back to article Thousands wrongly labelled by CRB checks

The Criminal Records Bureau has paid out compensation of £290,124 to people wrongly labelled criminals during background checks by the agency. The CRB issued 3,855,881 certificates in 2008/2009. In the same year there were 2,522 disputes handled, and upheld. These claims were brought by the registered body or by the applicant …


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  1. Uk_Gadget

    Makes you laugh...

    ... that I passed all checks.... Not that I am a bad boy... :)

  2. Anonymous Coward

    ...which, by extension means

    if 2552 people were wrongly labelled criminals, then I would expect there to be 2552 people wrongly cleared who are now working with children ....

    *that* is the flipside the Sun should be trumpeting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

      I guess your deduction would be correct if the following assumptions hold:

      1. All CRB errors are generated by swapping people's records.

      2. Everyone in the country applies for a CRB check.

      3. Everyone who passes then works with children.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I take your point ...

        ... but was just trying ot point out that a system which demonstrates an error towards false positives must also be considered as being capable of presenting false negatives too.

        Given the current peedosteria, and the ISA debacle, this is something that needs to be made very public, as it will be inevitable that at some point in the future a child will be abused by someone that the system failed to flag up.

        On a wider note, joe public needs to be shocked into understanding that databases are not a cure-all for anything .....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No it isn't.

      You appear to have misread. This is the CRB check which is used for a lot of jobs, most of which have nowt to do with The Children rather than the eCRB which would be used in the case of a job which required whatever the wooly definition of "regular contact" with children is these days.

      The eCRB is the one where unsubstantiated rumour, whether malicious or idle, can cost you your career. The CRB is the one where the incorrect labelling is actually the result of a fuckup rather than by design.

    3. Martin Milan


      I'd expect there to be a lot more than 2552 people wrongly cleared.

      If you're falsely shown as having a record, then it's in your interests to shout up, make a fuss and get noticed. If you're falsly cleared, you're not going to to challenge it...


    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      CRB and Register of Electors....

      I recently noticed that somone seems to have had a "CRB" check done but the he is not on the Register of Electors...would have thought that being on the Register of Electors would have been a basic requirement unless you just moved house.

      then again a "Mail Order Catalogue Statement" up to 3 months old is one of the accepted "documents"... that is so hard to get...

      and you do NOT have to show a passport (although presumably all foreigners should have one).

      NEXT (or Debenhams, House of Fraser) please!

      1. Lee Dowling Silver badge


        Erm... the Register of Electors is *NOT* compulsory. From a BBC Election FAQ that I read this morning (and backed up by several sites): "No, people cannot be forced to vote, nor is registration itself compulsory." And if you don't vote, why would you bother to register?

        Plus a CRB check is *NOT* an identity check - that's done by the passports etc. and other details that you provide. The CRB is literally just a database lookup of the person you specify - it's just a form asking for passport number (may be optional, I can't remember, I certainly needed one every time my employers sent off for an updated eCRB), address, previous address, etc. and from that it issues a certificate of the criminal history of the person specified, which actually says on it that it's *NOT* a confirmation of identity at all. It's just a lookup.

        If you don't believe the person is who they say they are, don't accept a CRB from them, or make them bring in a passport etc. too. This may have been what my previous employers (all schools) were doing when they demanded mine.

  3. Jon Wilson

    I'm sure it's a kick in the teeth for those it affects...

    ..but a false positive rate of 0.07% isn't exactly the height of carelessness, is it?

    1. mego
      Thumb Down

      ..but a false positive rate of 0.07% isn't exactly the height of carelessness, is it?

      Unfortunately, it is. It's either fully accurate, or not at all - would you trust your kids to that chance?

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      That probably depends..

      ..on whether or not you are one of the 0.07% who got falsely accused.

    3. Catkins

      False positive rate is probably quite high

      Actually, the false positive rate is probably a lot higher - the 0.07% refers to only mistakes discovered.

      ie. If the innocent John A. Smith applies for a CRB check and his check is actually done against the equally innocent John B. Smith, then the check is passed and nobody is none the wiser. You only know there's a problem when he's wrongly linked to John C. Smith, serial killer. If the majority of the population have clean records, then the majority of mistakes won't be spotted.

