Guide

Pre-employment checks

Pre-employment checks: applying for a criminal records check

You can apply for a criminal records check for the potential applicant from AccessNI. This is usually required when people are working regularly with children or vulnerable adults or, for example, as part of the taxi driver licensing regime in Northern Ireland. The Security Industry Authority also carries out a criminal record check on anyone who applies for a security licence.

It is important to ensure that a position is eligible for an AccessNI check before starting the process. Eligibility is governed by the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Exceptions) Order (Northern Ireland) 1979 (as amended). You should contact AccessNI if you are unsure whether a position is eligible for a check.

Criminal records checks should not be requested until a job offer is made, but you should make it clear, in writing, that the job offer is conditional upon a criminal records check.

There are three types of criminal records check - basic, standard and enhanced. Legislative provisions may require that either a Standard or Enhanced Disclosure is requested for someone commencing employment in certain sectors. The type of check you will need to make will depend on the work that is to be undertaken.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) helps employers in Northern Ireland make safer recruitment decisions. The main criminal record checks are now called a DBS check. A DBS check is only necessary for certain types of jobs involving vulnerable groups eg working with children, in healthcare, prisons and courts. The DBS was established in 2012 and carries out the functions previously undertaken by the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safegurding Authority. It is accessible through AccessNI.

For more information on each type of check, see AccessNI criminal records checks.

Avoiding discrimination

Once you have received your copy of the AccessNI disclosure certificate, you can assess whether the candidate is suitable for the job. An AccessNI disclosure will reveal previous convictions. Generally, under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, someone convicted of a criminal offence who does not receive any further convictions during 'the rehabilitation period' becomes a rehabilitated person. Their conviction is regarded as spent - therefore after a certain period of time, you should treat the person as if the conviction had not happened.

However, a conviction resulting in a prison sentence of more than two and a half years can never be spent.

A person must disclose all convictions - including spent ones - if the job offered falls into an exempted category according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) 1978, including:

  • regular contact with children and vulnerable adults
  • accountancy
  • work as a barrister
  • police work
  • posts relating to the administration of justice or financial regulation
  • posts involving national security

Whether the conviction is spent or unspent, you should carefully weigh a number of factors, including:

  • how long ago the offence was committed
  • the candidate's age at the time
  • the relevance of the offence to the job offered
  • the penalty awarded
  • whether the offence was isolated or part of a pattern of offending
  • what is known about the person's behaviour before and since

People should not be unfairly discriminated against due to past convictions. You should also give the candidate a chance to explain if a check reveals adverse information about them.

For details of your legal obligations when applying for AccessNI checks and using the sensitive personal information on a certificate see employing someone with a criminal record.

Read NIACRO guidance on criminal records disclosure issues.

Read AccessNI guidance on employing people with Northern Ireland conflict-related convictions.

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