DBS background checks not bringing the benefits expected

A National Audit Office investigation into the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) has found its modernisation programme is running three and a half years late and that many of the business benefits expected of the background checking service have not been realised.

The merger in 2012 of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) to create the DBS was expected to simplify and the lower the cost of background checks for employees, often in the public sector, working with children and vulnerable adults.

However, the NAO report published today has criticised the DBS for a lack of uptake in its cheaper-to-use “update service”, which launched in 2013. It was forecast to have 2.8 million paying customers by 2017-18, accounting for 69% of transactions, but is now forecast to have just 0.9 million customers, representing 18% of all transactions.

The DBS has not collected systematic data on why people are not using the update service. Possible reasons include low awareness among job applicants and the fact that employers generally pay for the disclosure certificates but individuals pay for the update service.

The NAO report says: “The update service may not make disclosures truly portable as intended. The update service is predicated on employers using the information in the update service even when it was generated for a different employer.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that some employers prefer to request a new certificate to ensure they have proof of the applicant’s identity rather than rely on the update service alone.”

The investigation also highlighted that Government does not know how many people DBS checks had prevented working with children or vulnerable adults, but acknowledged that it was down to employers to comply with legislation.

Adele Downey, chief executive of the DBS, said: “Since our foundation five years ago, we have issued more than 22 million disclosure certificates to help employers make safer recruitment decisions and have barred more than 15,000 people from working with vulnerable groups.”

She added that despite the DBS, like other public bodies, facing financial pressures, it has not increased fees and still offers free checks for volunteering roles.

“Ultimately, under current legislation, whatever information a DBS check reveals, the decision to employ someone rests with the employer as part of their normal recruitment processes,” she said.

“They must carry out their own assessment as to someone’s suitability for a particular role but we strongly believe that without the information provided by the DBS this would be a far greater challenge and potentially put society’s most vulnerable people at an increased risk.”

Large sections of the report focused on the technology outsourcing DBS made to Tata Consulting and, before that, Capita. In July 2012, the Home Office planned that DBS would move to a modernised IT system and business processes by June 2014.

Part of that modernisation was only delivered in September 2017, but digitalisation of disclosure certificates has not yet been delivered, a delay of at least 46 months.

The NAO warned that the project may not be completed before the contract with Tata ends. The DBS now forecasts spending £885 million between December 2012 and March 2019, 35% more than the 2012 forecast.

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