Permission and approval

Criminal Records Bureau Clearance

If you are planning to conduct research involving children, or adults who meet the 1997 Police Act definition of vulnerability, you need to ensure that any researchers who will have contact with participants have current Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) clearance. This requirement is set out in legislation in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland (for example, the Safeguarding Vulnerable adults Group Act 2006 in England, or the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007).

More detailed information about the process of applying for CRB clearance is set out on the CRB Home Office website.  However, if you need a CRB check because of your role as an employee or as a student, your first step should be to check with your organisation’s research office (or HR department).  They should be able to advise you on the systems and requirements for your workplace.

There are two forms of CRB checks – regular and ‘enhanced’. Enhanced checks are required for work with children or vulnerable adults that involves ‘regulated activity’, with regulated activity defined on the CRB website as follows:

  • Any activity of a specified nature that involves contact with children or vulnerable adults frequently, intensively and/or overnight. (Such activities include teaching, training, care, supervision, advice, treatment and transportation.)
  • Any activity allowing contact with children or vulnerable adults that is in a specified place frequently or intensively. (Such places include schools and care homes.)
  • Fostering and childcare.
  • Any activity that involves people in certain defined positions of responsibility. (Such positions include school governor, director of children’s services and director of adult social services, and trustee of certain charities.)
  • ‘Regulated activity’ is when the activity is frequent (once a month or more), ‘intensive’ (takes place on three or more days in a 30-day period) or overnight.

As this definition indicates, it is likely that research involving direct data collection from children or vulnerable adults could be judged to be ‘regulated activity’ – particularly if you are working with participants individually (e.g. in one-to-one interviews) or in private settings such as the participant’s home – and would thus required an enhanced CRB check. CRB approval can take time to process, and you need to build this time into your research process. Remember that if you are responsible for a project team, you need to ensure that current CRB checks are in place for all relevant staff.

Also relevant here is the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974. The ROA states that once a conviction is ‘spent’, the convicted person does not have to reveal it or admit its existence in most circumstances. However, the exceptions include work with children or vulnerable, sick or elderly adults, and so anyone applying for CRB clearance must reveal all previous convictions, both spent and unspent.