Transcript: Careers in social services: the role of Disclosure Scotland

A conversation with Andrew Morrall at Disclosure Scotland

Podcast Episode: Careers in social services: the role of Disclosure Scotland



What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Michelle: Today I am speaking to Andrew Morrall, Customer Engagement Manager in the Customer Engagement team at Disclosure Scotland and the subject of today’s discussion is careers and social services.

Welcome Andrew.

Andrew: Hi, good afternoon lovely to be here.

Michelle: Firstly, can I just ask you what the role of Disclosure Scotland is, and how does it relate to careers in social services?

Andrew: Disclosure Scotland was established in 2002 and the role of Disclosure Scotland is to provide criminal history information to employers to help them make recruitment decisions. The other purpose that we have is in relation to safeguarding. In relation to safeguarding from Disclosure Scotland we, on behalf of Scottish ministers, manage the protection unit. What the protection unit does is ensure that those individuals who are unsuitable to do work with vulnerable groups are prevented from doing so.

Michelle: Ok great and are there different levels of disclosure as well?

Andrew: There are indeed. There are four levels of disclosure.

There is the basic disclosure which can be used for any purpose; it can be used in social care on occasions where the individual is not doing any post which is eligible for a higher-level disclosure. Sometimes that can be admin work, but it depends on the actual role itself and also where the work is being carried out.

The standard disclosure is used for organisations in social care for example that are registered with the Care Inspectorate. If they are registered with the Care Inspectorate, [employees] will get a standard disclosure and also it is for positions of trust such as accountants, solicitors and somebody maybe working in health services, medical receptionists that type of thing.

Enhanced disclosures are still in place, but they are not used very often. PVG mainly replaced enhanced disclosures. However they are still there for checks for individuals living in the same household as foster carers, or anyone working within the confines of a prison.

These three levels of disclosure are all snapshots in time if you like, in that when we check the criminal history system and the certificate is produced then that is all the information you get.

Once you join the PVG scheme, the PVG is the fourth and highest level of disclosure, and is used for regulated work where we have individuals who work with children and protected adults. What this means is that the individual will still receive the criminal history information, and they will also be joining the PVG scheme which means they become subject to what we call ‘on-going monitoring’. What that means is that Disclosure Scotland will get new pieces of information in every single day - about forty thousand - on PVG scheme members and what we have to look at is to say, is this information relevant to the individual’s work status? So in other words are they going to become a risk by any new information we get in? If they are, then potentially they will come under consideration for listing but that’s not always the case and it does not happen all the time. But it does mean we are looking at somebody’s ongoing information on a daily basis and therefore able to advise organisations making decisions when it is applicable, as opposed to the snapshot in time that the other three levels of disclosure produce.

Michelle: Then tell me who is eligible for PVG registration and how does it work?

Andrew: Ok, for PVG registration basically you need to be doing what we call ‘regulated work’. Now, regulated work is defined under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007. Basically, what this means is that individuals who are working with children or protected adults will be able to join the PVG scheme. Now for some cases, particularly in likes of the social care sector, social workers for example will be required to register with the Scottish Social Services Council. As a result of that, part of the criteria is you need to join the PVG scheme. Similarly, regulators such as the Care Inspectorate will require individuals who are providing care in care homes or anything like that to actually carry out PVG on that basis. It is a regulator function in that respect, but it is much broader than regulators.

It is an offence to employ an individual who is barred and the best way to ensure that they are not barred is by actually getting a PVG done on that. It covers a much wider area than just social care but we are talking about social care today so that is what we will focus on.

There is a lot of criteria there Michelle, but it really revolves around caring. But it is also important to be clear (for eligibility) on where the work is carried out. So if for example you have got an administrative assistant who is working in a care home and has the opportunity for unsupervised contact with the residents of that care home, they are eligible to join the PVG scheme. If you’re an administrative assistant who is working in a social work department in a council offices, then you’re not eligible to join the PVG scheme because you don’t meet the criteria. It’s common sense when you think about it because it is all about the eligibility and the access to the individuals. Somebody in a care home has much more, and is a higher potential risk, than somebody potentially in an office. So it’s all about proximity even though the job title and the job roles may be similar.

