Crim-checker IT System Update Fail Has Cost UK Taxpayer
MPs have slammed the IT overhaul behind the UK government's Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which is running three years late resulting in a "missed opportunity" to save the taxpayer millions.
The DBS enables employers to check people's background against police databases such as criminal records and government lists of people considered unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults.
However, modernisation is three and a half years behind. In October 2012, the Home Office contracted Tata to design, build and run a new IT system for the provision of DBS and transition existing services, including the update service, from Capita.
A new update service was intended to allow employers to check whether there were any changes to the safeguarding information on a certificate since it was issued. But the update service has not delivered the savings the Home Office intended. Applicants who are using the update service are paying £13 a year rather than the £10 expected in 2012. There has also been significantly lower take-up than hoped.
The first stage was due by March 2014 but was only delivered in September 2017. Modernisation of disclosure certificates is not yet delivered and may not be completed before the current contract with Tata ends in 2019.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "It is no wonder the new type of background check has been such a flop. The National Audit Office report shows that government took the unbelievable decision to launch it without testing it on customers first.
"Combine this with an IT overhaul currently running three and a half years late, and the result is a missed opportunity to save schools, hospitals and taxpayers millions of pounds a year.
"I am concerned that although DBS provides employers with the background checks they need to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, the government doesn't check up on how the information is actually used."
According to the report, Tata spent £47m more than expected between December 2012 to 31 March 2017, mostly on higher staff costs, while revenue increased by £24m, implying Tata bore about half the increase in costs as lower profits and passed the other half to DBS.
"It is not clear if there will be any subsequent modernisation before the initial term of the contract with Tata ends in March 2019. Disclosure certificates will remain paper-based rather than become fully digital, although applications can be submitted electronically.
"The update service provides digital access for employers, but a lack of standardisation of police IT systems means information cannot currently be automatically uploaded into the update service. Instead, DBS must request police forces regularly re-check their data to see whether any new information is available."
DBS recently raised eyebrows by taking the gamble of using the Government Digital Service's extremely shonky online ID system authentication portal Verify.
The service was formed in 2012 by merging the functions of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
Some 4 million disclosures have been issued, of which some 260,000 (6.1 per cent) contained information potentially relevant to safeguarding, with 64,000 individuals barred from working with children.