Recruiting with conviction at a time of national crisis

As the coronavirus spreads in the UK and government advice means millions of people are staying home to stay safe, there is an urgent need for people to help with key roles. The NHS are looking for 250,000 volunteers, while social care providers, supermarkets and other essential services are boosting their workforce.

We’ve been contacted by organisations looking for advice on recruiting candidates with criminal records. Often, they’ve found a great candidate who has disclosed an old or minor offence, and want to make sure they can legally employ them. The good news is, they usually can. In most cases, a criminal record is not a legal barrier to paid or voluntary work.

It’s easy to make assumptions about someone with a criminal record but more than 11 million people in the UK have one. Can your organisation afford to exclude them all?

This blog answers some frequently asked questions about recruiting people with criminal records, and links to more detailed guidance and resources. These are designed to help you confidently assess applicants with criminal records and comply with data protection law. The guidance here applies to both paid and voluntary roles.

Do we need to ask about criminal records?

For some jobs, a criminal records check is a legal requirement. Health and social care, teaching and childcare – these require an enhanced DBS check. If you are recruiting for these roles, you should have a well-established process in place, may still have questions about how to assess a disclosure.

For most jobs – supermarket and food production roles, delivery drivers – there is no legal requirement to ask about criminal records. Whether – and when – to ask about criminal records is up you. You can request a basic check, which will show unspent convictions only.

If you do ask about criminal records, you should make sure your policy complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

An applicant has disclosed a criminal record – what now?

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) have published guidance which makes clear that:

‘If you have a criminal record you can still volunteer for most roles. If you are asked by the volunteer organiser for a DBS check for your volunteering role, you can discuss anything that is disclosed on the certificate with them.’

This is also true for paid work.

The exception to this is if the applicant is on the DBS barred list and the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults.

In all other cases you should make an assessment, based on the nature of the role and the details of the criminal record. For most roles, you should ignore spent criminal records. For roles working with children or vulnerable adults, you can take spent criminal records into account, but should ignore filtered criminal records.

How do I make an assessment of a criminal record?

There are a few factors to consider when making a fair assessment. First of all, is the offence directly relevant to the job? How old was the candidate at the time and how much time has passed since? Old and minor offences will usually have no impact on the candidate’s ability to do the job and teenage misbehaviour shouldn’t be a barrier to making a positive contribution in later life.

What were the circumstances and what has changed for the candidate since then? A conviction for ‘Actual Bodily Harm’ could indicate a serious attack – or it might have been a playground fight. Rejecting a candidate on the wording of an offence could mean missing out on potential assets. A discussion in person gives you the chance to ask questions and address concerns. Using an assessment template can help you make fair, consistent decisions.

Where can I go for more information?

Unlock’s guidance and resources are designed to guide employers through the complexities of criminal records disclosure, and are free to use. Use the index to find practical guidance for each stage of recruitment. The following pages are likely to be useful:

Guidance for employers on processing criminal records in recruitment

Working out if a conviction is spent

Disclosure calculator

Information from other sources

Employers across all sectors recognise the need to widen the talent pool and think seriously about how to include people with criminal records. Here are a selection of publications:

NHS Employers: Supporting conversations about criminal convictions

Skills for Care: Safe and fair recruitment: A guide to employing people with convictions in social care

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO): Getting started with criminal records checks

DBS: Safeguarding and DBS Factsheet FAQs

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Rachel Tynan