The Home Office has blamed remote working, Covid-related sickness and higher than expected demand for delays to criminal record checks, with basic checks taking twice as long to process as usual last year.
The Disclosure and Barring Service, which carries out the checks for employers, said home working brought about the pandemic had “tested our ability” to meet a surge in demand as more and more people turned to the gig economy for employment during the coronavirus lockdowns.
As a result, the DBS missed turnaround targets for two out of three types of checks in 2020-21, taking three days rather than one to process 80% of basic checks; and six days rather than four to deal with standard checks.
Basic checks took an average of 1.74 days to process last year, up from 0.76 days, while the average processing time for standard checks went up from 2.3 to three days.
The exception was enhanced checks, where processing times fell. DBS managed to process 78% of the more detailed checks within 10 days rather than its target of 14, with applications taking 7.9 days on average.
“This year has been challenging for the delivery of disclosure services. The Covid-19 pandemic has influenced the behaviour of our customers. Compared to previous years we have experienced a change to both the profile and total number of applications received for all DBS products,” the annual report read.
“Equally, the availability of operational resource, balancing working from home and a need to attend the office, and increased absences due to Covid-19 illness and self-isolation have tested our ability to achieve every published service standard.”
Demand for DBS checks was 20% higher than expected in 2020-21, with 5.67 million issued in total, which contributed to processing times for basic checks doubling compared to the year before.
“Covid-19 was the primary reason for this, with applications from the gig economy (including major delivery companies) submitting increased volumes as a result of consumer behaviour changes,” the report, which was published at the end of last month, said.
“This, alongside operational changes within DBS to allow staff to work from home in response to Covid-19 and the implementation of social distancing, impacted our ability to achieve the ‘one day’ target of 80%.”
The target for this year has been revised down, so the organisation is now expected to deliver 80% of basic checks within two days.
Despite processing delays, DBS hit its customer-service target to respond to 98% of all complaints within eight working days – responding to 99.6% within the timeframe.
A DBS spokesperson said: "In response to Covid-19, DBS enabled some staff to work from home in line with government guidelines.
"The ability to offer this option to our staff enabled business continuity, and allowed us to continue our work throughout the pandemic, to make recruitment safer.
"Throughout 2020-21, despite huge challenges as a result of Covid-19, 80% of basic DBS checks were completed within three days and 74% were completed within one day."