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Aug 02

How do you know if you need a DBS check?

Reading Time: 8 mins

Here at MoneyMagpie, we like to keep in contact with our readers. One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is from people wondering: “Do I need a DBS check?”

It’s a good question as it’s not always clear who needs one and who doesn’t, particularly when it comes to volunteering, so we’ve put together this handy guide for job hunters and potential employees.

Here is how you can find out if you need a DBS check.


What is a DBS check?

Young female primary school teacher

Criminal record checks have been around for some time helping employers to find suitable people to work with children and vulnerable groups. However, this process has become increasingly complicated and lengthy so the government has replaced the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check with the one from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) was established under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and carries out the functions previously undertaken by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) for England and Wales and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The primary role of the DBS is to help employers in England and Wales make recruitment decisions by issuing criminal records checks and to prevent people from working with vulnerable groups who may not be safe to do so.

Amongst these vulnerable groups are children, babies, the elderly, people with learning disabilities of any age or people with other mental health difficulties.

The main function of the DBS check is to provide an answer to the employer or organisation with whom you’re volunteering to the following question: “Do you have any criminal convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings?”

Usually, you only really need a DBS check if you’re planning on working with vulnerable people and children, however other jobs might also demand it and this is becoming more and more common.

A DBS check will determine whether or not an individual is on one of two barred lists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: one bars people from working with children and the other with vulnerable adults.

When a check has been processed by the DBS the individual will receive a DBS certificate illustrating whether they are cleared to work with particular groups.

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974, criminals who have served a prison sentence of less than two and a half years and do not re-offend during a set ‘rehabilitation’ period after their release may have their conviction spent, which means it doesn’t show up any more and is no longer relevant when the person is being considered for most jobs. It’s quite complex so you can read more about the DBS filtering system here.

If you have unspent convictions – meaning you are still serving your probationary ‘rehabilitation’ period following sentencing – this can cause issues. However, if this is the case, it’s up to the employer whether this is or isn’t a problem. With work being seen as an essential part of prisoner rehabilitation, this is becoming far less of a barrier in current times. For example, Manchester’s ‘The Clink’ restaurant exclusively hires prisoners from HMP Styal as staff to rehabilitate them.


Do i need a DBS check?

School Lunch Ladies

Generally speaking, if you plan on working with or around children or vulnerable people you will need a DBS check. Employers may wish to look at the DBS eligibility guidance list which runs down most roles that are eligible for a check. However, the guidance isn’t comprehensive, and you should contact the DBS directly if you’re unsure.

If you’re the person being checked, your potentially new employer will give you a form to fill in and return to them along with documents proving your identity such as a passport, current driving licence and proof of address.  You can find more information on what documents are accepted here.


How do DBS checks work?

Young woman playing with toys with young girl

Your employers will apply to have a check done on your behalf but then the certificate will be sent to you, not your employer. These checks can take up to 8 weeks to complete from filling out the form, so if you’re working in a care role it’s important to bear this in mind. You won’t be able to start working till the check is completed.

Depending on the level of the check, the cost varies with a standard check costing £26 and an enhanced check costing £44. Some employers will ask you to pay these fees. However the norm is for employers to pay these costs.

However, if you’re applying for a DBS for a voluntary role, there are no associated fees regardless of the level of check needed.

Employers will only arrange a DBS check on a successful job applicant. If the applicant is found to be unsuitable, the job offer can be withdrawn so save yourself the time and stress and be honest on your applications!

These are the basic steps for an employer who wants to perform a DBS check:

  1. Get the application form from DBS or your umbrella body.
  2. Ask the candidate to fill in the application form (N.B. make sure you have everything exact in this form because if you get any of your former addresses wrong it will be sent back you will have to go through the whole thing again – it’s very annoying!)
  3. Send the application form to your umbrella body or DBS.
  4. If your organisation is registered with DBS the counter signatory has to sign the form. DBS will send you a certificate.


What is the Disclosure and Barring Service?

Male teacher high five-ing young student

So now you have a better idea of what a DBS check means to you but you’re still thinking you want more detail. Well never fear, Money Magpie’s here to oblige.

