How long do DBS checks take? (With types and stages)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 7 November 2022

Published 6 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're in the process of applying for jobs, you may have come across the need to get a DBS check. These checks help employers ascertain whether you have any previous criminal convictions that might be a concern. Depending on the type of DBS check involved, and some other factors, the length of time can vary, and delays are not unheard of. In this article, we answer the question, "How long do DBS checks take?", explore the different types and explain some common reasons for delays.

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What is a DBS check?

DBS stands for the Disclosure and Barring Service, which is a governmental body that's sponsored by the Home Office. It provides this service to allow recruiters and employers to make safer hiring decisions. You may also have heard of the Criminal Records Bureau, which is the old name for the DBS. A DBS check, of which there are different types, is documentary evidence of your criminal history in the form of a certificate. According to the government's own DBS guidance, there are four different types of DBS checks:

  • A basic check

  • A standard check

  • An enhanced check

  • An enhanced check with barred lists

The different types of DBS check simply cater to different needs, and are covered in more detail later in this article. While employers do have the right to know of any previous criminal convictions you may have, they may not always be allowed to discriminate against you on this basis. Potential employees who are protected under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 cannot be discriminated against. You can read the government's guidance on this matter if you want to know more.

Related: How To Prepare for an Interview

How long do DBS checks take?

There is some variation in the amount of time a DBS check can take, based on what level of check is requested, in addition to some other factors, so the answer to the question, "How long do DBS checks take?" can vary. There is no set time frame or deadline for issuing a DBS check, but generally, they can take between two and ten days. A basic disclosure from the DBS usually takes between five and ten working days after you've submitted an application. Once the system has completed the checks, they send the DBS certificate the same day, typically by 2nd class post. You also receive an email notification once the checks are completed.

Both the DBS and the police jointly complete the standard disclosure, with the certificate issued directly to the applicant. Once submitted to the DBS, they typically complete a standard disclosure within two days. The police and the DBS also do an enhanced DBS check, and it generally takes longer to issue. Typically, this is five to ten days. However, they can take longer than this if certain processes cause delays.

What are the different types of DBS checks?

There are four different types of DBS checks, and each serves a different purpose. The different types of DBS checks are explained in more detail below:

Basic check

This is the most basic type of DBS check and results in a certificate that shows your unspent convictions and conditional cautions. An unspent conviction is one that isn't removed from your record in line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This can include violent crimes or offences that resulted in a prison sentence of more than two-and-a-half years. A conditional caution is an alternative to prosecution and requires an offender to comply with certain conditions of a rehabilitative or reparative nature. This is the only type of check you can independently request for yourself.

Standard check

In addition to the information contained within a basic check, a standard check also shows your spent convictions, cautions, final warnings and reprimands. A spent conviction is one that has been removed from your record under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and refers to offences resulting in a sentence of less than two-and-a-half years, and non-violent or other such crimes. A caution, warning or reprimand is typically spent immediately, and a conditional caution is spent after three months. The timeline for other types of offences varies.

Unlike a basic check, you cannot request a standard check for yourself. Instead, you must get an application form from your employer, assuming they've asked you to do the check.

Enhanced check

An enhanced DBS check contains all of the information of a standard check, in addition to other information from the local police that is thought to be relevant to your role. You can only request this if you're going to be working in a regulated activity, such as in education or healthcare. Roles in these sectors almost always require an enhanced check. Like the standard check, an employer must request the enhanced DBS check on the candidate's behalf.

Enhanced check with barred lists

You may often find that there are three types of DBS checks, and that they group the enhanced check with barred lists with the enhanced check. However, the government's own website differentiates between the two. In addition to an enhanced DBS check, this one also shows whether the candidate is on any list of people who've been barred from working in a certain role. An employer must also request an enhanced check with barred lists on the candidate's behalf.

The stages of the DBS checking process

Depending on the type of check requested, the process for getting a DBS check can go through up to five stages:

  • Stage 1: the application is received and validated. This can be done either online or on a paper form, after which the applications are checked for errors, and are returned within 24 hours (or withdrawn) if they fail.

  • Stage 2: the Police National Computer (PNC) is searched. The data in the form is checked in the PNC to find a match, and the police may verify your identity with fingerprints.

  • Stage 3: the Barred Lists. The data in the application is checked against the Adults' and Children's Barred Lists.

  • Stage 4: search of police records. The check is sent electronically to the police to check their records, and the police also verify your details against their own information.

  • Stage 5: the DBS certificate is issued. All of the requested information is printed on a DBS certificate and sent to the applicant, who can then show it to the employer who requested it.

Causes of delays and tips to avoid them

The time frame of two to ten days is only an estimate of the typical amount of time it takes for a DBS check. Delays can happen at different stages of the process and for different reasons. The most common reasons, and some ways to avoid them, are as follows:

Physical application forms

Sending a paper application form can take longer than one sent electronically. This is because sending something by post simply takes longer than an online application, and because there's more room for error when physically completing a form. Discrepancies or badly filled forms are more likely when written by hand, which can necessitate that the form be sent back. Wherever possible, make a DBS application online to avoid this unnecessary type of delay.

Errors and omissions on the form

Even if you send it electronically, there's still the potential for mistakes. The details submitted with a DBS application must be correct, up-to-date and accurate. If errors are found, these must be corrected before the process moves to the second stage. This takes time and can cause an unnecessary delay. Before you send the form, make sure you've thoroughly proofread and checked it. Double-check it more than once if possible.

Stage 4

This is the stage of the process where police go through their records. Depending on the situation of your local police force, there may be staffing shortages or other problems that can cause a delay. If there's a significant backlog of DBS forms, yours may not be seen for several days, if not longer. This is why the fourth stage is among the most common stages for delays.

A Stage 4 delay is typically something that is solely under the control of the local police. What you can do is ensure that there are no delays due to oversights of your own. You can also consider using a company called a Responsible Organisation (RO) for handling the process. The government website has a list of ROs that meet the DBS' processing standards and terms and conditions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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