      Also, note that the article refers to 2552 disputes "upheld" - how many complaints were rejected? If you're wrongly labelled a criminal how easy is it to prove your innocence? Obviously if the CRB check claims you've spent five years in prison, you can probably prove you were active in the community. If the CRB wrongly shows up convictions for theft or minor assaults and things that normally result only in a fine or community service, how do you prove it wasn't you?

    4. Paul 4

      With something like this

      It should be 0%. It can to easerly ruin someones life.

      1. Brutus

        @Paul 4

        It _should_ be 0% but there is no such thing as a perfect sysem outside theoretical physics. 0.07% is bloody good for system that relies on human input and interpretation. Obviously, it's an absolute arse for anyone caught on the wrong side (and a godsend for anyone catching a false positive), but then, so is being run over by someone who is texting rather than paying attention to the road. Life isn't fair.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      We can only hope you're next, then... which point I predict a complete change of tune...

      This isn't some DVLA licence check, mate - this is shit that can drastically affect every part of someone's life. The acceptable level of error is zero - and if that realistically can't be achieved, then the remedies need to be a lot better than a few quid in compensation. And that fraction of a percent is just what they're admitting to - most of us simply don't know and may never know.

    6. Sir Runcible Spoon


      Until it happens to you and your life is flushed down the toilet.

      You might think differently then, or when it happens when using the National Database and you end up labelled a criminal for life with no recourse.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      0.07% is okay?

      Well then we don't need to worry about all those nasty peados either, given how few children actually get attacked by them.

  4. lglethal Silver badge

    Just a question...

    I have no experience with the CRB checks so if someone with more knowledge can clarify this for me id appreciate it - If a CRB check is carried out by a potential employer and comes back to falsely identify you as a criminal. Are you informed of this result?

    Because if not, i can see many occasions were errors are made but the potential employer just says "sorry we found a more suitable candidate" without telling you the reason which in this example would be primarily because you failed the CRB check. Without being informed of this (false) result, you would be unable to get the records corrected, and as such you would potentially miss out on many jobs in the future because your now branded as a criminal.

    So has anyone had experience with the CRB checks? Do you find out the result? Or are you left in the dark unless the potential employer is good enough to pass on the results to you?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Only my experience

      But no, employers dont need to tell you why you are rejected.

      The same with security clearances - if you fail for what ever reason, the employer should tell you but can just as easily say they have found a more suitable candidate. You have no right of appeal to a security check either.

    2. Andy Scott

      the answer

      What happens is when I CRB check is carried out, the company that carried it out gets the information and a copy of the check gets posted to you, as you own copy. I only know that as when I got my SIA badge I got a copy of my CRB check through the post.

    3. Mike Bird 1


      Yes you do get a paper copy of the CRB check.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I had one a few years back

      And they send you a letter and the employer one as I remember.

    5. AndyS

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      Certainly in the system it's replacing, yes, you find out the result, as it's posted to you. This is a pretty fundamental part of the system, so I imagine it's preserved.

      What I want to see is an assessment of the damage done due to false positives versus the damage prevented due to the whole programme. But of course, using the tabloid weighting mechanism, one child is worth 5*10^9 children...

    6. Bad Fish

      It's even more insane

      @Iglethal: it's even more insane than you think: my daughter just had to fill in the form for a check for a job working with children, and they said to her "when the result arrives at your house, bring it round here for us to see".

      She came back home and said to me "why don't I just write my own fake report and print it off myself?".

      1. I didn't do IT.

        Bring around your copy...

        This is probalby a skinflint employer who is having the potential employee do a "voluntary" so that the employer doesn't have to pay for it... Which is itself quite ripe for fraud, eh?

    7. Frazer Mountford
      Thumb Up

      Reply to post: Just a question....

