So, you’ve been told you need a DBS check for a job, or you know your ability to get work in your field relies on getting one. There are some important things to note about how this works for freelancers. Let’s look at DBS checks and the options for when you’re self-employed.


What is a DBS check?

A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check* looks into an individual’s criminal background in order to check their suitability for a job. This applies to England and Wales; the process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Note: You might know it as a ‘CRB check’. The Criminal Records Bureau and Safeguarding Authority merged in 2012 to form the DBS.

DBS checks are usually required for people who work with children or vulnerable adults, but can also be about handling sensitive information or valuable items. Essentially it’s a legal indicator of an individual’s trustworthiness to do a job.

Key to DBS checks is the difference between spent and unspent criminal convictions. Spent convictions are those that have existed for a legally defined period and so are considered ‘expired’. Unspent convictions are still ‘active’ under these conditions and so will appear on an individual’s record.


There are three types of DBS check:

  • Basic: reveals details of any unspent convictions. It can be used for any position or purpose as it is not job specific.

  • Standard: reveals details of any unspent or spent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings as long as they’re not protected.

  • Enhanced: the same as a Standard check, plus any relevant information held by the local police force.

As above, Standard and Enhanced checks are more thorough. They reveal any legal implications, even if they’re not visible on someone’s record.


How does requesting work?

The idea seems simple enough, but it gets a bit more complicated for freelancers. DBS checks are designed for employers to assess their staff and potential employees. 

It’s not about self-certification because the thinking is that you can’t make recruitment and suitability decisions about yourself.

The good news is that freelancers can request a Basic check via the Gov.uk website. It currently costs £23 and takes up to 14 days. Although the process is pretty straightforward, it does require schlepping to the post office for them to verify ID (not all post offices do this and we have reports that freelancers are having to travel quite a way to find a main post office that can verify their ID).

However, Standard and Enhanced checks can only be requested by an organisation. These more thorough checks are relied upon for complete transparency in safeguarding.

This leaves freelancers in a bit of a blind spot. We’re not employees so aren’t captured during recruitment, but can’t request the checks to demonstrate advanced clearance outside a particular job.


What are the options for freelancers?

Unfortunately, you can’t apply to the DBS directly; it’s not a central service or one-stop shop. The checks have to be done through a registered organisation. You’ll have to approach them individually and usually pay the charges yourself.

The costs are as follows, but bear in mind that the added handling fees vary greatly depending on the ogranisation you apply through:

  • Standard: £26

  • Enhanced: £44


Organisation registration conditions include submitting a minimum number of applications per year and being a relevant body ‘entitled’ to make them.

You can search the list of registered organisations to see if there’s one you can apply under. Some options include:

  • The company you’re working with. This works best if you only need the check for a certain job. They’re also the most likely to cover the costs.

  • A professional body, union or chartered institute specific to your field.

  • Your industry’s regulatory body e.g. Ofsted for educators.

  • Your local authority or council might support you as a professional in the community.

  • A commercial check service is useful if the company you’re working with isn’t registered with the DBS. They act as a middleman but it still has to be an employer that applies through them.

Essentially, you’re asking an organisation to act as your employer and request the check.

It’s not a straightforward process for freelancers but it’s worth remembering that as the checks currently work to assure employers, the requestor should be willing to help you. Organisations know that individuals can’t get the advanced clearance without their support.