Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 15:59 UK

Illegal checks jeopardising jobs

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Sensitive work is eligible for criminal record checks.

Bosses in England and Wales are making illegal criminal record checks on staff, learning about spent convictions that should not be disclosed.

Sensitive work, such as with children or vulnerable adults, is eligible for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.

But BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts has found requests to CRB for jobs such as train driver, gardener and bricklayer.

CRB says employers know best whether a check is necessary, but charity Nacro says CRB should monitor applications.

However, the Home Office says CRB cannot get involved in making employment decisions and that they are solely a matter for employers.

It also says spent convictions may have be disclosed before people can take up employment in certain roles to protect vulnerable people.

I don't think any of us can say they no longer deserve a place in society. People deserve a second chance
Ruth Parker

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, non-custodial offences and those involving a prison sentence of less than 30 months become spent after set periods of time without any further convictions.

It means after the rehabilitation period has passed, reformed offenders no longer have to disclose those spent convictions when applying for most types of jobs.

The aim of the law was to help get ex-offenders back into work and break the cycle of crime, but Nacro believes unnecessary criminal records checks are now undermining that law and too often leading to workers being suspended or sacked.

The government estimates one in four adults of working age has some sort of criminal record.

'Second chance'

"Most of us know someone who has a criminal record," says Nacro's Ruth Parker.

"I don't think any of us can say they no longer deserve a place in society. People deserve a second chance."

In 2006, Derek Howman took on a job as a gardener in Mobberley, Cheshire. But when a CRB check revealed to his employers that he had two spent convictions from a decade earlier - for drink-driving and theft of a lawnmower - he was dismissed.

"I thought, 'Here we go again'," says Mr Howman. "I try to get back on my feet and someone knocks you back down again. It was unbelievable."

His employers insist they did not break the law. They argue that because "vulnerable adults in receipt of care services" live on the estate where Mr Howman was working, they were right to request a CRB check.

Anthony Scrivener QC, a former chair of the Bar, says the purpose of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was to "take the onus away from people like employers".

He thinks the law ought to be reviewed.

"You really can't rely on the goodwill of an employer if he's given this information. He may be entitled to have it but he should still exercise his discretion and say 'well, if that was me would I want that disclosed. Is it really relevant?'"

'Vital role'

There are no figures available on the number of illegal CRB checks that are requested each year.

In a statement the Home Office said: "The CRB cannot get involved in making employment decisions; these are solely a matter for employers.

"It is quite right that under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 employees do not generally have to disclose spent convictions.

"But because the government is committed to protecting the vulnerable, spent convictions may have be disclosed before people can take up employment in certain roles or enter certain professions.

"CRB checks perform a vital role protecting vulnerable groups having stopped more than 20,000 unsuitable people last year from gaining access to children and vulnerable adults."

Face the Facts was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 12:30pm Friday 8 August; it will be repeated 9pm Sunday 10 August.

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