Michelle: And whose responsibility is it then to decide whether certain individuals will need a PVG?

Andrew: The legislation defines the criteria; however it is down to the organisation to ensure that they are meeting the legislation. As I say in some instances it can be [established] by a regulator or it can be the organisation themselves have to establish whether it is PVG or not. Disclosure Scotland we are very keen to ensure that that happens, so we are always available to help people if they are not sure on their eligibility.

Michelle: Ok great and is there cost involved the for PVGs?

Andrew: There is yes, a PVG is £59.00 to join the PVG scheme for the first time. It is £18.00 pounds for a scheme record update which means if you are already a member of a specific workforce then you will pay £18.00 for an update. So for example if I was a member of the PVG scheme and then moved employer, my employer would do a scheme record update on me if I was working with that same workforce.

The cost themselves are set down in legislation, however what’s important is that who pays for it isn’t laid in legislation. So it could be for example an employer will pay for it, as happens in many cases. In some cases the employer pays for it and then the individual will then pay them back, however the repayment method is done. Sometimes it can be paid for if you are receiving support from organisations, sometimes the organisation who is providing that support [to you] will pay for it.

Quite often, individuals when they are starting out, particularly if they come into the criminal justice system and still want to work in social care definitely they can do so (just because you got an conviction doesn’t mean you can’t) but quite often they go through to volunteering. And volunteering, if they are working for a qualified voluntary organisation, the PVGs for such organisations are free of charge to the individual and the organisation. Quite often, even if it is not specifically aimed in the social care services, quite a lot of people volunteer in the first instance as a starting point to moving back towards that type of work.

Michelle: How long does it take to get a PVG registration?

Andrew: From receipt of correctly completed applications, we aim to do it within 14 days. Its 90% because we may sometimes need to go back for more information. Hopefully the new PVG online system will have helped that with no paper forms (if you had missed a box, for example your date of birth, we would have to contact you and that could delay things). However the PVG online system has improved that. There are still delays because for example we have to establish the exact identity of the individual to make sure we are giving the right criminal records for example there are lots of John Smiths living in Scotland and a lot of these have similar dates of birth. We need to be sure that we are issuing the right information; be it criminal history or no criminal history. Now that can sometimes take a bit of time. Sometimes we need to go for further information in relation to an individual, or maybe something that comes in on a record, but again we need to look at that. So basically within 14 days is the main aim, Michelle, but there are other reasons it can be longer than that which is why the 90% is there rather than the 100%.

Michelle: Ok grand, and tell me what kind of information might appear on a PVG?

Andrew: On a PVG certificate you will get a lot of information. Basically it will have your name and address on it. You will also get the name of the person or the organisation you’ve applied to. You will also get a PVG scheme membership number. If you are applying to join for the first time your PVG membership number will be new to you. If, however, you are in the PVG scheme already that number will stay with you throughout your lifetime membership of the scheme or however long you are in the scheme. For example, if I joined the scheme in 2012, I will always retain the membership number I was issued in 2012 even though I am in 2021, and even if I went to work for a different workforce. So if in a care home working with adults and I wanted to go to work with children my PVG scheme membership will stay the same.

You also have a certificate number which is unique to that particular certificate. You will also have the position applied for, so that you know the position you are applying for in relation to that certificate.

From there we then get down to the sort of scheme membership information, if you like, which tells you your scheme membership status. So your scheme membership status means that you will either be a member for children, or you will be a member for adults, or you will be a member for both. It will also tell you your consideration status, so if you’re under consideration for listing either for children or for protected adults (depending on what the application was for) that will be on your certificate.

It is important to know that when you get a PVG certificate it means that you are a PVG scheme member. You are not barred. If you are barred from regulated work, you will not receive a disclosure certificate.

Michelle: Ok

Andrew: So, when you receive your disclosure certificate, it will usually say you are not under consideration for listing, or you are and the workforce if it is relevant.

