UK Employment Background Checks – Your Complete Guide

UK Employment Background Checks – Your Complete Guide

This guide gives you everything you need to know about employment background checks in the UK.


Employment background checks are a critical part of the candidate screening process. Whilst some industries might require more in-depth background checks, every industry can still benefit from them. Not having these checks set up as standard within your recruitment process could end up costing you in the future.  

Table of Contents

What is an employment background check?

An employment background check is a check to make sure a candidate is suitable for a role. It essentially verifies who they are, and ensures they don’t pose a risk to your business.   


The type of background check done depends on your criteria, but there are some that you legally need to do. It also depends on the nature of the role. For example, if the candidate will be working with children or vulnerable adults, a more in-depth check will be necessary. 


What are the benefits of background checks?

Employment background checks are a vital part of your recruitment screening process. Without them, you’re missing a key stage of evaluating your candidates.


Improved quality of hire

In a Checkster survey of 400 candidates, 78% admitted they did or considered adding false information to their CV. Not doing your due diligence through a background check can lead to making the completely wrong hire for your business.

78% of 400 candidates admitted they did or considered adding false information to their CV

Making a bad can have a lot of bad knock on effects, from financial, business performance and even team morale. According to HR Magazine, the cost of a bad hire can be up to three times as much as the employee’s yearly salary.


Doing a proper background screening on your candidates contributes to making quality hires, saving you time and money in the long run.


Avoiding negligent hires

When you don’t screen your candidates, you increase the risk of making a negligent hire.


A negligent hire could put other employees or customers at risk if they’re not properly trained. This could make your business liable for negligent hiring damages, which can be very expensive.


Becoming known as a negligent employer can also impact your brand reputation and put off interested candidates from applying to your roles in the future.


Following regulations

Background screening helps improve your business’ regulatory compliance, and avoids the costly fees associated with non-compliance.


For example, failing to conduct a right-to-work check, or doing so incorrectly, can cost you a hefty fine. It’s always better to do the necessary checks and not overlook this part of the recruitment process.


Types of background checks

There are several different types of employee background checks that an employer might perform.

Right to work check

UK employers are legally obligated to complete right-to-work checks. These checks determine if an employee has the right to work in the UK. Failure to complete this check can give you a civil penalty of £20,000 per worker, an unlimited fine, or imprisonment for five years 


For more information on right-to-work checks, download the guide. 


Criminal record check

You’ll need a criminal record or DBS check if a role requires working with children or vulnerable people.  


Not carrying out a criminal record check could lead to hiring candidates with the potential to cause financial or legal issues. Alongside that, you could be putting yourself and others in danger.   


Below are the types of checks you can do:  

table of the type of DBS checks you can do

Employment and education references

Whilst there’s no legal requirement to check employment and education references, it’s highly recommended. In fact, a CareerBuilder survey found 29% of employers reported catching a fake reference on a candidate’s application.

statistic that 29% of people fake references

Candidates might create fake credentials or inflate their experience to try and get the job. Or even claim to have certain skills with the intention of learning them on the job.  


Credit check

Credit history background checks are often in the financial sector. This has the aim of reducing the risk of fraud and understanding a candidate’s financial situation.  


This typically includes looking at public and private databases for bankruptcies, voluntary arrangements, decrees, and administration orders. 


DVLA check

DVLA checks are essential if your employee will drive on behalf of the company. The hire of unlicensed or unsafe drivers, can lead to accidents, fines, and even criminal convictions.   


This check will reveal driving licence validity, any offences or disqualifications, expiry date, and the type of vehicles they can drive. This is especially important if you’re hiring in Transport & Logistics, and drivers need a class 1 HGV licence.   


Social media screening

In today’s day and age, more and more employers are starting to do social media screening of applicants. One report shows that close to 70% of employers will look at a candidate’s social media. This gives you a better idea of their attitude, and how well they may fit into your company culture. 


Medical checks

Medical checks are needed when the role requires the candidate to be in good health. For example a firefighter or a policeman, where you have to pass certain fitness tests.

Medical checks should only be carried out when absolutely necessary. This is because the Equality Act prevents employers from not hiring someone based on their physical or mental health.   

International sanctions check

International sanctions checks determine if a candidate has ever been suspected of terrorism, money laundering, drug trafficking, arms dealing, war crimes, white-collar fraud, or other illegal activities. 


This check is typically done by political organisations and government bodies, but finance and aviation companies have been known to conduct them too. 


UK sanctions check

A UK sanctions check looks at whether a candidate has ever failed to prepare and file accounts or make returns to Companies House, pay tax, continued to trade after a company was insolvent, or been involved in any fraudulent activity. 


How to do a background check

Background checks can be done in-house or via contract with a vendor. Advances in recruitment technology mean that the process is much less manual now, saving your team time sifting through applications.


Using a recruitment system

Using a recruitment system with built-in background check tools is the simplest method. Using occy for example, all you need to do is select the checks you need. The system then does all the work for you, automatically updating you on any progress.


The benefits of using a recruitment system

Using a recruitment system to do your background checks is much more efficient. It keeps all your recruitment processes into one place, giving your whole team complete visibility on all candidate progress 

screenshot of occy background check software

Sending checks automatically also reduces the amount of admin time spent doing this for each individual candidate. If you’re in volume or recurring recruitment, with a high volume of applications, this drastically reduces your time to hire. 


Ensuring compliance

Before doing any background checks, your HR or recruitment team should ask themselves these questions:

  • Do we have a process for conducting background checks?
  • Do we have an effective system or software to manage the process?
  • Have we considered all types of background checks?
  • Is our process GDPR and industry compliant?
  • Is our process efficient? Is there too much manual work involved?
  • Are we conducting appropriate checks for every candidate? E.g. DVLA check for drivers; DBS checks for carers


How much does a background check cost?

Not all UK background checks are free of charge. Whilst publicly available social media screening can easily be done for free, a DBS check for example costs £18.  


If you’re using a recruitment system to make your background checks easier, the cost can vary. Most systems have this as a standalone feature, but occy offers a fully integrated service. This is much more efficient, and can also reduce your recruitment costs compared to doing these checks directly. 


How long does a background check take?

The amount of time it takes to process an employee background check can vary depending on the check requested.


Some background checks can be done instantly, such as the right to work, credit checks, and DVLA checks. Other checks may take a little longer – for example, a criminal record check can take up to 14 days, and even 8 weeks for more enhanced checks.


When do employers do background checks?

Many employers tend to perform background checks post-offer, others post-interview but pre-offer. You’ll need to determine for yourself when is best to do these checks. This can come down to your budget and the average number of final candidates. 


Does every employer do a background check?

If you’re in the UK, it’s essential to conduct a right-to-work check on all new employees.  


Provided you have a justifiable reason, you can do all the checks we’ve discussed in this guide. But it really comes down to which are essential for your industry and the role! 


To summarise

Background checks are an important part of your candidate screening process. At the very least, you should check that candidates have the right qualifications and experience to work with you.  


Conducting checks can feel like a tedious part of the hiring process, with all the additional admin and organisation needed – especially in high volume roles. That’s why using a system that automates the process for you is invaluable!  


For more information on how to overcome recruitment admin and speed up the recruitment process, download our eBook on this topic! 

Don't forget to share this post!

You may also like