Frontline staff face lottery when it comes to essential criminal check costs

Law needs to change to stop the lowest paid being charged to work

Staff working with vulnerable people face a lottery when it comes to who pays for an essential check needed to do their jobs, says UNISON.

Employers have a legal duty to carry out criminal record checks on frontline public sector workers. A recent survey from the union found that more than four in ten (42%) are passing on the cost of that to their employees.

UNISON believes this means almost two and a half million frontline public sector workers could be paying for their own criminal record checks.

UNISON’s research found that almost three-quarters of people working in jobs requiring the checks are women (74%) and 85% of them are low-paid.

However, UNISON can find no pattern to explain why some employers cover the cost and others – often facing the same recruitment and budgetary pressures – force staff to foot the bill.

According to the survey, over two-thirds (69%) of staff who do not currently pay for the disclosure and barring service check would be put off applying for a job where they would have to meet the cost themselves.

Survey respondents also complain of being forced to pay for a new check if they get promoted or move jobs within the same organisation.

UNISON says the law should be changed so employers cannot pass the cost onto staff. The fee was waived during the pandemic for health and social care applicants. The union believes the government should cover the cost for all public sector workers.

UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “People already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis should not be forced to pay to work. Most staff who need these checks earn below the national average and money docked from their pay is cash they can ill afford to lose.

“Criminal record checks are vital and bosses have a legal duty to carry them out. The law should be changed to stop rogue employers from docking money for work essentials such as these checks.

“Such a seemingly small change would make a huge difference to the tens of thousands of staff who currently have to pay for their own checks. People are being put off applying for jobs and even going for promotion because of the cost, which is no good for them or their employers.”

Notes to editors:
– The full report is available here
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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