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Working and volunteering – criminal record checks

This advice applies to Scotland

On this page you can check the rules about employers asking about your criminal records and which checks can be made. You can also find out about the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme. 

Working and volunteering in any job

Past convictions

Before you're offered a job an employer is legally entitled to ask about convictions you've had. However, depending on the type of work or volunteering that you'll be undertaking, organisations and prospective employers are restricted in what information they can ask you for.

You may have been convicted some time ago, and, in law, you may have completed what is called the 'rehabilitation period'. This means that your conviction is 'spent'.

As long as you are not in one of the excluded or excepted occupations, for which spent convictions may have to be declared (e.g. a medical doctor), you don't have to tell a new employer about a conviction if it is 'spent'. You might choose to, but you don’t have to.

If you haven't completed the 'rehabilitation period' your conviction is 'unspent'. An employer who finds out about the 'unspent' conviction can decline the offer of employment to you. If you don't declare an 'unspent' conviction, your job offer could be withdrawn or the employer may take steps to dismiss you if you've already started.

There are some convictions that never become 'spent' so you'll always have to tell an employer about them. Similarly, if you served 30 months or longer in prison your conviction can never become 'spent'.

If you want to check what the time periods are for your conviction to become 'spent' you can get help from an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau – where to get advice.

Disclosure checks

A criminal record check may be required for a number of occupations and your prospective employer can ask for this information. Disclosure Scotland provides three different types of disclosure for work or volunteering:

  • a basic disclosure can be used for any purpose. It provides a statement about any unspent convictions against your name
  • a standard disclosure can be used to assess your suitability for a job because it provides a list of all unspent convictions against your name and some spent convictions
  • an enhanced disclosure contains all unspent convictions, some spent convictions and any other non-conviction information considered to be relevant by the police or other Government bodies. This can be applied for if you'd be working or volunteering with children or adults but not providing services that require you to be in the PVG Scheme.

Whether spent convictions are disclosed in a standard or enhanced disclosure depends on a number of factors:

  • some minor offences such as dropping litter are not disclosed
  • serious offences such as serious assaults are always disclosed unless you are allowed to apply to a sheriff to ask for the offence not to be disclosed and this is agreed 
  • disclosure of intermediate offences – like theft, breach of the peace, and drug possession – will depend on your age when you were convicted, how long ago you were convicted, and what disposal you were given. 

More information about the disclosure of spent convictions can be found on the Scottish Government website at mygov.scot.

If you need further help about problems with a disclosure check, you could speak to an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau – where to get advice.

Working or volunteering with children and vulnerable adults

If you're applying to work or volunteer with children or young people (under 18 years) and/or vulnerable adults, your employer is legally required to make background checks. 

A disclosure check is likely to be needed as a minimum, but you may also have to join the PVG Scheme run by Disclosure Scotland.

The Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme

This scheme is for people who undertake 'regulated' work. Regulated work with children often involves you having responsibility for a child unsupervised by anyone else who has responsibility for the child. Regulated work with adults often takes place where care is provided on a one-to-one basis. If you're not sure if the work will be 'regulated', you should ask your employer or the organisation you volunteer for.

Background checks under the PVG scheme will be part of the assessment of your suitability when applying for a job or volunteering opportunity.

An application to join the PVG scheme is often made by you through the employer or voluntary organisation. 

It is up to an employer (irrespective of whether in the private or public sector) to decide if they pay the fees for staff who have to be part of the PVG scheme. Many organisations will pay the fees for their volunteers.

What happens when you apply

If you have no criminal convictions that would prevent you from joining the PVG scheme, you should receive your PVG certificate within a few weeks. If you have not heard further, you should contact Disclosure Scotland directly.

If you're refused membership of the PVG scheme

Disclosure Scotland will check your criminal records and if you have a conviction (whether 'spent' or not) which bars you from 'regulated' work, you won't be allowed to join the PVG scheme.

The organisation or employer will then be written to stating you cannot be a member of the PVG scheme. They should not be given the reason why because this would breach your confidentiality.

For more information about disputing Disclosure Scotland decisions, visit mygov.scot.

If you need help challenging a PVG scheme decision, you could speak to an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau – where to get advice.

If you're allowed to become a member of the PVG scheme but an offence is disclosed

A conviction that doesn't bar you from 'regulated' work may be added to your 'Scheme Record' – depending on the seriousness of the offence, how old you were when you were convicted, how long ago you were convicted, and what the court decided to do in your case. You will however be accepted on to the PVG scheme.

The Scheme Record is copied to you and the employer or voluntary organisation. If you disagree with the inclusion of a spent conviction on your Scheme Record you can apply to the sheriff court to get the information removed. You will also need to tell Disclosure Scotland that you intend to do this. 

If you need help challenging a PVG scheme decision, you could speak to an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau – where to get advice.

