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Determining candidate suitability through pre-employment checks


Written by John Berry on 31st May 2017. Revised 13th November 2020.

3 min read

Girl investigatorManagers would often like to know if the person they intend to hire would at some stage in the future be a threat to the hiring company. Managers may therefore be keen to vet candidates before they employ them.

Vetting is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as “making prior examination and critical appraisal of a person”. It’s checking facts that the hiring manager is provided with by a candidate in support of a job application.

This article discusses what is and is not possible for the average commercial firm within the existing UK legal structure concerning vetting. It aims to provide clarity on an industry that has sprung up over the past ten years claiming to be accredited to carry out ‘BPSS’ checks and ‘Criminal Records Checks’ on prospective employees.

The reality is that many such checking organisations play on words, bigging-up their offer by aligning their service descriptions to Government processes and standards.

Basic Concepts

There are a few basic ideas that cover the subject.

Managers are entitled to ask questions during the hiring process about anything that materially affects a candidate’s ability to do the job. Under the Equality Act, they may not ask anything that departs from this before making an offer – that would be unfair.

Once an offer has been made, it can be subject to health screening, references and satisfactory searches of public information and criminal records. But even here, the searches and enquiries will need to be proportionate and relevant and conclusions reached fairly and reasonably. Just because a candidate has a criminal record does not automatically exclude them from employment, for example.


The Government has implemented vetting for all staff and contractors handling Government information. That’s covered by the Baseline Personnel and Security Standard (BPSS) checks and other levels of enquiry and clearance.

It has also implemented a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to vet those that might be employed or volunteer to work with children and vulnerable adults.

Finally, individuals in the UK can get a certificate setting out basic disclosure of their own criminal record from the Scottish Government.

No other forms of official vetting exist.

Pre-employment Checks

An industry has sprung up around private enquiry on publically available databases to screen employees before employment. Care is needed to interpret what the various providers actually do over that which a manager can do himself or herself. Many wild claims are made.

Some industry bodies have developed their own standards within the industry – a good example is the security industry. The security industry has spawned the British Standard BS 7858 that sets out policy and processes when making enquiries about staff employed as guards, for example.

Checks should be used for four things in the hiring process:

• Proof of identity and address – is the person who they say they are?
• Proof of nationality and right to work in the UK?
• Proof of personal characteristics such as qualifications, experience and past employment?
• Presence of any heightened risk to the firm by employing them?

These checks are known as vetting or pre-employment checks.

Our Timeless SUPPORT clients can access various charts and forms covering pre-employment checks and vetting. Contact us in the normal way for these.

If you’re not a Timeless SUPPORT subscriber, call us for help. We can help vet candidates.