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Nearly all the Criminal Records Bureau's agents have illegally discriminated against people with past criminal convictions that are innocuous or irrelevant under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

The CRB has assessed nearly 2,500 of its agents, which vet applicants for jobs working with children and vulnerable adults, to determine if the police checks they are doing for their clients are within the law, it told The Register in a statement.

"They are all invariably non-compliant because of lack of experience or understanding," it said. A CRB spokesman said it was reasonable to make assumptions about the other registered bodies (agents) from those assessments it had made.

"The main issues raised in Assurance interviews relate to an RB's understanding of eligibility and ID authentication," it said.

Eligibility is the way the CRB describes those jobs for which it legal for employers to check applicants against police databases through one of the bureau's registered bodies, or agents. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, contains exemptions that allow certain job applicants to be checked against police databases to prevent, say, former sex offenders taking jobs with responsibility for children.

But the main purpose of the act is to protect those vulnerable adults with criminal records from being persecuted because of their spent convictions.

In February the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) reported that it had received 15,000 complaints from people who had suffered discrimination when making job applications because of irrelevant criminal records.

In April the CRB gained new powers to prosecute agents who illegally consulted the police database for inapplicable jobs, or took into account convictions that were meant to be disregarded.

Yet the bureau said today that it had fingered no agent for prosecution or deregistration since they were found to have breached its code of practice.

Those 2438 agents it had assessed had merely been told to pull their socks up. "Invariably all [were]...willing to adopt measures to become compliant," it said. Neither had they been given official warnings. The CRB would wait to see if they changed their ways.

"It's not good enough," said Mervyn Barrett, who runs the helpline service for ex-offenders at Nacro. "This is an issue of law. Ignorance of the law has never been a defence. The reality is that when [the agents] all signed up to do the checks, they sombrely agreed that they would abide by the law and the code of practice." he said.

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