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Observations from DBS FOI data

Unlock's Policy Officer Brendan Shepherd looks at what the latest figures acquired from the DBS tell us

In February 2023, we acquired a set of data from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) via Freedom of Information Request. This data provided information on the number of DBS checks conducted from 2020-2022. It could be broken down by the types of check conducted, whether checks disclosed any information and by age and gender. We analysed the data to see if there were any notable patterns, besides the fact that there has been a 34.92% rise in total checks conducted across the period.

Three key conclusions from the data are:

  • One issue we identified was the disproportionate impact of DBS checks on women, something on which we recently publish a briefing. For example, women are subject to 67% of all Enhanced and Enhanced with barring checks conducted in the period, something which serves to entrench existing examples of disproportionality in the criminal justice system.
  • With regards to age, those of working age are, unsurprisingly, subject to the overwhelming majority of checks conducted. However, what is of note and worth further consideration is the number of Enhanced and Enhanced with barring checks that are conducted on those aged 16 and under; across the period, nearly 150,000 such checks were conducted.
  • The data also highlights the impact to changes in filtering rules, with a lower proportion of Enhanced with barring, Enhanced and Standard checks disclosing information in 2021 and 2022 as compared to 2020. Changes to filtering rules allow for a greater number of convictions to be removed from these checks, something which can be seen in this data. However, this is tempered by the fact that the general trend for checks conducted is trending upwards.

As noted above, we have made use of this data in our briefing on the disproportionate impact of DBS checks on women. However, we were disappointed that the data was not able to be broken down by ethnicity. As such, we were unable to carry out any analysis on whether any similar examples of disproportionality exist there.

The criminal record system entrenches other forms of unfairness in the criminal justice system. This data highlights some patterns within this. For people with a criminal record, stigma and discrimination are very real fears. This often manifests itself in the Chilling Effect, whereby fear of being judged negatively discourages people from seeking out opportunities that they otherwise might. This data highlights the numbers of people where this process may engender such fear, as well as highlighting certain demographic trends and discrepancies.

See the full breakdown of the data

Written by:

Brendan is Unlock’s Policy Officer

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