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Ultimate Guide to Employee Background Checks UK

6 min read
employee background checks

Employee background checks are a vital part of the pre-employment screening process. They give employers the chance to verify a prospective candidate’s criminal record, credit checks, education and employment history in order to confirm their validity.

In this article, we’ll cover what a background check consists of, the most common types, and how to conduct background checks on a potential employee.


What are Employee Background Checks?

A background check is a legal investigation into a potential employee’s history. Background screening often involves criminal background checks, identity verification, and education and credential checks. It can also include health checks, DVLA checks, social media screening and drug screening.

The level of investigation you need to undertake will depend on the post being filled. In other words, if you are recruiting someone at an executive level (such as a new CFO) then you will need to perform more checks than for someone at a junior or entry-level.

Employee background checks are usually included as part of the pre-screening recruitment process, although they can be undertaken at any point that an employer feels is necessary. They are used to verify that a person is who they claim to be to ensure the safety of your workforce and uphold your company’s reputation. Depending on the checks conducted, background screening can reveal if a potential new recruit is honest and trustworthy and if they can perform the duties of the position.

Key Elements of a Background Check

UK employment background checks usually consist of the following, most of which are regulated by law:

Criminal record checks: Used to check an individual’s criminal history. A criminal background check is common for a range of positions including teachers and social workers. Checks must be proportionate to the role being applied for. They must also comply with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974. Make sure you conduct the right Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for each employee.

Right to Work checks: Used to ensure an applicant is legally entitled to work in the UK. You must conduct these checks for all applicants. As an employer, it is your responsibility to conduct and maintain a record of all RTW checks. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to £20,000.

DVLA checks: Used for roles where an employee will be driving on company time. This might include sales reps or couriers. A requirement of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Health check: Used exclusively for cases where it is a legal requirement. For example, eye tests for commercial vehicle drivers.

Education and employment background check: Standard checks used to verify a candidate’s qualifications and work history. Employment references are included within this.

Social media screening: Used by some employers to gain insight into a candidate’s values and attitude. Can be used to make sure a candidate is the right fit for a position.

UK background checks

DBS Check (Basic, Standard, Advanced) vs BPSS Check

DBS Checks (Disclosure and Barring Service) in the UK and BPSS Checks (Baseline Personnel Security Standard) are two common pre-employment screening checks that are easily confused. They serve different purposes and are used in distinct contexts:

  1. DBS Checks:
    • Basic DBS Check: Provides a basic overview of an individual’s criminal record. It includes unspent convictions and conditional cautions.
    • Standard DBS Check: Includes checks for unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, and final warnings, as well as any additional information held by local police that’s considered relevant.
    • Enhanced DBS Check: Provides the same information as a standard check but includes a check of the local police’s records and may also include relevant information held by other government departments and agencies.

    These checks are often required for positions that involve working with children or vulnerable adults. Employers in certain sectors, such as healthcare, education, or finance, might request these checks to ensure the safety and suitability of potential employees.

  2. BPSS Check (Baseline Personnel Security Standard):

    BPSS is more focused on determining an individual’s baseline suitability to work in government or other sensitive environments. It typically involves four main checks:

    • Identity: Verification of an individual’s identity.
    • Employment History: Confirmation of an individual’s employment history.
    • Nationality and Immigration Status: Confirmation of an individual’s right to work in the UK.
    • Criminal Record Declaration: Requires individuals to declare any unspent convictions.

    The BPSS check is primarily used within government agencies and departments, as well as in other contexts where there is a need to assess the baseline security suitability of individuals accessing sensitive information or environments.

The key differences lie in their focus and the level of detail in the checks. DBS checks are primarily concerned with criminal records, while the BPSS check concentrates on broader security aspects beyond just criminal history.

Both checks serve specific purposes and are used in different settings based on the level of security clearance or background information required for the job or role in question.

Importance of Background Checks

  • Trustworthy employees: Background checks provide you with the “bigger picture” of who a candidate really is. They can help you find the right person for the job.
  • Fraud Prevention: Certain candidates might lie on their CV or embellish their qualifications. Employee background checks help you spot inconsistencies and avoid hiring someone who is under-qualified or inexperienced. This is an essential part of the recruitment process because hiring the wrong person can have a direct impact on quality and productivity.
  • Data Security: As an employer, it is vital that you have measures in place to prevent data theft and loss. This is especially true if a candidate will be handling confidential or sensitive data. HR background checks can help you protect your organisation from hackers, data theft and financial loss.
  • Protecting Your Workforce: As an employer, it is your responsibility to make sure your employees are protected from hostile working environments. Employment background checks will help you weed out any candidates who might pose a potential threat. This includes bullying, discrimination, acts of violence or sexual harassment. By protecting your employees you will build a happier workforce and achieve higher retention levels.
  • Legal Compliance: As an employer, you must check that your employees are legally entitled to work for you. By conducting Right to Work and industry-specific checks you ensure compliance and avoid any potentially hefty files.

Employment verification

How to Perform a Valid Background Check

Performing a valid background check is crucial for various contexts, whether in employment, tenancy, or other areas where assessing an individual’s history is essential. To conduct a comprehensive and valid background check, several key steps and considerations should be followed.

1. Identify the Purpose and Scope: Clearly define the purpose of the background check and the scope of information required. Determine whether it’s for employment, tenancy, security clearance, or other specific reasons.

2. Obtain Consent: Ensure that the individual being screened provides consent for the background check. It’s a legal requirement in most cases and an ethical practice to obtain permission before delving into someone’s personal history.

3. Use Reliable Sources: Utilise reputable sources to gather information. This can include official records, professional databases, and verified contacts. Common sources include criminal record repositories, credit bureaus, educational institutions, and previous employers.

4. Verify Identity: Confirm the individual’s identity to ensure the accuracy of the information being collected. This might involve cross-referencing various forms of identification.

5. Check Criminal Records: Verify criminal history through appropriate channels, such as national or local criminal databases. The depth of the check (basic, standard, advanced) should align with the context of the background check.

6. Verify Employment and Education History: Cross-check employment history and educational qualifications. Contact previous employers and educational institutions to confirm dates of employment, positions held, and academic credentials.

7. Review Credit History: In some cases, especially for financial positions, checking an individual’s credit history might be necessary to assess their financial responsibility.

8. Maintain Compliance with Regulations: Ensure the background check complies with relevant laws and regulations. Different regions and contexts have specific rules governing the extent and manner of background checks.

9. Respect Confidentiality: Handle the obtained information confidentially and securely, ensuring it’s only accessed by authorised personnel and used solely for the intended purpose.

10. Communicate Findings Clearly: Finally, when the background check is completed, communicate the findings transparently and responsibly, respecting the individual’s right to know the results.

Streamlining Recruitment with Factorial

Factorial is a comprehensive, all-in-one HR management software that offers various features and tools to streamline the recruitment process. With Factorial’s Applicant Tracking System, recruitment teams can streamline the hiring process by posting optimised job openings, managing CVs, and tracking candidate progress, collaborating with hiring managers to review candidates and schedule their interviews effortlessly.

You can also easily create and publish job listings on multiple platforms, including your company’s career page and popular job boards. This helps attract a wider pool of candidates and ensures that your job openings reach the right audience.

What’s more, our Document Management System allows you to digitally store all documents linked to each potential candidate so that all paperwork related to background checks (reference checks, credit check etc) can be stored in one place.

Book a free demo to speak to an expert and learn more!

Emma is a Content Writer with 5 years of Marketing experience. She specialises in HR strategy and modern workplace trends. When she's not writing, she's running by the beach or cooking Italian food.

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