The Bigger Picture on the Criminal Records Bureau
In 2000, a report from the inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people from working with children recommended a central access point for information on these individuals.
The Protection of Children Act 1999 legislated for this and the Criminal Records Bureau was designed to be that central access point – a “one-stop shop” for criminal records checks.
Standard and enhanced checks were to be the two on offer. Standard checks are for staff working with children and vulnerable adults, while enhanced checks involve an extra level of checks for those regularly caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of children or vulnerable adults. Both cost £12.
But criticism dogged the Criminal Records Bureau even before its inception. Several delays in its launch led to concerns that it was not up to the job. When the launch was delayed a second time in October 2001 until March 2002, the CRB operations director Keith Broadbent said “there are always benefits that can be gained from further testing to ensure a robust and effective service”.
And a home office spokesperson commented that the CRB wanted to ensure that “absolutely everything is right before launching”.
At the time, these delays caused problems for the newly created National Care Standards Commission which became operational in April 2002. As part of its inspection and regulation functions the NCSC required organisations such as councils and care homes to supply criminal records checks of employees by that April if they wanted to be registered as care providers. But the delays with the CRB resulted in the NCSC being forced to allow the registration process to go ahead.
Just three months after the CRB was up and running it was using information technology company Hays, based in Madras, India, to help clear a backlog of applications by processing data entry work. Disclosure checks were still being carried out in the UK. Despite this, the CRB maintained that it was confident that from July 2002 it would meet its public service standards for 90 per cent of enhanced applications to be turned around in three weeks and 95 per cent of standard applications in one week.
This confidence was short-lived. In August 2002 Coventry social worker Philomena Brown demanded almost £1,500 compensation from the CRB after she lost three weeks’ wages before she could start her new job with Barnardo’s because of delays with her checks.
Later that month, the deaths of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and the resulting charges of murder against college caretaker Ian Huntley and attempting to pervert the course of justice against his girlfriend Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the girls’ school, led the government to prioritise checks on schools staff over those for health and social care staff. The government wanted all checks to be completed before staff started work in school, whereas previously teachers had been allowed to work for three months without checks being carried out.
At the time, the CRB had a backlog of teacher checks totalling 12,000 that had to be cleared before the school term began in a few days’ time. Extra staff were taken on, working round the clock.
A week later, the government backtracked after schools were forced to stay shut on the first day of term because thousands of staff checks had still not been cleared by the CRB. As 7,000 checks remained outstanding, the government said that teachers and classroom assistants who had not yet been cleared by the CRB could work in schools at headteachers’ discretion.
In November 2002, the deadline for existing care home staff to be checked by the CRB was extended from March 2003 to October 2004. Staff from domiciliary care and nursing agencies had their time limit for checks extended indefinitely.
Lord Falconer, the home office minister with responsibility for the organisation, admitted: “The CRB didn’t work as it should have done.”
By February 2003, the CRB was still failing to meet its targets: 80 per cent of standards disclosures and 50 per cent of enhanced disclosures were issued within three weeks. Despite this, the government said the service had improved since the previous summer.
A critical independent review quickly followed, recommending bringing in an electronic applications system and fingerprint checks.
More bad news came in March when the National Audit Office confirmed that it was investigating the CRB and would be looking at its ability to protect children and vulnerable adults. It is expected to report this summer.
Soon after this a report from Liberal Democrat social care spokesperson Paul Burstow, ‘The Anatomy of a Systems Failure’, claimed that the CRB managed only 1.4 million of the predicted 3.3 million disclosures.
Incompetent implementation included an estimated loss of £100 million in revenue from the postponed introduction of basic disclosures over the next three years, said Burstow.
He predicted that to pay for these blunders, everyone may face a £35 charge for disclosure checks.
Just a week later, Capita, the firm responsible for running the CRB on behalf of the Home Office, had to pay back £1.8 million for its role in the bureau’s failings. The money included damages of £690,000 for delays in the CRB development programme and web-based application system, and problems relating to the National Intelligence Service. Service credits worth £1.1 million were deducted for failure to meet service standards, including turnaround times.
And as Burstow predicted, a few weeks ago charges for carrying out enhanced police checks on social care staff were increased. Although they didn’t rise to £35, they more than doubled to £29. CRB managing director John O’Brien said it would allow the CRB to balance its books in the long term. The price of standard disclosures was raised to £24. The department of health, the department for education and skills and the home office will provide £19 million funding for 2003-4.
And was the CRB’s confidence in meeting its targets justified? Its recent annual report revealed that it only processed just over half of all enhanced disclosures within the three-week target and only one in five standard checks within the one-week target.
Consequently, it has now watered down this year’s performance targets, and will aim to process 90 per cent of enhanced disclosures within four weeks and 90 per cent of standard ones within two weeks. At the beginning of June, 9,000 checks were still outstanding.
For more information go to:
Criminal Records Bureau website: www.crb.gov.uk/
its disclosure website is at: www.disclosure.gov.uk/
National Care Standards Commission: www.carestandards.org.uk
Home Office: www.homeoffice.gov.uk