Self-employed

If you're self-employed and involved in 'regulated' work – e.g. individual music tuition to children, or providing one-to-one care in someone’s home – it may be in your interests to become a PVG scheme member. This way people who give you work will know that your criminal records have been checked.

You can choose not to join the PVG scheme.

The appendix below gives examples of things to consider when deciding if your work is regulated. If you want to be sure, you should always contact Disclosure Scotland.

Notifying certain changes of circumstance to the PVG scheme

The PVG scheme requires all scheme members to let Disclosure Scotland know about changes to either your name or gender.

It is a criminal offene not to let Disclosure Scotland know about changes within three months, unless you can show good reasons for not doing so.

More generally, any enquiries you might have about your membership will be helped if you also keep Disclosure Scotland updated about:

  • phone number
  • email address
  • changes of employer – you should do this to protect your privacy so that Disclosure Scotland don't send any information to your ex-employer.

Write to Disclosure Scotland quoting your membership number with details of any changes.

Continuous checking of PVG scheme members

Once you're a member of the PVG Scheme, if you commit an offence that brings into question your suitability to work with a child or protected adult, Disclosure Scotland will be notified immediately. 

Depending on the type of offence committed, Disclosure Scotland might place you under consideration for being barred from working with either children or protected adults, or both. Conviction of serious offences like murder or rape result in being immediately barred.

Further information

The following organisations provide more information about criminal records, disclosures and the PVG scheme:

  • mygov.scot holds all the relevant information for Disclosure Scotland, including the different types of check and the PVG scheme
  • Volunteer Scotland have information about disclosure and the PVG scheme in voluntary settings on www.volunteerscotland.net
  • for information about rehabilitation periods of unspent convictions, see www.gov.scot.

Appendix

Self-employment or volunteering and the PVG scheme

You might have questions about whether certain voluntary roles or self-employed occupations require membership of the PVG scheme. You can contact Disclosure Scotland to check if you need to be part of the PVG scheme. The nature of what is regulated work is not always easily defined. We have provided some guidance below, but you should always check with Disclosure Scotland in any instance.

In order for work to be considered 'regulated work', consider the following criteria:

  1. Is it actually work? Whether paid or unpaid, you might think of something as work if it is done with a level of commitment or regularity. Doing a neighbour’s shopping as a favour every now and then is not regulated work.
  2. Who are you working with? To be regulated under the PVG scheme, the work has to be undertaken with a child or a protected adult. However, only certain tasks with these groups will mean that it is regulated work.
  3. What is the work? For work to be regulated, it will usually present the possibility for someone to have unsupervised contact with a child or a protected adult, and who is engaged in a task that gives them responsibility over the child or protected adult.
  4. Is this work a normal part of your duties?
  5. Is the work like one of the following exceptions?
  • an event that's open to everyone and is run by one worker, and unexpectedly people under 16 attend. This work is not classed as regulated work
  • children in work or employment themselves are not doing regulated work and the person managing them is not doing regulated work either. For example, a child doing a paper round is supervised by the shop owner but a disclosure is not required to employ the child because the shop owner is not anticipated to be having unsupervised contact with the child and is not engaged in an activity with the child that is classed as regulated, e.g. teaching
  • young people in work experience.

Below are examples of self-employment or volunteering, explaining where PVG scheme membership may or may not be required.

Type of activityRegulated work and the PVG scheme
Taxi driver – normally regular school runs Anyone who regularly transports children without other adults or transports vulnerable adults could be doing regulated work. At a minimum the employer should seek a disclosure check. If the taxi driver is self-employed, it's up to them to decide whether or not they should join the PVG scheme.
Childminder Childminders must register with the Care Inspectorate and have a PVG check.
School and nursery teachers Most teachers have to be PVG scheme members.
Self-employed tutors or teachers of children Teachers and tutors of this category can choose to be a PVG member.
Children's group leaders, for example, the Girl Guides, Scouts and Boy’s Brigade, church creche As long as there's an opportunity for the paid adult leaders or volunteers to have one-to-one unsupervised contact with someone under 18, both the staff and the volunteers should have had disclosure checks. This might include being a PVG member.
Sports coach volunteer Sports coaching is a difficult area to explain in terms of the PVG scheme. If someone is coaching children by arrangement with the parents of a child or group of children this is not regulated work.
Dentist Dentists must belong to the PVG scheme.
Medical doctor Doctors must normally be PVG members in the NHS, but may not be required to belong to the PVG scheme if there's no opportunity for one-to-one consultations involving personal examinations.
Window cleaner A window cleaner may have to be a PVG member if windows inside a building which accommodates vulnerable people gives the cleaner time alone with a protected adult or child.
Masseur or physiotherapist Someone working with vulnerable adults or people under 18 must be a PVG scheme member.
Lifeguard in a swimming pool Most life guards in public pools will not need to be PVG members because this isn't considered regulated work. If a life guard works in a private agency and provides one-to-one swimming tuition, it's likely that they'll need to belong to the scheme.
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