A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is a criminal record check that an employer can request as part of their recruitment process, in this way ensuring that they are only recruiting suitable people into their organisation and for the job role in question.

This is especially important when the person will be working with children or vulnerable adults, although you can ask for a basic check of a candidate’s criminal record no matter what sector your business operates in or what specific role a person is applying for.

Equally, it is important to consider how long the DBS check will last, and if and when this needs to be renewed, where an individual who does not have a criminal record prior to being recruited, may have a conviction or caution recorded against them after they have been hired.

Below we look specifically at the question of how long a DBS check lasts, as well as related queries about the process for applying for a DBS check for both prospective and existing employees, including the processing times involved and how to minimise any potential delays.

How long does a DBS last?

Any information included in a DBS check will only be accurate at the time the check was carried out, where the certificate will state the date it was issued. However, a DBS check has no official expiry date. This means that it is generally up to you, as the employer, to decide whether to request a new check and at what stage this will take place.

As a matter of best practice, many organisations will renew their employees’ DBS checks on a rolling basis, although in some sectors there may be a statutory duty to request a new check.

Where an existing employee moves into a new role that requires a higher level of check, responsibility for renewing their DBS check lies with the employer. Further, where an individual changes organisation, even if they move into a similar role for which they have already been checked, DBS suggests they should have their check renewed.

Under the relevant code of practice, the information revealed by a DBS certificate should only be used for the specific purpose for which it was obtained, and the document should be destroyed after a suitable period has passed following a recruitment decision – usually no longer than 6 months.

What are the different kinds of DBS checks?

The type of check you should carry out before recruiting someone new into your organisation, or into a new role, will depend on what job role they will be undertaking and the level of disclosure required for that position:

The basic check will show unspent convictions and conditional cautions. Employers from any sector can ask for a basic check of a candidates’ criminal record to help them decide if that person is fit for employment, or continues to be fit for employment.

The standard check will show any spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings held on the Police National Computer (PNC). This type of in-depth background check is required to verify if a candidate is suitable to hire for work in a specific industry.

The enhanced check will show the same details as the standard check, plus any information held by local police forces that is considered relevant to the role. This type of check is suitable for people working with children or vulnerable adults.

The enhanced check with barred lists will show the same PNC information and check of information held by police forces as an enhanced level check, but will also check against the children’s and/or adult’s barred lists to see whether an individual is prevented by law from working with vulnerable people such as children, the elderly, ill or disabled.

What is the DBS Update Service?

The DBS Update Service allows employees to keep their standard and enhanced DBS certificates up-to-date. If an employee is registered with this service, as their employer you can instantly check the status of their certificate online and free-of-charge without requesting a new DBS check, as long as you have the individual’s consent to do so.

This also means that when recruiting a new employee, rather than requesting a renewal, you can use the update service to see if anything has changed since their last certificate was issued. However, you must check the applicant’s identity matches the details against their original certificate, and only carry out a status check where the role is within the same workforce (for enhanced checks), and requiring the same type and level of certificate.

You must also be legally entitled to request that the applicant disclose their full criminal history, including spent convictions. This is referred to as ‘an exempted question’. An exempted question would be applicable where the individual will be working in one of a number of specific occupations, for certain licenses and specified positions covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.

To register for the update service, the applicant must do so within 30 days of the date of issue printed on their certificate at the latest and pay an annual subscription of £13, although there is no charge for volunteers. The update service is also currently not available for basic checks.

What will a DBS certificate status check show?

After viewing the original DBS certificate, if you are legally entitled to carry out a status check for either a prospective or existing employee and have the individual’s consent, go to the Update Service on the CRB website. The outcome of a valid status check will be one of the following:

  1. The certificate did not reveal any information and remains current as no further information has been identified since its issue: this means that the individual’s certificate contained no criminality or barring information when issued and no new information has been found since its issue, so can be accepted as being still current and valid.
  2. The certificate remains current as no further information has been identified since its issue: this means that the individual’s certificate did contain criminality or barring information, but no new information has been found since its issue and can therefore be accepted as being still current and valid.
  3. The certificate is no longer current. Please apply for a new DBS check to get the most up to date information: this means that the individual’s certificate should not be relied upon as new information has come to light since its issue, and you should request a new DBS check.

Where an employee has not subscribed to this service, where the certificate is no longer current, or where you require a basic check renewal or a different level of check for the role for which you are recruiting, a fresh application for a DBS check will need to be made.

What is the renewal process for a DBS check?

A prospective or existing employee can apply for a basic check either directly online to DBS or through a Responsible Organisation (RO). They can also ask you to apply on their behalf via an RO. ROs are DBS-registered to submit basic checks via a web service.