      You get a copy of the results of a CRB check sent to the home address and the results of each list that they have checked against

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Being informed

      When someone was falsely labelled a criminal at the Post Office while I was there, he got the message when two big security guards manhandled him off site.

      He did dispute the result and was cleared. He just shared a name with a criminal. Not very comforting when you consider, for instance, that there are 10,000 John Smiths in the UK. Almost certainly one has a criminal record so that's 10,000 false matches waiting to happen from that error alone.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: CRBs

      The person subject of a CRB should get a report

  5. Anonymous Coward

    When DV isn't good enough!

    I've just had to go through this CRB nonsense, because quote "everyone else is doing it as standard now." The fact that I'd just had my DV reviewed 6 months ago meant nothing and this muppet check now means more to HR than all the finest digging the men in grey can produce.

    Funny old world.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Look on the bright side

      I only found out that my mother had been in trouble several times as a Greenpeace activist, along with membership of several other fringe nutter organisations until just after she had me due to an interview with a very pleasant chap.

      Oh how I dispaired.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re:Look on the bright side

        She had you due to an interview with a very pleasant chap? What kind of interview was this?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      I concur

      For some strange reason lots of companies seem to want to CRB even though it has specific purpose and should only be used for certain jobs...

      It doesnt help that businesses like the Security Watchdog have a vested interest in pressuring every employer to make use of their most expensive service.

    3. Wommit

      Re : When DV isn't good enough!

      But the Men In Grey (tm) prefer to deal with facts while the CRB twunts, and the plods, prefer to destroy your life with unsubstantiated allegations and rumour.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      re: dv

      wonder whether DV includes all the malicious gossip in the same way as CRB will (probably not as they actually interview people before making judgements)

      1. Richard Taylor 2

        re: DV

        Yes DV will include it, but then judgement will be made generally by people who have seen it all......

  6. Richard 81

    So much for rehabilitation

    Doesn't this make it rather difficult for anyone who has committed a crime, been convicted, and received punishment, to get any kind of decent job? I could be wrong, but do employers disregard anyone flagged by the CRB, or does the crime have to be relevant to the job?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      In theory, no.... in practice however....

      AFAIK, there are a set of (admittedly wooly) requirements for jobs where a CRB is mandatory. For all other jobs, it is illegal for a employer to demand one. This has not prevented lots of abuse - for which there is a lamentable lack of enforcement.

  7. Elmer Phud

    ISA is a coming

    ISA will cause even more problems as it's not a 'evidence based' system but on where anyone can contact the authorities and tell them that someone looks dodgy.

    It's made for net-curtain twitchers who will pronounce people to be kidde-fiddlers and knife-wielding druggies just because they don't like the look of someone or they saw them push in front of them in a bus queue.

    CRB is, at least, supposedly based on something like having a criminal record (or not) ISA is based on nothing more than the crap that gets delivered from those two-faced people on Loose Women.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The solution to this...

      ... is simply to individually report "suspicions" on all politicians, police chiefs, doctors, newspaper editors etc etc etc.

      If enough high-profile people fall foul of the system, it will stop.

  8. Guy Herbert

    @ Jon Wilson

    That's not the false positive rate. That's the rate at which the victims of a traducement by database discovered the fact, felt motivated and able to pursue the matter, and did so to the point where the CRB bureaucracy admitted it was wrong and paid compensation. A figure certainly less than any actual false positive rate, and probably hugely less. (Do you perhaps also suppose that occaisions on which compensation paid by banks to their customers is the level of bank errors, or a officers disciplined after complaints are upheld shows the full extent of police misbehaviour?)

  9. TonyHoyle


    "Without being informed of this (false) result, you would be unable to get the records corrected, and as such you would potentially miss out on many jobs in the future because your now branded as a criminal."

    Possibly not.

    CRB checks have to be performed (and paid for) separately for every organisation you work with (if that involves children and/or vulnerable people), and in some cases have to be performed twice for the same organisation (eg. care workers who do night shifts need a separate CRB for that).

