Criminal background checks for contractors

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With 4.75 million self-employed in the UK, contractors make up a huge portion of the UK’s workforce. But while HR departments usually go to great lengths to check the backgrounds of permanent hires, contractors often slip through the net, leaving clients, employees and businesses vulnerable to unsuitable and potentially unsafe workers.

According to an article by the National Association for Care and Resettlement of offenders (NACRO), over 20% of the UK working-age population has at least one criminal conviction. And this is believed to be a conservative figure.

Criminal checking is essential to guarantee the safety of everyone encountering people working for your organisation, whether they are a permanent fixture or not. Without adequate checking, not only could your staff and customers be exposed to dangerous criminals, your business could suffer should a repeat offender misbehave while under your employment. This could damage your business reputation even if someone is not technically “staff”.

But while many companies take the decision not to fully screen their contractors, in some sectors it’s not just prudent but mandatory. Full criminal background checks are required for much of the financial services industry and anyone coming into contact with children or vulnerable adults.

The authorities to provide criminality checks in the UK are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), covering England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland (DS) and Access NI (Northern Ireland).

There are three main levels of checking: Basic – which only checks for unspent convictions, Standard – which looks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands, and Enhanced – the highest level of check which reveals spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and any other relevant police data. To be eligible for Standard and Enhanced checks, candidates must be facing a role which involves children and/or vulnerable adults, but a Basic check can be accessed by anyone for any purpose.

With the trend for self-employment growing, and the “gig economy” fast catching up to traditional employment methods, the need for extensive background checking is becoming ever more apparent. Ensuring that staff and clients are safe, and that contractors are legally allowed to work in the environment you are placing them, is critical to prevent crimes within in the workplace and/or which might damage your reputation.

Remember that DBS checking is accurate only at the time of the check, and therefore we advise that criminal background checking is repeated periodically to ensure that records are kept up to date. We also advise that contractors are given contractual responsibilities to disclose any new or ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings during their employment.

DBS checking only reveals criminal activity in the UK, it will not reveal criminal activity which has taken place abroad, whether the applicant is a British National or not. For non-UK nationals, it is important to carry out a criminal record disclosure on the home country.

Having carried out the appropriate criminal record check, employers should consider the information carefully before deciding whether to employ a candidate, to ensure the safety of clients, staff and your business.