This guide gives you everything you need to understand and implement employment background checks in the UK.
Employment background checks are a critical part of recruiting the best talent into your business. Having these checks set up as standard within your recruitment process is essential, and not doing so could end up costing you in the future.
Employment background checks review a current or prospective employee’s background to help assess their suitability for a role.
The background checks carried out depends on the criteria set by an employer, however there are some checks you are legally obligated to perform.
The checks completed also depend on the nature of the role – for example, working with children or vulnerable adults will require a more enhanced background check.
Employment background checks are a vital part of your recruitment screening process. Without them, you are missing a key stage of evaluating your candidates.
In a Checkster survey of 400 candidates, 78% admitted they did or considered adding false information to their CV. Not doing your due diligence through a background check can lead to making the completely wrong hire for your business.
Making a bad hire has numerous negative outcomes, from financial, to business performance and profitability.
Doing a thorough background screening on your candidates contributes to making quality hires, saving you time and money in the long run.
When you don’t appropriately screen your candidates, you increase the risk of making a negligent hire.
A negligent hire could put other employees or customers at risk if they’re not properly trained and cause harm. This may then make your business liable for negligent hiring damages, which can come at a great cost.
Becoming known as a negligent employer can also greatly impact your brand reputation, and dissuade talented candidates from applying to your roles in the future.
Background screening helps improve your business’ regulatory compliance, and avoids the costly fees associated with non-compliance.
For example, failing to conduct a right-to-work check, or doing so incorrectly, can garner you a hefty fine. It’s always better to do your due diligence and not overlook this part of the recruitment process.
There are several different types of employee background checks that an employer might perform.
Some examples of UK background checks include:
Employers are legally obligated to complete right-to-work checks in the UK. These establish if an employee has the right to work in the UK.
Failure to carry out a right-to-work check can subject you to a civil penalty of £20,000 per worker, an unlimited fine, or imprisonment for five years.
There are two ways to assess this:
For more information on right-to-work checks, download the gov.uk guide.
If a role entails working with children, vulnerable people, or sensitive information, a criminal record or DBS check will be required.
Not carrying out a criminal record check could lead to hiring unsuitable candidates with the potential to cause financial or legal issues.
There are different types of DBS checks available:
|DBS Check||Used for||Includes|
|Basic||Any position||Spent convictions|
|Standard||Prison employees, security industry authority personnel, court officers||Cautions, warnings, reprimands, convictions|
|Enhanced||Education and healthcare professionals||Searches on the DBS Children’s Barred List and DBS Adult First|
Whilst there is no legal obligation to check employment and education references, it is highly recommended. In fact, a CareerBuilder survey found 29% of employers reported catching a fake reference on a candidate’s application.
Candidates may create fake credentials or inflate their previous salary to get a higher offer. Checking past payroll data and implementing processes to check credentials are genuine and valid is important as a result.
Credit history checks are often used as part of a background check in the financial sector, with the aim of reducing the risk of fraud and understanding a candidate’s financial situation.
This typically includes looking at public and private databases for bankruptcies, voluntary arrangements, decrees, and administration orders.
DVLA checks are essential if your employee will drive on behalf of the company, as the hire of unqualified or unsafe drivers could lead to accidents and the potential of a large fine.
This check will reveal driving licence validity, any offences or disqualifications, expiry date, and the type of vehicles they can drive.
In today’s day and age, more employers conduct a social media screening of applicants. This can help get a better idea of their attitude, how well they may fit into your company culture, and highlight any causes for concern.
Medical checks are appropriate when good health is needed to perform well within a role.
Medical checks should be avoided without good justification from an employer. This is because the Equality Act prevents employers from not hiring someone based on their physical or mental health.
International sanctions checks determine if a candidate has ever been suspected of terrorism, money laundering, drug trafficking, arms dealing, war crimes, white-collar fraud, or other illegal activities.
This check is typically done by political organisations and government bodies, but finance and aviation companies have been known to conduct them too.
A UK sanctions check qualifies if a candidate has ever failed to prepare and file accounts or make returns to Companies House, pay tax, continued to trade after a company was insolvent, or been involved in any fraudulent activity.
Background checks can be conducted in-house or via contract with a vendor. Advances in recruitment technology mean that the process is much less manual now, saving your team time sifting through applications.
The best modern recruitment systems come with built-in employment background checker tools.
These tools greatly automate the background checking process. You can simply select the checks you require in line with your industry or role (for example a DBS check for educational roles), and automatically send requests for this information, sometimes with just the click of a button.
You can then accurately track any progress, and receive automatic alerts of any issues or completions all on one system.
There are numerous benefits to using a recruitment system to do your background checks. A key benefit is it’s much more efficient, keeping all your recruitment processes integrated into one place. You avoid the need to log in to another platform, and give your whole team complete visibility on candidate progress.
The ability to automatically send background check requests also reduces the amount of admin time spent doing this for each individual candidate. If you tend to receive a high volume of applications, this drastically reduces your time to hire, which in turn leads to a better candidate experience, and fewer drop-offs to a lengthy screening process.
Before doing any background checks, your HR or recruitment team should ask themselves these questions:
Not all UK background checks are free of charge. Whilst publicly available social media screening can easily be done for free, a DBS check for example comes at a cost of £23.
If you’re using a recruitment system to make your background checks easier, the cost can vary. Most systems have this as a standalone feature, however Smart Recruit Online offers a fully integrated service. This improves your recruitment efficiency whilst also reducing costs, as background checks can be completed at a lower cost than directly.
The amount of time it takes to process an employee background check can vary depending on the check requested. Smart Recruit Online however has a set service level agreement in place for the various checks which we would be happy to share with you.
Some background checks can be completed instantly, such as the right to work, credit checks, and DVLA checks. Other checks may take a little longer – for example, a criminal record check can take up to 14 days, and even 8 weeks for more enhanced checks.
Many employers tend to conduct background checks post-offer, others post-interview but pre-offer, and some may do so for more than one candidate.
You will need to determine as an employer when is best to carry out these checks based on budget and the average number of final candidates.
In the UK, it is vital that every employer ensures new employees are allowed to work in the UK with a right-to-work check.
If you are an employer, you can perform all the above background checks on a candidate or employee, provided you have their consent and can give a justified reason.
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