Government reforms criminal record checks for social care staff

Changes to the criminal record and vetting and barring systems come into effect from Monday (10 September). Government minister Lynne Featherstone (pictured) explains how this will affect people working in social care

Lynne Featherstone (Credit: Rii Schroer/Rex Features)

Everyone agrees that we should give employers and those running voluntary and community groups the information they need to ensure that they can recruit high quality, motivated staff with the right values and skills. No one would deny that criminal record checks are an important part of this. Indeed, they have helped stop more than 150,000 unsuitable people working in these roles in the past seven years.

Until now, there had been plans to put a system in place where more than nine million people – nearly a quarter of the working population – would not have been able to start or continue in paid work or volunteering, until they had registered with a central scheme. This system – known as the Vetting and Barring Scheme – while well-intentioned, was disproportionate and unnecessarily bureaucratic.

People were having old, minor non-conviction information dug up and exposed to potential employers which had no bearing on their suitability for the job. Others said they were put off volunteering in roles where they might have a small amount of responsibility for children and adults receiving health or social care.

This is why the Government’s message now is that, unless a person was been barred from working closely with vulnerable groups, we need to trust professionals to take decisions about who they employ in health and social care, or take on as volunteers. So we are scaling back the barring regime so that it covers only the highest risk activities within health and social care.

We recently reached a major milestone in our journey towards this new commonsense landscape, when the Protection of Freedoms Act received royal assent. The process of checking people’s backgrounds will continue, but under measures in this Act, it will be scaled back to a proportionate level and will be overseen by a new organisation – the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – replacing the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority from December this year.

The Protection of Freedoms Act will bring into effect a number of measures that will reduce the burden and bureaucracy of the current checking process, including:



  • Reducing the number of people on whom organisations can require barring checks from 9.3m to around 5m – focusing on those roles that pose the greatest risk
  • Introducing online updating service for criminal records checks
  • Allowing individuals to challenge information disclosed about them before it is given to the organisation that required the check
  • Creating a more rigorous police test before disclosing locally-held non-conviction information on an enhanced criminal record check, so that only information that is reasonably believed to be relevant will feature

Some things are not changing. We are retaining a barring system: we recognise that it prevents people who are known to be a risk from working in vital roles in health and social care. It will continue to be a legal requirement to make referrals to the Independent Safeguarding Authority or DBS when you believe a staff member or volunteer working in regulated activity has caused harm or poses a risk of harm. And organisations must not knowingly engage a barred person in regulated activity.

Find out more and the changes

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