Many criminal record checks unnecessary, new research

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Our latest report, out today, reveals new evidence on the extent of unnecessary criminal record checks.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests, Criminal record checks: is the volume of disclosures proportionate?, finds that nearly three quarters of the million or so convictions revealed to employers each year in criminal records checks related to offences that were more than a decade old. 

The report also found that the vast majority of criminal record checks are potentially unnecessary. Out of a total of 4.2 million requests for disclosure of criminal records made in 2015, only six per cent produced criminal record information.

The number of sexual offences disclosed under the 'enhanced checks' scheme – intended for those jobs where applicants might be in direct contact with vulnerable groups such as children – was also tiny. Of nearly four million enhanced checks applications made by employers in 2015, only 707, or 0.018 per cent, resulted in a sexual offence disclosure.

The report was previewed recently in The Observer newspaper.

Speaking today, our Research Director Dr Roger Grimshaw, who authored the report, said:

We were really struck that hundreds of thousands of disclosures related to historic offences. A lot can change in a decade or more. It’s really important that mistakes of the distant past do not prejudice people’s chances of employment and rehabilitation.

He also spoke about the risks of complacency among employers who were over-reliant on criminal record checks as a mean of protecting potentially vulnerable groups:

Employers are making a big mistake if they simply rely on criminal records checks to protect clients and vulnerable groups. Most abusers have clean records. It’s really vital that all employers have good systems for reporting concerns and acting on them.

Writing on our website today, Christopher Stacey, Co-Director of Unlock, an independent charity for people with convictions, has called for urgent reform to the criminal records disclosure system. The current system, he argues, 'unnecessarily anchors people in their past' and puts them off applying for jobs. The enhanced checks system, he points out, would 'affect somebody who stole two chocolate bars when they were 14 and who is now in their fifties'.

While it is necessary for some offences to be disclosed to some employers, he argued, 'we should not be unnecessarily blighting the lives of people who are trying to move on, by disclosing old, minor or irrelevant information that holds them back and stops them from reaching their potential'.