Modernisation of records service, in disarray

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), released on 1 May 2019, confirmed that due to ongoing delays the updating of systems at the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), is running four years late and is almost £230 million over budget. The DBS is used by employers who need to obtain safeguarding information, such as details of criminal records, about people who want to work with children or vulnerable adults. The DBS took over from the Criminal Records Bureau in 2012.

The DBS confirmed to the PAC that only parts of the modernisation scheme have been completed, and that the last part of the modernisation has been abandoned; the contract with the system developer, Tata Consultancy Services, having been terminated.

Criminal records checks could take longer in the future, with the DBS having to rely on a 17-year old system which may become obsolete, with a provider not being able to support the system for much longer.

The PAC also raised concerns that the implementation of a system that allows employers to search a database for new entries relating to individuals, may never happen. In addition, the PAC said that there are also risks that the DBS and its new contractor may not be able to access systems information as the previous system developer holds the documentation and codes which the new contractor will need to be able to deliver the services it will inherit.

The concerns raised about the DBS, and its failure to modernise its systems, comes at a time when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has called for significant improvements to be made to the vetting and barring arrangements in England and Wales.

IICSA considers that there should be a legal duty for those maintaining registers of professionals working with children to share information with the DBS – where an individual has been removed from a register, for reasons relating to the risk they pose to children. IICSA goes on to say that where the DBS receives such information they should automatically bar the professional from working with children.

While it is laudable (and a common-sense recommendation) by IICSA that organisations should share such information, would it be appropriate and viable? Should IICSA direct that further information be provided to the DBS, in circumstances where the existing system is already in crisis?

The current position is all the more worrying as implementation of the IICSA recommendations is focused on protecting children and vulnerable adults.

It is not clear that the current DBS systems will meet the needs of employers who wish to comply with their vetting and safeguarding procedures, and without further investment IICSA’s recommendations will be meaningless. This is yet another example that if Government is serious about protecting children and vulnerable adults, then further resources must be provided.

Chambers_J-18_print James Chambers, Associate, BLM

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