Northern Ireland

Criminal records checks: PSNI apology over backlog

PSNI crest

The PSNI has apologised for a delay in employment police checks after it emerged that nearly 230 people have been waiting more than six months.

The checks, carried out before certain employers recruit new staff, should be completed within four weeks.

However, the BBC has learned that, in some cases, it has taken much longer and people have lost out on job offers.

The checks are carried out on anyone who will be working or volunteering with children or vulnerable adults.

Those working in the civil service, security staff, pharmacists and certain medical professions also require a background check.

Nicola's story

One woman, Nicola, 30, lost the offer of a job because of a long delay in her criminal records check.

She said her prospective employer told her it would take up to seven weeks for her application to be processed, but after nine weeks the offer was withdrawn.

"She just told me on the phone that they couldn't keep the job any longer. They needed someone to be in place," she said.

"I was really hurt. I was in tears before the call finished. I'm just dealing with it now and looking for something else."

She said she had criminal convictions dating back more than a decade but she had disclosed them to her would-be employer.

"I got the job with them knowing that. They knew my convictions," she said.

AccessNI supplies criminal history information about job applicants, volunteers and employees to would-be employers. It processes 123,000 applications every year or 336 a day.

There are three levels of criminal history check that provide different levels of information about an individual: basic, standard and enhanced.

Standard checks

The Department of Justice, that is responsible for AccessNI, said its target was to issue 95% of all basic and standard checks within 14 days. In fact, 99% of those forms are issued within that time.

However, the enhanced checks may require a lot more paperwork and, in some cases, have to go to other UK police forces.

The Department of Justice told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that approximately 1,145 applications from Northern Ireland have taken more than six weeks to be processed, and they are all with various police forces throughout the UK.

Of those, 228 applications have been outstanding for more than six months and these are with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The department said: "In approximately 70 of these applications, the PSNI are engaged with the applicant, in others they are prevented from disclosing information due to intervention from the applicant's legal representatives.

"We expect the number of outstanding cases to reduce over the next few months."

Superintendent John McCaughan said: "On behalf of the PSNI, I apologise for any adverse impact the delays have had upon individuals or registered bodies."

"Having recently assumed responsibility for oversight of this process, I am considering what steps can be taken to reduce the backlog in applications.

"Whilst seeking to expedite the applications, it is imperative that we thoroughly consider each application in order to provide proper protection for children and vulnerable adults.

"Their right to be protected from harm must be carefully balanced against the right to privacy of applicants."

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