We’ve covered some of the following in what the DBS means to you but here’s a quick breakdown of the kind of work the DBS does.


Once the DBS is complete the applicant will give this certificate to their employer so that they can make an informed decision about hiring you.

You can find out here what kind of information the DBS searches through.

The certificate will contain sensitive and personal information so there is a code of practice for recipients. This ensures that this information remains confidential and you know the information is being handled fairly and used properly.


Referrals are made to DBS when an employer or organisation believes a person has caused harm or poses a future risk of harm to vulnerable groups, including children.


An employer or volunteer manager is breaking the law if they knowingly employ someone in a regulated activity with a group from which they are barred from working.

The DBS do try and make the baring decisions as fair as they can be, looking into each individual case.

There are two main ways a case can reach them.


There are two types of automatic barring cases where a person has been cautioned or convicted for a relevant offence:

  • Automatic barring offences (without the right to make representations) will result in the person being included in one or both barred lists by DBS, irrespective of whether they have, are, or may in the future engage in regulated activity
  • Automatic barring offences (with the right to make representations) may also result in the person being placed on one or both barred lists. This will be subject to whether DBS believes that the person has engaged, is engaging or may in future engage in regulated activity, and the consideration of any representations they make


As mentioned above, this is put forward by an employer or organisation rather than the individual.

A registered body is an organisation that has the right to ask the questions that are exempt under the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act or can countersign on the behalf of another organisation which is itself entitled to ask these questions.

Basically they’re in charge of making sure that your application is kosher and will countersign it once they’ve processed it to say that all your information is genuine.

Before they do this they will:

  • Check and validate the information you give them
  • Make sure you are who you say you are
  • Check that your application form is correctly filled in and that you haven’t told any porkies

Make sure that the application process complies with the DBS’s code of practice.

You can find out more about how to make a referral to the DBS in this booklet. 


What’s the difference between the CRB and the DBS?

Young female nurse

The DBS replaced the CRB in December 2012 to make the process more efficient and simpler.

The DBS has a new system which, for the first time, enables individuals to apply to have their criminal record check kept up to date, and employers are able to go online to see if the information released is still current and valid.

The new online service costs £13 a year to keep your criminal record up to date. This means you can take the certificate with you from role to role, within the same workforce, without having to apply for a new one each time. We highly recommend this to people who are working on short-term contracts.

When subscribing to this service, you would only have to seek a new criminal record check if the system tells you something has changed.


How do I get a DBS check?

Woman with disabled child

You can’t do a criminal records check on yourself.  For individuals who are self-employed, getting a DBS check is difficult but not impossible.

You can find a local DBS umbrella body on the Gov.uk site here. For a fee, one of these agencies will do it for you.

In Scotland, if you need to run a check on yourself, you can get a ‘basic disclosure’ with details of any unspent convictions from Disclosure Scotland.

You can also get checked through an organisation you belong to, like your church or a sports club, whereby they act as your third party.

If you cannot get your hands on the DBS check, a good alternative is a Subject Access Report which you can obtain by filling out a form online or going down to your local police station. The report costs £10 and shows anything that is on your record. It should take around four weeks to process. However, be aware that this is not always good enough.

For example, many psychologists are technically self-employed but work with children under contract with NHS/Social Services. For them, a basic check is ineffective as a safeguarding measure so they need to have had an full enhanced check to do the work they do.


How much do DBS checks costs?

Woman looking at money thoughtfully

As mentioned earlier, here are three types of check each with a different price.

Type of check and cost What it will check for How long it normally takes
Standard – £26 Spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, final warnings About two weeks
Enhanced – £44 As above – plus any additional information held locally by police forces that’s reasonably considered relevant to the post applied for About four weeks
Enhanced with list checks – £44 As above – plus a check of the appropriate DBS barred lists About four weeks

For volunteers it’s free of charge.

However, on top of these charges you will pay administration fees to the agency which will vary according to the different registered bodies, but are usually in the region of £20 plus VAT.

N.B. DBS checks are only valid in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For Scotland you must get your check done by Disclosure Scotland. All checks carried out cost £25.