You will need to choose a company from the list of RO’s registered with DBS to process checks. The RO will carry out the check and the applicant will then receive their certificate by post, although they can also set up a DBS account to view the certificate online.

An individual cannot, however, apply for a standard or enhanced DBS check by themselves, where these will need to be carried out on behalf of the applicant by either the hiring organisation or a third party on the applicant’s behalf. Access to the DBS checking service for standard and enhanced checks is not available to everyone; only employers who are registered with the service are entitled by law to ask an exempted question.

If you are eligible to ask an exempted question but not registered with DBS to submit standard or enhanced checks – you can only register with DBS if you carry out 100 or more checks per year – you will instead need to access the services of a Registered Body to submit the check on the applicant’s behalf.

The employer or Registered Body must provide the candidate with a DBS application form to complete and return to them, along with documents proving their identity. This form will then be submitted to DBS. Once the check is complete, the applicant will be issued with a certificate, although you must still check this certificate to ensure that it is genuine.

What documents are needed for a DBS check or renewal?

The documents that an applicant will need to provide for a DBS check will depend on the level of check required. To apply, or re-apply, for a basic check the applicant will need the following:

  • All their addresses for the last 5 years and the dates they lived there
  • Their National Insurance number
  • Their passport, or one other form of photo ID
  • Their driving licence, or one other proof of address.

For a standard or enhanced DBS check, the applicant’s identity must be verified by a registered employer or other Registered Body following a 3-route identity checking process to validate the name, date of birth and current address provided in the application form.

DBS check documents usually include identification, such as a valid passport or driving licence, along with two additional documents. One of these additional documents must show proof of address. Other documents may be acceptable if the individual does not have a passport or driving licence.

How long does DBS check processing take?

A basic or standard DBS check usually takes just a few days to process. An enhanced check can take much longer, in some cases up to several weeks, especially if any of the information submitted for the check is incorrect or several police forces need to be involved in an enhanced level check.

Employers in the adult care sector can apply to use the DBS Adult First service. This will confirm, usually within 2 days, if the applicant can start work, albeit under supervision, or whether you must wait for the results of an enhanced check.

This service, however, is only available to organisations permitted to access the DBS’s adult barred list and who have requested a check of the barred lists on the application form. It is not appropriate where an individual will be working with both children and adults. DBS Adult First checks should also be used only in exceptional circumstances and when absolutely necessary, and would not be a substitute for a full DBS certificate.

What are the stages of the DBS check?

Depending on the level of check requested, there can be up to the following five stages involved in processing the check:

DBS receives the completed application form, which is then validated by DBS.

A search of the Police National Computer database (PNC) is performed, where key data from the application form will be compared against details from the PNC to search for any matches.

The information on the application is checked against the children and adults’ barred lists, if requested:

  • The application is sent to the police for an additional check of records before the information is sent back to the DBS.
  • The DBS check process is complete, and the certificate is printed and posted.
  • The progress of a basic check can be tracked by either the applicant, their employer and Responsible Organisations by using the DBS online account tracking service.
  • DBS also provides a free online tracking service that allows you to track the progress of standard or enhanced types of application. This allows the user to check the progress of the application if an application had to be returned due to errors and if the results of the criminal record check have been dispatched.

How can delays be avoided with DBS checks?

There are various reasons that might result in delays in processing a DBS check, one of the most common being that there are errors and omissions in the application form. This could be, for example, that previous names and addresses have not been disclosed by the applicant, or where there are several fields left blank or the writing is illegible.

By thoroughly checking an application before it is submitted to DBS, either directly by the hiring organisation or a Registered Body, you can help to minimise any errors.

An enhanced check will also commonly be slowed down at stage 4 of the process if the application needs to be forwarded to multiple police forces because the applicant has moved area several times within the previous 5 years. In some cases, even where there is only one local police force in receipt of the application, any internal backlog with them due to staffing issues can also cause delays. In such instances, it may be possible to escalate an application where it has been held in stage 4 of the process for over 60 days.

If your organisation will require checks on a rolling basis, it is always best to encourage your employees to subscribe to the DBS Update Service so that checks can be made instantly online, as and when required in accordance with any DBS policy in place.

How much is a DBS?

The cost of a DBS certificate will depend on the level of check sought. A basic check will cost £23, whilst a standard and enhanced check will cost £40, although these are free to volunteers. An Adult First Check will cost £6. Where an employer is required to use the services of an umbrella body for a standard or enhanced check there will also be an administrative charge.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


Anne Morris is the founder and Managing Director of DavidsonMorris. A highly experienced lawyer, she is recognised by Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500 UK as a trusted adviser to multinationals, large corporates and SMEs, delivering strategic immigration and global mobility advice. Anne is also an active commentator on UK immigration and HR matters.

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