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Private companies will take fingerprints from job applicants as part of a trial to improve the accuracy of Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) background checks.

The trial, disclosed to The Register in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, will see employment agencies gather biometric data from some applicants to establish their identity.

The role has until now been performed by the police. When a CRB check is matched to a record on the police national computer, fingerprints are sometimes used to verify whether the person applying for a job is the same person who committed the crime.

"The CRB recognises the need to improve this process to reduce costs, time and inconvenience to its customers and is working to make this method faster and easier for applicants," a letter from the CRB said.

"The CRB therefore made amendments in Police Act Regulations in March 2009 to insert a further option for the taking of applicants' fingerprints by allowing this to be done by a Registered Body (RB) following standard police processes and guidelines."

In CRB jargon, a "Registered Body" is any organisation that is allowed to receive criminal records disclosures. Many large employers and agencies are themselves Registered Bodies. Smaller firms often use a third party CRB check firm to avoid the administration costs of becoming a Registered Body.

"In terms of process both for the pilot and any subsequent solution once the fingerprints have been taken by the Registered Body they will be forwarded to either a police force or one central police force who will then undertake a 'speculative search' on police systems as per the provisions established in the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002," the CRB said.

It said employers will not be forced to take fingerprints and job applicants will not be forced to give them to the employer. The option of visiting a police station will remain open, it added.

The disclosure of the "small" fingerprint pilot follows news in August that the CRB is also continuing work on incorporating ID Cards into the disclosure process, again hoping to improve accuracy. Its identity error rate last year was three times that of the previous year.

The CRB is under increased performance pressure. The introduction of the Vetting and Barring scheme last month, which the government estimates will check the background of more than 11 million adults who work or volunteer around children and vulnerable people, is expected to significantly increase its workload. ®

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