sent
to the applicant and a copy to the registered body that countersigned the
application. Basic disclosures will be available from next year.

Standard disclosures
(criminal records certificate)

– Are for positions involving
regular contact with those aged under 18, or with vulnerable adults

– May also be relevant for
occupations involving positions of trust

– Will contain details of all
convictions on record including current and spent convictions. They will also
include details of any cautions, reprimands or warnings held on the PNC

– Will give information
contained on Department of Health and Department for Education and Employment
lists of those unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults in
education or health care, if the job or position involves regular contact with
people in these areas

– Will normally be provided
within one week of the application being made.

Enhanced disclosures
(enhanced criminal records certificate)

– Are for posts involving
greater contact with children or vulnerable adults, for example, regularly
caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such people

– Also for candidates that are seeking
gaming and lottery licences or judicial appointments

– Will contain the information
included on a standard disclosure

– May also contain information
that is held locally by the police

– Normally be provided within
three weeks of the application being made.

Basic disclosures (criminal
convictions certificate)

– Available from summer 2002

– Contains information only on
current convictions

– Available to any individual,
regardless of their field of employment

– Sent only to the applicant.

Source: Criminal Records
Bureau

This article first appeared
in the April 2001 edition of Employers’ Law magazine. To subscribe,
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