    It depends on whether the gov. really do all the millions of utterly unnecessary repeat checks, or whether they just pocket the cash and send a photocopy of the original one.

    I'm sure they really want to to the latter, but the whole system is so inefficient I can imagine the former happening.

    btw. CRB checks take so long (A headteacher friend couldn't start the term because they took over 6 months for his and he wasn't allowed into his own school..) and are fairly expensive so I doubt anyone is using them in recruitment anyway.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If I were affected, compensation at this level wouldn't interest me. What would interest me would be a million-pound law suit. Any no-win-no-fee lawyers interested in this area?

  11. Tom Wood

    CRB Errors

    @lglethal: yes, you get sent a copy of everything sent to the organisation requesting the check.

    @AC 09:35: One, there is no reason that the number of false negatives should be the same as the number of false positives. Two, the CRB check by definition only covers people who have a criminal record for their wrong-doings, so those who have never been caught and convicted (or who are convicted after the date of the records search) will "pass" the CRB. So even if the data checked does refer to the right person, having a clean CRB check doesn't mean you're not a criminal.

    Having a CRB check say you're a criminal when you are not is potentially much more damaging from an individual's point of view.

  12. Robert Carnegie Silver badge


    Very likely if your name is John Smith. Rather unlikely if you're Arblemarch Fruitbat, unless a criminal uses your name as an alias when arrested or in the course of committing a crime.

    There aren't many Robert Carnegie around either, but whatever you're thinking of, it wasn't me. Or if it was then I'm very sorry.

  13. Ru

    "a false positive rate of 0.07% isn't exactly the height of carelessness"

    Perhaps not. But I wonder if it has been recorded that these individuals failed a CRB check. That's the sort of information that follows people around, especially with the ever increasing enthusiasm for background checks and databases. I wonder if the CRB can offer any guarantees to these people that it hasn't affected their future employability.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Well done el reg! You are learning!

    This article is more correctly published as a CRB action.

    It could (much like the cycle track website article) have been described or headlined as "Government makes huge CRB errors" when in fact the Government is merely the payroll service for a publicly funded body.

    You are learning el reg - please do keep up the good work!

  15. Andrew...

    AC 9:35

    re "if 2552 people were wrongly labelled criminals, then I would expect there to be 2552 people wrongly cleared who are now working with children ...."

    should this not be "if 2552 people were wrongly labelled criminals, then I would expect there to be 2552 people wrongly cleared who are now ELIGIBLE TO BE working with children ...."?

    1. I didn't do IT.

      Reason for the Riot

      Ah, but employers only get these checks because the (potential?) employee WILL BE WORKING with them, right?

  16. John Mangan

    Mission creep

    Unfortunately the more checks there are the more false positives there will be. And there may, or may not, be a linear realtionship between the false positives and the false negatives. As was noted above although the false positives are distressing for the innocents affected false negatives can have much wider repercussions.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    @ Jon Wilson

    It might seem a very small rate, but it's still one in 1500 checks will wrongly blight someones life. Don't forget that under the now current rules, the fact that someone has failed a CRB check will mean that forever more they will fail an eCRB check.

    Even if you appeal and it's proved that your are squeaky clean, having failed the check is grounds for never ever being allowed to work in certain industries again - EVER. That's a whole long list of careers destroyed - teaching, childcare, elderly care, alarm systems, plumbing, electrician, IT tech, ...

    Yes, a significant and rising number of businesses are now checking all their employees so they can advertise that fact and get contracts in the sectors where it matters. The logical endpoint is that most people will need to pass a check before too long, and a false positive of 1 in 1500 means that when the 1500 is now 15 million, that's a false positive on 10 thousand people ! When checking reaches 30m people, that's 20k people with their lives blighted.

    So forget about this "it will only affect people working with vulnerable people" and accepting that these checks are a good thing - we're looking at many thousands of people with their careers blighted for no benefit as they weren't wanting to work in those areas.

    And when the failures are made public ? Just hope you aren't the one targeted when the neighbours get told (falsely) that you're an unsuitable person !


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