Nationally Held Criminal Record Checking

Whenever an individual, employer or other registered body applies for a criminal record check, this is achieved at a national level throughout the UK. Since 1974, the Police National Computer (PNC) has been developed as a means of accessing information stored by police forces across the country. Before then, records were held at a local level, meaning criminal offences went unnoticed if further crimes were committed outside a force’s jurisdiction. In developing the PNC, the Home Office has built up the Police National Database (PND), which holds additional details of some past and present convictions. Employers and applicants alike could benefit from a working knowledge of this system.


The PNC is a very powerful tool. On it are recorded every reprimand, caution, warning, arrest and conviction committed by anyone for any recordable offence; it also holds details of coming prosecutions, and even arrests which led to no further action being taken. The system can be accessed by the Home Office’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which carries out all pre-employment checks; but also by both houses of Parliament, HMRC, Royal Mail, HM Prison Service and the Home Office itself. It is also used by other government agencies in certain circumstances.

For DBS purposes, the police national database (PND) is sometimes useful when carrying out background checks for applicant to particular roles. The database gives further detail regarding a person’s arrest history, or other dealings with police services. The PND will never be used for a basic DBS check, which only shows unspent convictions. It is unlikely to be accessed for standard level checks, which already reveal any unspent and spent convictions, reprimands, cautions and final warnings. This level of detail is enough to give confidence to the type of institutions which request standard checks; mainly financial and legal institutions.

It is the enhanced checking regime which can make use of the PND. Within the enhanced system, there are other levels of checking which can be requested, such as the children’s or adult’s barred lists. Checks of this nature can only be carried out where the position applied for is a regulated activity, and therefore could present a risk to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and other specified adult groups. The enhanced system gives employers the chance to look very carefully at an applicant’s background, and the police can help with this by using the PND at their own discretion.

Records Held

The PNC itself holds information which some people may find surprising, and is not part of the PND. As such, it is also unlikely to show up in a standard or enhanced criminal record check, as some recorded details are not actually criminal offences. What the PNC concerns itself with is any interaction an individual has had with law enforcement authorities. This could mean possessing a firearms certificate, because these have to be approved by the police. People who have gone missing at any time in the past will have this fact recorded on the PNC. Anybody awaiting a court appearance, or who is “wanted” for an alleged crime will also have a PNC record.

Despite this level of detail, it should be remembered that there are very strong rules regarding what employers are allowed to see, or even ask for. Under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against any applicant on the basis of their criminal record, if that record does not apply to the post being applied for. Only roles which qualify as regulated activities allow a potential employer to ask for enhanced DBS checks of any kind. These are roles which regularly involve contact with and/or care of specific groups of individuals, who are deemed as being vulnerable.

There is also a list of protected offences, which DBS checks will not reveal through the filtering process; these will not appear whatever the role being applied for. Examples of protected offences include quite a few motoring offences, common assault, theft and possession of drugs. More major offences such as having drugs with intent to supply, however, will show up on standard and enhanced checks. This level of detail is designed to protect the public, employers and employees alike. The fact that a high level of detail is recorded on the PNC, therefore, does not mean that this detail is in anyway readily available.