You will also get vetting information. What we mean by vetting information is it will give you your criminal history: your disclosable criminal history. This could be unspent convictions or relevant spent convictions, or it could be what we refer to as ‘other relevant information’. What I mean by other relevant information, is information that is in addition to conviction information. So it could be for example something that is not a conviction but is relevant to the type of regulated work you would be doing. So if for example I had a pending case for assault against a child, that would not appear under the conviction information because I have not been convicted of it. However if I had applied for regulated work with children it’s very relevant that I have got this pending case. In these circumstances, Disclosure Scotland will contact Police Scotland who hold the information and say we’ve got this application. Police Scotland would then go through their quality assurance framework, checking the relevance of the information and the accuracy of the information and whether they could disclose it safely without harming any possible ongoing investigations. If they choose to do that, they will send the information to Disclosure Scotland and we will put that under other relevant information. It is important to know that we only get about 2-3% of these which will lead to other relevant information which is good in one respect but it’s also important to be clear that the information is relevant and will be given when required.

Michelle: And I suppose it’s proof that the service, this registration, works as well.

Andrew: Absolutely. So you get a lot of information on a PVG certificate which is useful for organisations and individuals. Sometimes if there is other relevant information it allows the organisation and the individual to have a discussion about it. Again, the fact that you are a PVG scheme membership means that you’re not unsuitable for regulated work, but whether you’re suitable for the actual role you’ve applied for is going to be a matter for the organisation. Quite often that discussion can lead to a much better understanding of the situation. Similarly for convictions because the conviction information doesn’t tell you a lot about the incident, we have to disclose exactly what is held in UK central records. You have to dig a bit deeper often.

Michelle: So some groups of people may be more likely to come into contact with criminal justice services, Andrew. Can you provide some insight into this and also suggest some helpful steps that people can take if they are worried about previous convictions or behaviour?

Andrew: Yes what you’ve said is absolutely true. Some people do come into the criminal justice system and are more likely to. An example of that is individuals who go through the care sector, who are care experienced. They are care experienced through no fault of their own. However there are situations where incidents happen where police are involved when this wouldn’t happen if you were at home. You might get a severe telling off from your parents for example, it’s happened to me on numerous occasions. However the same behaviour in a care setting might end up involving the police. That’s really unfortunate but it does happen. There’s a few things that are important in relation to that. The first is that if that does happen and the individual does have information - a criminal offence on their disclosure – what can happen is that the individual can explain to a potential employer details of that information, because it’s not always clear. I know an example where there was a conviction of assault with a blunt instrument, now that sounds like it could be horrendous because with a blunt instrument you are thinking about maybe hammers or something like that but actually it turned out to be a vegetable. So it doesn’t always tell the whole story and it’s really important you investigate the whole story to get the information from the individual, to ensure they get that story over.

The other thing that’s important in relation to this is that individuals can use letters, or disclosure letters, explaining to organisations or potential employers about why that behaviour was there. Quite often, and it’s really really important this point, is that individuals with lived experience – either care experience who want to go back into that sector, or individuals who have got for example experiences of alcohol addiction or drug addiction. These people are ideal for regulated work in that sphere because they have lived that experience and are far more qualified to help people going through the same issues than I am, or most people are, because they have that lived experience and that’s really important. However, quite often in circumstances such as these it does mean that if people who have come into the justice system – I mention care experience.

Alcohol addiction I’ve also alluded to and that’s important because if people are going through this they will come into contact with the criminal justice system more because they are often under the influence of alcohol, they can sometimes get into fights and sometimes the addiction means they might steal to get money for the addiction, or because they’ve spent their money on that and they need to put food on the table. But this can be a temporary situation and it’s important that when organisations get this information, look at the background to it look at it as a whole, look at the person. Don’t look at the conviction itself in isolation. Look at the big picture.

Michelle: So people can go to the Disclosure Scotland website and Scotland Works for You for lots more information about this.

Andrew: Yes the Disclosure Scotland website gives you lots of information in relation to disclosable and relevant disclosable information. There’s also lots of other organisations who are helpful in these situations, organisations like Apex. Police Scotland are approachable – not everyone necessarily thinks that – but they are. So there are lots of sources of information there.

Michelle: So that brings us to the end of the questions. Andrew I just want to thank you for your time and it was great to chat to you about this subject.

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