Select Committee on Public Accounts Forty-Fifth Report


The Criminal Records Bureau (the Bureau) was initiated in 1999 to improve protection of children and vulnerable adults by widening access to criminal records, so that employers and voluntary organisations could make better informed recruitment decisions. It was set up as a public private partnership, initially between the Passports and Records Agency, an Executive Agency of the Home Office (the Department) and Capita plc (Capita), although the Bureau is now a separate Agency in its own right. Two types of Disclosure of criminal records are available. A Standard Disclosure is based on checks of unspent and spent convictions and of cautions, reprimands or warnings held on the Police National Computer. Checks may also be made to lists held by the Department for Education and Skills. An Enhanced Disclosure is similar to a Standard Disclosure but also includes checks on any relevant intelligence held by local police forces in whose areas the applicant has lived in the previous five years.

The Bureau went live from March 2002, some seven months later than planned, and the computer system encountered serious problems straightaway. Backlogs in processing applications for Disclosures of criminal records soon built up, peaking at nearly 300,000 by October 2002. The Agency and Capita were not sufficiently effective in working together to address the problems which had started early on with ambitious and overly optimistic timings for development and implementation. Stakeholders' concerns about proposed processes were not adequately researched and acted on; and software development was delayed. An effective partnership between the Agency and Capita was not established until the crisis was underway.

The Disclosure plays a key part in the recruitment process for those seeking to work with vulnerable adults and children (Figure 1) and the consequences of the Bureau's problems were far-reaching. Employers could not recruit, voluntary organisations lost potential volunteers and delays occurred for those applying to adopt or foster. The Bureau and Capita took steps to address these problems but even now, more than two years after being set up, the Bureau is not yet providing the standard or range of service originally envisaged. The expected cost to the taxpayer over the ten year life of the contract has increased significantly from £250 million to £395 million. These higher costs, coupled with reduced volumes and the delayed start, have meant that the Bureau will not break even until 2005-06, a year later than planned.

Figure 1: Completing an application for Disclosure

Source: Criminal Records Bureau

On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[1] we examined the Home Office, the Bureau and Capita plc on whether best practice was followed during contract procurement and implementation, and whether the Bureau has improved the protection of vulnerable children and adults.

1   C&AG's Report, Criminal Records Bureau: delivering safer recruitment? (HC 266, Session 2003-04) Back

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