Questions raised as DBS modernisation plan overuns

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Modernisation of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is running more than three-and-a-half years late and the new DBS update service has not seen the take-up or the cost savings originally anticipated by the Home Office.

An investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed that the DBS failed to pilot the new service or engage with potential users before committing to the programme.

The DBS provides a way to check people’s background against police databases such as criminal records and government lists of people considered unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults.

The service is widely used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by organisations in the public, private and voluntary sector, such as schools and care homes.

In 2016/17, four million disclosures were issued of which 260,000 (6.1 per cent) contained information potentially relevant to safeguarding. The lists of people barred contained 64,000 people as of March 31, 2017.

The original transformation programme was launched in 2009 and intended to reduce the costs of the DBS by increasing efficiency through modernisation. It also set out plans for the introduction of a new DBS update service.

The update service allows employers to check whether there are any changes to the safeguarding information on a certificate since it was issued, and was launched in June 2013. However, it has been used less than expected.

The Home Office had predicted 2.8 million paying users by 2017/18 – 69 per cent of all transactions – but in 2014 cut this to 0.9 million – 20 per cent of transactions.

In 2016/17, there were one million subscriptions to the update service for which 2.6 million status checks were made (of which 0.1 per cent indicated new information was available).

The NAO investigation report states: “The DBS does not know why the demand for the update service has been lower than anticipated.

“The Home Office did not run a pilot or engage with potential users of the update service before committing to the programme and DBS has not collected systematic data about why people are not using it.”

Applicants using the update service are also paying £13 a year rather than the £10 expected in 2012. Employers were also expected to benefit under the reforms with lower prices for traditional disclosures, but this has not happened. Furthermore, the modernisation of disclosure certificates has not yet been delivered.

The first stage of the DBS modernisation was originally due in March 2014, but was delivered only in September last year. The Home Office and DBS are criticised by the NAO for “not tracking the degree to which all the improvements expected have been achieved”.

DBS and Tata Consultancy Services – who in October 2012 won a five-year contract to modernise and run the new IT – have not yet agreed whose fault the delays are and are in negotiations.

The NAO warns that the anticipated cost of operating DBS to March 2019 has risen by £229 million, 35 per cent more than the 2012 forecast, due to “changing demand and delays in modernisation”.

Despite this the DBS is projecting a surplus of £114 million to March 2019 (mainly generated through traditional disclosure certificates). However, the DBS will not pass this on to customers through lower charges. It says lower prices are not feasible until 2019 because of its on-going discussions with Tata.

The NAO adds: “DBS does not believe that either the delay or lower than expected take-up of the update service have stopped it providing an effective safeguarding service.”

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