Technology which enables employers to conduct digital identity checks for UK Right to Work and UK Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) checks already exists, but there are obstacles to adoption. Alister Humphreys, SVP, Strategy EMEA, of First Advantage, says companies that don’t get on board risk losing out on talent.
Consider this scenario: you’re the CEO of a large UK business which needs to fill 100 skilled positions quickly. You’ve received thousands of applications as a result of an online recruitment campaign, mostly from UK applicants but also from around the world.
Imagine how much time it would save if you could know almost instantly which applicants had the right to work in the UK and whether they had a clear criminal record, without needing your HR team to scan documentation or wade through paperwork. Imagine if this was the case regardless of whether the candidate was from London or Aberdeen or Sydney.
Digital identity checks are becoming more widely adopted across the UK to make recruitment more efficient
Digital identity checks are becoming more widely adopted across the UK to make recruitment more efficient and at the same time help combat identity application fraud. The technology exists and the UK is leading the way globally, but there are significant obstacles that need to be overcome to drive adoption, specifically:
- getting buy-in from policy makers, employers and candidates.
- addressing data privacy, consent and inclusivity concerns, and
- interoperability of digital identity across all UK criminal record checking bodies
Alister Humphreys, SVP, Strategy EMEA, of global background screening solutions provider First Advantage, spoke to TALiNT Partners Editor Debbie Walton about the next steps to broaden adoption and improve digital ID services.
Lack of uniformity
The UK Right to Work check, regulated by the Home Office, is uniform across the UK. However, this is not the case with UK criminal record checks. Employers with vacant job roles in England and Wales check the criminal record of someone applying for the role via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), while Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own autonomous criminal record checking bodies. There is an encouraging regular dialogue between the three organisations to align their digital identity processes. Humphreys said. “We understand that they might not be exactly the same, but the greater the harmonisation, the better. The technology is already there and greater alignment of digital identity verification processes between the three UK criminal checking bodies could happen over time.”
While UK legislation was introduced in April 2022 to enable employers to carry out digital identity verification for pre-employment checks; UK right to work and UK DBS, there is opportunity for greater market take-up to realise expectations and drive further efficiencies for employers and applicants.
Humphreys predicts that in the future adoption will, in part, be candidate-driven; job applicants will increasingly gravitate towards companies that provide an easier candidate journey. It will become the norm for an applicant to apply for a position in minutes from their mobile device and receive feedback within days, if not immediately. This is already happening, to an extent, in the gig economy, but will soon be more widespread within other sectors and also for more senior job roles.
Job applicants will increasingly gravitate towards companies that provide an easier candidate journey
“Employers will need to have the capability of supporting a digital route because more and more applicants want the easier experience of sitting at home on their sofa, on their mobile device, going through the application process checks.” Humphreys said. “In certain sectors the war for talent is beginning to shift to being applicant driven – if you’re not doing this in your industry and your competitor is, in the future, you’re likely going to lose talent.”
Raising the bar
Today UK employers are required to offer candidates two identity verification options for complying with UK DBS checks: the traditional route, where the candidate often meets the employer and hands over their identity documentation for review, and the digital route, where the candidate can prove their identity credentials from their mobile device, in the comfort of their own home. Humphreys predicts that in the future the digital route may become the only option, though this could be a number of years away, and will have dependencies on being able to ensure there are enough checks and balances in the system to foster trust, fairness and address concerns about consent, data privacy, compliance and inclusivity.
“Expect there to be further accreditation and certification designed to ensure that the minimum standards are being met,” he said. “Making sure that identity checks comply with the Good Practice Guide 45 (GPG45), issued by UK Government Digital Services (GDS), is the minimum today”.
One issue with carrying out manual identity checks at a workplace is that the hiring manager responsible may not have had the expert training required to detect if an identity document is fraudulent. The technology utilised with the digital identity verification process is very different and uses a range of features including data checks plus applicant selfie, including liveness, as well as identity document check. As such, it’s a lot more difficult for fraudsters to successfully circumvent this level of checking.
Employers will need to have the capability of supporting a digital route because more and more applicants want the easier candidate experience
Humphreys is a strong advocate of a digital first employment screening strategy. Instead of carrying out identity checks at the end of hiring, as many organisations currently do, he proposes the first check applicants consent to is a digital identity check, ideally coinciding the job role application. He acknowledges this is a check at the very early stage of the recruitment process, especially when hiring at volume, but argues it will save significant time and create more efficiencies overall by only progressing candidates that ultimately the employer can, and will want to, progress.
“If you’re an employer and you are hiring thousands of people every year, do you really want to waste time bringing forward applicants who ultimately do not have the right to work in the UK?” he said. “You want to be sure from point of application that the person is who they say they are. If you’ve received 1,000 applications and a percentage of those are potentially fraudulent, you would want to find this out before you move to interviews. Quite rightly a digital identity check is a consent-driven process, and always should be. An applicant can choose to opt out of the check, however as an employer, if a candidate does not consent to a digital identity check, at the early stage of the job application process, why not?”
When asked if this is really any choice at all for the applicant, Humphreys countered that it was no different from handing over a copy of your passport or a CV. “As an individual you own your identity and therefore you can pick and choose who you share your identity with, in terms of the details of your nationality, job history, education, and so on”.
If you’re an employer and you are hiring thousands of people every year, do you really want to waste time bringing forward applicants who ultimately do not have the right to work in the UK?
A potential next step is for digital identity checks, for the purposes of right to work and criminal record checks, to be interoperable across multiple jurisdictions, so companies can hire a new employee from anywhere in the world and know they have gone through digital identity checks to the same level of assurance as they do in the UK. We are seeing initiatives around the world, such as in Australia and New Zealand. This therefore could enable the interoperability referred to, between UK, Australia and New Zealand.
“Legislators across the world are progressing with digital identity policies and are considerate of the ramifications of using the technology available from a number of viewpoints, including government, employers and applicants. Typically, governments want to drive growth in their countries economy and a way of achieving this is ensuring talent is hired into appropriate vacant roles as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Digital identity supports this and, at the same time, helps combat identity application fraud.”