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Frequently asked questions about background checks

Background checks are investigations into an individual’s personal history, carried out by employers for the purposes of security and to make sure that the person investigated is who they say they are. It’s estimated that over 80% of companies conduct some kind of background check during the hiring process, so it’s good to be familiar with the type of information that will be scrutinized when you’re being hired. Read on to see a few frequently asked questions about background checks.


Image By: John Barker

What kinds of background checks are there?

There are a number of specific checks that people can request, these include:

  • Employment references
  • Character reference checks
  • Gaps in employment history
  • Identity and address verification (which uses information collected from the electoral roll, the same data bank White Pages uses for its UK address and telephone number finding services)
  • Terrorist and passport validation checks
  • Credit history (with emphasis on whether the individual has been bankrupt in the past)
  • Criminal history report

Why carry out a background check on someone?

Employers must firstly check that any prospective candidates are entitled to work in the UK, by law. Secondly, background checks provide information that might have been omitted in an individual’s job application – any big gaps in employment, for example, or to catch out those who have fabricated parts of their CV. Thirdly, healthcare and childcare employers will need to carry out criminal record checks (although these are not strictly limited to the professional world; those wishing to become foster parents will also require screening), in order to protect vulnerable people in their care. These checks used to be known as CRB checks, after the initials of the Criminal Records Bureau, but now these checks are handled by the Disclosure and Barring Service and so they are now known as DBS checks.

What records are examined?

The type of background check being carried out on you will determine the information used, but some of the records that could be examined include:

  • Criminal record
  • Passport, National Insurance and documents that state your right to work in the UK
  • Driving licence
  • Drug tests
  • Education records and other qualifications
  • Employment records – verbal confirmation from previous employers of your presence at the company.
  • Credit history
  • Civil judgements
  • Bankruptcy
  • Tax information
  • Licensing records (if applicable)
  • Medical and psychological records
  • Military records
  • Polygraph testing (if you are applying for certain government jobs, you may be asked to carry out a lie detector test)

What can my previous employer legally disclose about me at my last position?

Your previous employer is permitted to say whatever they like about you in a reference, or not give you one at all, however, they should always keep it truthful because under the Data Protection Act an employee has the right to see that information if they put in a request. Go to the Information Commissioner’s website for more information on requesting access to references.