Mental health & DBS Checks

What level of mental health challenges show up on a DBS check?

All health history is regarded as sensitive personal data under the Data Protection Act and can only be disclosed in specific circumstances – such as when necessary for the prevention or detection of crime or to protect someone’s welfare / interests.

This means information on mental health is not shown on central databases but if the Police Force has interacted with your applicant it may well appear on their local database.

Many Police Forces now have these databases as a centralised repository for all criminality, investigations, intelligence as well as non-crime occurrences such as mental health incidents and welfare referrals.

Although all these databases are searchable by Police using intelligence tools, if someone has, for example, been sectioned this will not generally show up on a Standard or Enhanced DBS Check.

However, context is important here, when DBS checks are required for certain types of employment or volunteer positions, it is up to the discretion of the individual Police Force as to what gets disclosed to the DBS in terms of intelligence.

So the Police will need to work out whether any risk to the vulnerable adults or children outweighs someone’s right to a private life.

As such, most mental health incidents are unlikely to be shared if they did NOT involve:

  • Violence or threat of violence toward another person
  • Sexual behaviour such as exposing themselves
  • Inappropriate touching of a child or vulnerable person

Statutory Disclosure Guidance and the QAF

Published in 2015, the Statutory Disclosure Guidance for Chief Officers of Police lists 8 principles that need to be applied in terms of disclosure and the mental health of applicants. You can read this in full here:

Statutory Disclosure Guidance for Chief Officers of Police but the main points are:

1. There should be no presumption either in favour of or against providing a specific item or category of information. So, for example, the Chief Officer would not include all information about someone’s mental health, just because they feel this information is more important than other types of information.

2. Information will only be provided if the Chief Officer reasonably believes it to be relevant for the prescribed purposes. There are two areas to be considered within this:

  • If the information is important to the position someone is applying for. For example, what may be relevant to a job application for nursing may not be relevant if the application is for a school cleaner.
  • If the information is serious enough to be able to explain the reason for including it.

3. Information should only be provided if, in the Chief Police’s opinion, it ought to be included in the certificate. When deciding upon this. They will consider:

  • The impact of disclosure on the private life of an applicant or a third party.
  • The adverse impact of disclosure on the prevention or detection of a crime.

4. The chief officer should consider whether the applicant should be afforded the opportunity to make representations.

5. There should be a sufficient and clear audit trail to record the decision making process and support quality control.

6. Decisions need to be made in a timely manner.

7. Information for inclusion should be provided in a meaningful and consistent manner with the reasons for disclosure clearly set out.

8. Any delegation of the Chief Officer’s responsibilities should be appropriate and fully documented.

On top of the above principles, the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) includes specific guidance in relation to mental health which says that the Police must keep in mind the following when deciding whether to disclose mental health information:

  • That there are many different categories of mental illness/condition.
  • That Police are not mental health experts and should not be expected to be.
  • That experiencing mental illness is not a crime. Only other factors can make mental health information relevant.
  • That anyone experiencing mental illness can recover/manage their condition.

There are also a number of questions in the mental health guidance to help the Police decide whether or not mental health information may be relevant.

Considering the applicant these questions are:

  • Can they act responsibly?
  • Has their behaviour put themselves or others at risk of harm?
  • Does their medication (or not taking prescribed medication) significantly affect their behaviour?
  • Is their judgement affected?
  • How old is this information?
  • How is their current state of health?
  • How could disclosure of their mental health affect you?
  • Could getting their views on this information reduce the possible impact on your health or change the Police’s decision to disclose?

What we can be sure of is that these parameters ensure that balance is maintained between the rights of the applicant and the rights of those the disclosure is intended to protect.

We hope this has been helpful.

Sources: Police UK Comments and Legal Rights with regard to DBS checks