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Caroleann Byng
Caroleann Byng
1 year ago

Hi i just wanted to ask iv just applied for job looking after vunrable people I’m worried tho because I have a bad criminal record that I’m ashamed of mainly for shop lifting, possession, breach of bail I havnt been in trouble for 7yes do u think this will go against me working x

1 year ago
Reply to  Caroleann Byng

Hi Caroleann, depending on how long ago these things happened, and if you were charged or just cautioned, will depend on whether you get a job that requires a DBS check. You can (and should) declare any convictions on your record, with a justification if you can. The longer ago it was, the less likely it is to affect your DBS. However, there are some charges that will permanently prevent you from working with vulnerable people though it doesn’t sound like you have these on your record. Your best approach is to have an informal chat with the hiring officer… Read more »

Francesca Elton
Francesca Elton
2 years ago

I really don’t think I need a check, can you help. my friend has started a mobile catering company, I have been mostly involved in getting bookings etc. I finally found a permanent site and all seemed good, it is in the large car park of a children and adults dance and fitness studio. The woman has said that Donna (who is doing all the practical work) needs to have an advanced chk-which is fair enough, but she says I have to have one as well or I am not allowed on the site. Now I do not work for… Read more »

Anne Baxter
Anne Baxter
2 years ago

Hi. I had a DBS check in 2018 but cannot find the certificate. How can I find out the number

2 years ago

Useful info on DBS checks.

Lynne Rains
Lynne Rains
4 years ago

lease can you confirm by email what Alex told me yesterday, that bar persons in general do not need to have a DBS check many thanks

4 years ago
Reply to  Lynne Rains

Hi there. The DBS check is generally just for people working with children or vulnerable adults. So if you’re in medicine, teaching, some forms of entertainment, even being a film extra if you might work with children, then you need some form of DBS check.

However, with bar work, on the whole, you’re not working with these groups so it’s unlikely you will have to have one.

Ultimately it’s up to the employer, if they’re in a sector that doesn’t HAVE to have a DBS check. Some companies want one anyway.

4 years ago

I got a caution for “soliciting” 10 years ago, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, only chatting to a woman who had approached me but I accepted a caution to avoid what I was told (wrongly as it happens) would “end up in court”. The police officer who arrested me was most pleased that I accepted a caution. Hand on heart, I can honestly say that that single 30-second mishap, the caution and its appearance on the certificate has fucked up my entire life. I have not been able to get a job since. Each time I go for a job… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  Will

Will, I’m so sorry to hear that. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I spoke to an employment lawyer – Emma O’Leary at the ELAS Group – about this and she sent this reply: ““The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 protects ex offenders from minor misdemeanours blotting their entire life. The idea is that after a period of rehabilitation the conviction is considered ‘spent’ and the person is not obliged to disclose that conviction on any job application. A caution such as the one described would certainly be spent and should not be relevant to any future employment.… Read more »

4 years ago

Very good idea you’ve shared here, from here I can be a very valuable new experience. all things that are here will I make the source of reference, thank you friends.

6 years ago

Three years ago someone reported my children as being left home alone, they were in the care of my eldest teenage son. The police attended and were happy with my care arrangements but the house was untidy and they reported me to socisl services. They wrote to me and sent the health visitor to see us at home and she said everything was fine, the house was fine and she felt there was no issue. As teacher and thinking of applying for a new job, but I am worried this would show up on an enhanced DBS check. Would it?

6 years ago

Hi, I’m awaiting a police check done by social services, my partner has recently been arrested and bailed pending further enquiries. Will this show up on the check?

6 years ago

I applied for a Basic Disclosure for a job in 2008, and it listed two convictions, Driving a Vehicle with Excess Alcohol (DR10) in August 2003, and Motorway Traffic (Speed) Regulations (SP70) in December 2003. Commencing teacher training in 2014 I had to apply for an Enhanced DBS, and reading the guidance regarding Filtering I was upset to realize that my second (relatively trivial) conviction for speeding could mean that the DR10 might NEVER be filtered. It was a something of a relief then, when my certificate came back with only the DR10 listed as a ‘Conviction’, and the SP70… Read more »

6 years ago
Reply to  Geoff

It appears that the speeding conviction may have been treated differently as it was a Scottish conviction rather than England and Wales.

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