Case study – Housing organisation amends misleading question on their employment application form
Our helpline was contacted recently by an individual who had some concerns about the questions being asked relating to criminal records on a homeless accommodation provider’s job application form.
The individual had been applying to be an administrative assistant and, having seen the job description, assumed that the role would be eligible for a basic Disclosure and Barring Service check. However, the question on the organisation’s application form stated:
“Because of the nature of the work for which you are applying, the post is exempt from the provisions of Section 4(2) of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, by virtue of the Exceptions Order 1975 as amended by the Exceptions (Amendment) Order 1986 which means that convictions that are spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 must be disclosed, and will be taken into account in deciding whether to make an appointment. Any information will be completely confidential and will be considered only in relation to this application.
In addition, you are required to submit a Disclosure and Barring Service check. Any standard or enhanced disclosure made by the DBS will remain strictly confidential.
Have you ever been convicted in a Court of Law and/or cautioned in respect of any offence? YES/NO (delete as required)”
Having reviewed the job description we believed that the role would only be eligible for a basic DBS check. We felt that the wording of the question could potentially lead to applicants disclosing details of their spent convictions resulting in the organisation holding information they were not legally entitled to. In addition to this, it appeared that the organisation may be carrying out ineligible DBS checks.
We attempted to make contact with the homeless accommodation provider on several occasions but received no response. We therefore raised our concerns with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) who agreed that the application form breached the Data Protection Act and advised the organisation to review the question around criminal record information to ensure it was compliant with the DPA.
The organisation have now amended the question on their application form to:
Please note any criminal convictions except those ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. If none, please state.”
Although we don’t think that asking for this information at application is appropriate, they have at least amended the question to be much more clearly focused on unspent convictions.
It’s clear that many people using the services of a homeless accommodation provider will be vulnerable and some of the staff who have direct contact with service users may require a higher level of criminal record check. However, it is often the case that organisations such as this one believe that they need to carry out standard or enhanced DBS checks on all their staff and that every role in their organisation is exempt from the ROA.
As this case demonstrates irrespective of their client group, organisations need to ensure that each role they advertise is carefully considered so that the recruitment process is fully compliant with the law.
- Practical information for individuals: Eligibility for standard and enhanced checks
Notes about this case study
This case study relates to our work with other organisations
Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Published March 2020.