University doing ineligible checks for lecturing posts

We’ve recently worked on a case where a university had stated in a job description for a ‘Lecturer in Criminology’ role that:

“The successful applicant will have to undergo a DBS check before an appointment can be made.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t specify what level of check. When we asked, they said that they’d be carrying out an enhanced level check.

In doing some research, we discovered other similar roles they’d recruited for where they had used the same wording.

Our initial approaches to the university were not successful, so we formally highlighted to them that, in our opinion, although specific roles can vary, the role of a university lecturer was not, in itself, eligible for an enhanced DBS check as it was not:

  • Listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (this entitles the position to a standard level check)
  • Prescribed in the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations (this entitles the position to an enhanced level check)

The university contacted us several weeks later to state that their practice of applying for enhanced DBS checks had developed over time and that in some instances it would be necessary to carry out this level of check, for example on staff involved in the university’s sports areas who may be involved in teaching children to swim or those involved in outreach activities or summer schools where children under the age of 18 would be present.

However, the university agreed that it was not appropriate to request enhanced DBS checks for academic staff whose role did not involve them being engaged in any of the activities listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.

The university confirmed that they had reviewed their policy and would ensure that in the future they considered the requirements of each post more rigorously on a case by case basis.

Lessons

This case shows how universities will often assume that they are entitled to carry out enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks on the basis that their staff are involved in teaching and they have a duty of care to their students. However, in this case, the university were happy to review their policies to ensure that they were adhering to relevant legislation.

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Christopher Stacey