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Who are AccessNI? 

The government agency set up to administer these checks in Northern Ireland is AccessNI (ANI). The aim is to help employers in Northern Ireland make safer recruitment decisions. A number of roles, especially those involving children or vulnerable adults, are entitled to a criminal record check. AccessNI enables organisations to access these checks as part of good recruitment practice.  

AccessNI’s role is to help protect children and vulnerable adults by providing a first-class service to support organisations recruiting people into positions of trust. Applications for criminal record checks have to be made through a Registered Body. Many organisations require disclosure checks for their workers but do not qualify to apply to become a Registered Body in their own right, however checks are possible through another agency known as an umbrella organisation appointed by ANI. Thirtyone:eight is one such umbrella organisation. Thirtyone:eight also helps users reach appropriate decisions where offences or concerns are revealed by a disclosure check. Thirtyone:eight’ disclosure services are open to all organisations whose workers qualify for a ANI disclosure check, such as schools, care homes, community groups and churches. If you are unsure if your workers qualify for an ANI check then please phone our Disclosure Helpline to discuss your particular circumstances. 

What is an Disclosure? 

A Disclosure is a document containing information held by the police and government departments that provides details of: 

  • spent and unspent convictions 
  • cautions (adult & juvenile) 
  • where applicable, a check of the lists of those barred from working with vulnerable groups 
  • information held by the police that is relevant to the role applied for 
  • informed warnings
  • youth diversionary conferences 

Some old and minor convictions and non-court disposals on a criminal record may be filtered. Fixed penalty tickets or parking fines will not be included in an enhanced check. 

A Disclosure, therefore, enables organisations to check the background of a job applicant (paid or voluntary) to ensure they do not have a history that makes them unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults. A Disclosure is an essential element of the appointment process within any church or organisation, forming part of a structured recruitment policy that should include interviewing, checking of references, staff supervision, training and ongoing support. 

For more details regarding information disclosed at different levels of an ANI check

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)  

If an applicant is involved in Regulated Activity the ANI check must include a check of the DBS barred lists. The DBS is a non-departmental public body (NDPB), sponsored by the Home Office. The DBS is responsible for maintaining the two barred lists, the ‘Children’s and Vulnerable Adults’ lists. Using information from a number of sources including the Police, local authorities and employers, the DBS case workers assess the risk of harm that an individual would pose if they were to work with vulnerable groups. Where an individual has been referred to the DBS due to harming; causing harm; putting at risk of harm; attempting to harm; or inciting another to harm a child or vulnerable adult, the DBS will consider all available relevant information in deciding if it is appropriate to add that person to one or both of the barred lists. Thirtyone:eight issues guidance to enable you to determine whether workers will be in Regulated Activity. This will be given to all Recruiters when we confirm their acceptance. 

How does an AccessNI Check work? 

  1. A church or organisation needs to be registered with an AccessNI umbrella body like Thirtyone:eight. Those applying for checks need to provide all their addresses for the last five years and the dates lived there. They also need original identification such as a passport, driving licence and birth certificate. 
  2. Once the application has been submitted and received, Thirtyone:eight check it for any mistakes. Within 24 hours of receipt, it is electronically submitted to AccessNI or returned if any corrections are needed. 
  3. AccessNI search the Police National Computer, a nationwide computer database that allows them to check a person’s criminal record. If it is an Enhanced Check and the role is in Regulated Activity this step will check the lists of those barred from working with those groups. Records held by the local police are also checked. 
  4. When these steps are completed, the applicants’ certificate is issued. 

How long is a AccessNI Check valid for? 

We generally advise that churches and organisations follow best practice in carrying out checks every three years, but you should also check with your insurance company and head office to see what they require. 

It's important to remember that a check is only as good as the information provided at the time the check is applied for and is effectively out of date as soon as it is issued.  You cannot assume that you will be informed of any future concerns and so we also advise having a clause in a worker’s contract obliging an individual to inform the organisation of any subsequent police/social services involvement.  

If you ever have any concerns about a worker, or they are in a role with a high level of contact then it may be appropriate to ask them to apply for a renewal at any interval. 

Does a ‘clear’ AccessNI Check mean a worker is safe to work? 

Some people mistakenly think that carrying out a check is all that is needed when recruiting a worker.  However, although these checks are absolutely vital, on their own they only go so far in protecting those in your care. 

The realities of recruiting volunteers and workers, especially within churches and Christian organisations, can pose specific challenges.  It can sometimes be tempting to cut corners or to bend policies to meet immediate needs.  Those who have responsibility in this area need to remember the role that these checks play as part of a safer recruitment process. 

What if the check come back with previous convictions? 

As a large umbrella body providing checks to the faith sector, we know the large variety of results that can come back as part of a check, but a blemished disclosure doesn’t automatically mean a worker will be prevented from fulfilling their role.  A conviction for minor theft several years ago, for example, does not necessarily mean the applicant is unsuitable to work with children or young people now.  This is where the risk assessment process comes in and where our dedicated Safeguarding Helpline can help you in reaching a decision. 

What are the ‘Barred Lists’? 

The DBS is responsible for maintaining two barred lists the ‘Children’s and Vulnerable Adults’ lists. Using information from a number of sources including the Police, local authorities and employers, the DBS case workers assess the risk of harm that an individual would pose if they were to work with vulnerable groups.  Where an individual has been referred to the DBS they will consider all available relevant information and decide if it is appropriate to add that person to one or both of the barred lists.  If an applicant is involved in regulated Activity the DBS check must include a check of the barred lists.  We can advise you to help determine whether workers will be in Regulated Activity. 

What things to consider when processing checks? 

Plan ahead.  It’s really important to plan in advance when applying for checks as it can take some time. Ensure you know what activities and services you have planned throughout the year and how many people will need to be involved and factor this into your administration. 

Remember the check is based on the role, and it is the role which determines whether or not the person is eligible for an Enhanced check.  

It is important to ascertain the type and level of check required.  Many providers don’t alert you to the serious consequences if an inappropriate check is requested - sensitive and personal information may be disclosed which an organisation may not legally be entitled to hold. 

AccessNI Checks do help to keep children and vulnerable people safe by providing important information which can help organisations make the right decisions about their workers, but only as part of a safer recruitment process, and a clear commitment by the whole organisation to create safer places for all. 

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