Report by Keep Prisons Single Sex warns the system could be ‘abused’ by those wanting to gain access to children and vulnerable young people.
Criminals who claim they are transgender are able to use a “loophole” to hide their previous convictions and avoid scrutiny when applying to work with children.
Men who self-identify as women and vice-versa are able to withhold their real names and sex at birth when applying for jobs including in schools, nurseries and hospitals.
Criminal record checks are only carried out on previous identities if the individual personally notifies officials of their past, a report by Keep Prisons Single Sex has found. It means criminals willing to lie about whether they have changed their names can avoid their convictions being discovered.
But special processes set up for people who are transgender mean that even if an employer suspects that someone has changed gender, they cannot check if that person has disclosed their previous identities to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) because of privacy restrictions.
The report warns that the system could be “abused” by “nefarious criminals” wanting to hide convictions to gain access to children and vulnerable young people.
One of the report’s authors, who is responsible for safeguarding as part of her employment, said it creates a “massive loophole” that allows people to “burn their previous identities”. The author told The Telegraph it created “a secret process for people which cannot be verified”. By putting the onus on the individual, it “destroyed confidence in the system”, she said.
Soham murderer Ian Huntley was able to get employment in a school by changing his name by deed poll and hiding his real identity from a criminal record check before killing 10-year-olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in 2003. Ministers are currently reviewing an existing loophole in the legislation which relies on sex offenders notifying them when they change their names by deed poll but have so far refused to consider issues created by a gender change.
The report warns that the change of both name and gender, which can be done on the basis of self-identification, allows an extra layer of privacy which means an employer will never be told or be able to verify that previous identities have been checked.
Allowing birth sex to be removed also presents a “particular risk including where protections for women and children are concerned” and may prevent employers from providing single-sex care.
On Saturday night, Miriam Cates, Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge and a former teacher, warned: “The purpose of criminal records checks is both to protect the public and to deter those who mean harm from trying to gain access to children and vulnerable people.
“If predators can evade scrutiny by changing their name or claiming to be the opposite sex, we can be sure that this DBS loophole will be abused and children will be harmed.”
The DBS, a part of the Home Office which carries out the checks, set up a “sensitive applications route” for people who are transgender.
This includes anyone who has self-declared that they have a new name and gender identity and obtained a new passport and driving licence, as well as those who have gone through the legal process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate.
They are asked to call and tell officials about their previous identities. They are the only group of applicants who are exempt from listing their previous identities on the application form.
All others, including married women and those who have changed their name by deed poll, have to list their former identities.
The report warns: “The current DBS system relies on the assumption that these disclosures will be made accurately and fully when there are reasons why they might not be. Omission could be deliberate, including for nefarious reasons.”
Enhanced privacy rights’
This “sensitive” service means sex at birth and previous identities will not be disclosed on the certificate. For the rest of the population, all previous known names are listed.
The process “solely depends upon the applicant’s honest decision to use this route: there is nothing to stop an applicant, who is eligible to use this route, from not using this service and instead choosing simply to withhold their previous name(s),” Keep Prisons Single Sex found.
“Clearly, any individual acting in bad faith will not be motivated to use a service that could close the very loophole they have chosen to exploit.”
The DBS says that anyone who fails to disclose previous identities could be prosecuted for fraud. However, the authors warn that this is unlikely to be a sufficient deterrent to those with criminal intent.
Dr Kate Coleman, Director of KPSS, said that the “enhanced privacy rights” granted to individuals who say that they are transgender means that there is “no guarantee” that the information on a criminal record check is correct.
The loopholes are “serious risks to safeguarding that compromise the validity and reliability” of the system, she warns.
The report calls for criminal record checks to be carried out using National Insurance numbers, which never change, and for certificates to display sex at birth and previous names for all applicants.
A spokesman for the DBS said: “All applicants for DBS checks are required to sign a legal declaration confirming they have disclosed both their current and previous identities. This, therefore, applies to transgender applicants.
“The Disclosure and Barring Service provides a Sensitive Applications process under the Gender Recognition Act (2004) for transgender applicants. The previous identities (including the birth sex) of transgender individuals are legally protected.
“Our Sensitive Applications route allows these applicants to provide their full information to DBS whilst not disclosing this information to a prospective employer.
“Our Sensitive Applications process introduces no additional risk to DBS checks; it merely affords transgender applicants with the legal protections that they are entitled to.”
The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.