Youth and minor cautions no longer disclosed under planned DBS check changes

Experts welcome amendments aimed at addressing the ‘unfair discrimination’ of ex-offenders in the jobs market

Automatic disclosure of youth cautions, reprimands, warnings and multiple convictions will be amended in a move to increase employment for ex-offenders, the government has announced.

The government laid out amendments yesterday (9 July) to the filtering rules that govern what is automatically disclosed through both standard and enhanced disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks. The changes aim to ensure the ‘right balance’ between rehabilitating offenders and protecting the public. 

The new legislation would remove the automatic disclosure of youth cautions, reprimands and warnings, and overturn the “multiple conviction” rule, which requires disclosure where a person has more than one conviction regardless of the nature of the offence or sentence. 

The government said this “statutory instrument” would be debated in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords later this year before the changes came into effect.

Victoria Atkins, safeguarding minister, said the statutory instrument built on commitments to increase employment for ex-offenders, and would benefit those with childhood cautions and minor offences who were trying to move away from their pasts. 

“By making these adjustments, we will ensure that vulnerable people are protected from dangerous offenders while those who have turned their lives around or live with the stigma of convictions from their youth are not held back,” she said. 

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Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, welcomed the planned changes, saying this would hopefully end the unfair limiting of employment opportunities for people who had offended in their youth but had since reformed. 

"There is still a lot of unfair discrimination against ex-offenders who need the chance to genuinely rehabilitate in society and in work," Suff said. "At a time when the jobs market is likely to come under severe strain, job seekers do not need any additional and unnecessary barriers to finding employment."

She said employers "too often" carried out DBS checks unnecessarily, or made blanket assumptions about individuals with past offences. "People with convictions should not be overlooked in recruitment and represent a source of untapped talent in our labour market," Suff said.

DBS checks are used by employers to inspect the criminal history of people they plan to hire. The service offers three types of checks, ranging from basic – which shows unspent convictions and conditional cautions, and is suitable for use in relation to any role – to enhanced, which shows a wider range of information and is used for jobs that involve working with children or vulnerable adults. From 2018 to 2019, the DBS issued 5.8 million disclosure certificates.

However, the use of criminal record checks has been highly criticised in recent years. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the way workers’ criminal records were disclosed to employers infringed on their human rights. The court said the blanket rules around DBS checks “disproportionately” affected those who had committed offences as a youth or had multiple convictions. 

On 31 January 2019, the court rejected government appeals over three cases brought against the Home Office in which the claimants argued the DBS system was hindering their rehabilitation.

The cases included a woman convicted of driving without wearing a seatbelt who was fined £10. Another claimant received a caution for the theft of a sandwich, was convicted of the theft of a book worth 99p while homeless, and suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia. 

The third case involved an assault that occurred during a fight after school when the individual was a teenager. He received a conditional discharge and had not offended since, but believed these events had negatively affected his career.

As a result, the court directed the government to amend the DBS system. It said the rule for disclosing multiple convictions was “capricious”, describing the inclusion of youth warnings and reprimands as part of the disclosure scheme as an “error of principle”.

Unlock, a charity that helps people with convictions find employment, said approximately 25,000 youth cautions were disclosed through DBS checks every year, and around 75 per cent of these were for incidents that happened over five years ago.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, welcomed the government’s intention to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling on filtering, saying the changes were a “crucial first step” towards achieving a fair system that took a more balanced approach.

“However, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs they are qualified to do,” Stacey warned. “The government’s plan for jobs should include a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery.”