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Vetting and barring will be devolved to employers, says equalities minister

Hiring-managers, rather than Whitehall, will have to take responsibility for background checks on new employees from September this year, under new legislation outlined by equalities minister, Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone (pictured), last month.

Speaking to HR, Featherstone said: "The previous vetting and barring scheme was over the top and we made it a priority to get rid of it. We need to trust professionals to take a commonsense approach about who to employ."

Featherstone's announcement came with the creation of a streamlined organisation to oversee a scaled-back criminal records checking and barring system.

The newly-formed Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) will implement a range of "bold reforms" to the criminal record checking system, in a bid to reduce almost by half the number of posts requiring checks - from 9.3 million to five million.

This means only staff who work mostly closely and regularly with vulnerable groups will have background checks as a matter of course; otherwise, this will lie with employers.

The DBS will oversee reforms to the system of criminal record checks and barring, including: ending the requirement for those working or volunteering with vulnerable groups to register and be continuously monitored; and introducing a single criminal records certificate that will be sent only to the applicant; and introducing an independent right of review to allow people to challenge information disclosed about them before it is given to their employer. But Featherstone told HR this would not cause grey areas because candidates would be able to clarify their checks before potential employers see the documents, removing the chance of unconcious bias.

"Vetting and barring was a tick-box exercise," she added, "and employers, in a lot of cases, couldn't make decisions themselves. You need to meet a person on the spot to be able to make recruitment and management decisions. This will reduce the burden of bureaucracy on employers, but criminal record checks will still be available if employers need them and this will be overseen by the Disclosure and Barring Service."

But she warned: "Checks are there, but it is up to the employer to take every measure they can, although they can never eventuate against everything."

These particular changes will apply only to England and Wales. Northern Ireland will have a different reform and the vetting system in Scotland will remain the same.