Pre-employment checks

Last updated August 2023

Pre-employment checks are a crucial part of the recruitment process. They help the University to determine whether a candidate possesses the qualifications, skills and experience required by the role, to comply with legal obligations such as confirming the applicant’s right to work in the UK, and to ensure that there are no bars to them carrying out the role.


The University of Oxford is committed to maintaining an open yet secure environment where the security of all its students, staff and visitors is balanced with the rights and academic freedoms of individuals. Departments should therefore employ a proportionate and risk-based approach to protective security principles.

The purpose of pre-employment checks is to ensure that a new employee:

  • is who they say they are
  • is legally entitled to work in the UK
  • has the qualifications, skills and/or experience they have claimed to have and which are required for the role
  • has nothing in their employment history that would make them unsuitable for the role such as previous gross misconduct, or a relevant criminal conviction or barring decision
  • is eligible to work for the University  
  • does not have a medical or other condition which would make the role unsuitable for the individual

Personnel security measures should employ a proportionate, risk-based approach and be fair, transparent, and carried out in line with the University guidance on pre-employment screening and General Data Protection Regulations. However, although background checks can provide some assurance about an individual’s suitability for employment any screening measures will only provide a snapshot of a moment in time and an holistic approach involving effective and continuous risk assessment, and mitigation measures including appropriate supervision and management are also key, particularly in sensitive areas.

Find out more about the University’s Personnel Security Policy


Who should be checked?

The full provisions outlined in this guidance apply to all employees of the University. Some also apply to non-employees such as casual workers, visitors, agency staff, contractors, etc. 

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Casual workers will normally be subject to Standard Compulsory checks, as outlined in this guidance except for:

  • the New Starter Health Declaration which is not required. The casual letter of engagement includes a paragraph on disability and ill-health and invites workers to disclose "any difficulties you may have so that we can help you and take any measures necessary to ensure you will be safe in the workplace. This might include making any ‘reasonable adjustments’ that you may need in your work."
  • EJRA provisions – an individual who has retired under the EJRA is eligible to be offered casual work.

Depending on the work to be carried out, role-related checks may also apply.

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Where temporary workers are employed through an agency, the agency must confirm that their pre-employment screening covers the same checks as those used by the University. The University does not hold the legal responsibility for the verification of any pre-employment checks of agency workers, but should consider what level of assurance they are able to get from the agency that all the necessary checks take place.


The University's own Temporary Staffing Service (TSS) carries out all the necessary checks.


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Business, academic and ‘permitted paid engagement’ visitors must hold an appropriate visa that entitles them to undertake the required activities at the University. Full information is available on the Staff Immigration Team website.

Other pre-employment checks do not normally apply to visitors, but departments should authenticate the identity and status of the individual as far as is practicable.

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Volunteers are subject to immigration provisions, and their immigration status must permit them to volunteer. DBS Criminal record (and barred lists) checks will apply where this is a role-related requirement (for example, where the role involves Regulated Activity with children or vulnerable adults). For further information about volunteers, see the policy on volunteering.

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It may be appropriate to carry out some background checks for contractors who are regular attenders and who need to work unsupervised in sensitive areas. If you have questions about this, contact the OUSS Administration Team for advice (

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General principles

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All candidates should be treated equally, irrespective of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status or civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation, or whether they are pregnant or on maternity or other family leave.

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Any screening must be transparent, proportionate and carried out in compliance with the GDPR and related UK data protection legislation. When conducting pre-employment screening exercises, recruiting managers should also consider that any information recorded and gathered by the department about the individual may be disclosed to them under Freedom of Information legislation.

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Applicants for vetting clearance should understand and consent to the process taking place.

Before advertising any vacancy it is essential to establish whether additional role-specific checks will be required for the role. These must be clearly stated in the job description and advert so that applicants are aware of the screening they would undergo if selected for the role and, in light of this, can decide whether to make an application.

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Departments should check that any employee who transfers internally has current entitlement to work in the UK. Other pre-employment screening will be based on the duties of the role. If an employee’s role or duties change significantly, their suitability for such new work should be re-evaluated and it may be that certain screening checks will need to be carried out.

Where an employee with a Tier 2 work visa transfers jobs internally or has changes to their existing job, additional Home Office reporting requirements may apply. Please read the full guidance on the Staff Immigration Team website.

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Screening through external agencies requires individuals to disclose all names by which they have been known. Some applicants may have concerns about this, for example transgendered applicants who do not wish to disclose their change of gender. The DBS website has guidance for transgendered applicants concerning a confidential checking service.



Departments should not explore the reasons that an individual wishes to make a confidential application.



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Agencies such as the DBS do not have access to overseas criminal records or other relevant information. However, applicants from overseas can be asked to get a criminal record check or a ‘Certificate of Good Character’ from their country of origin. It may also be possible to get such a check through the relevant embassy in the UK, but permission from the candidate concerned must be sought first.

Where a criminal record check is needed for an overseas applicant, contact Horus Security Consultancy Ltd who can provide a service covering over overseas jurisdictions. Please note that processing overseas criminal record checks can be time consuming, and so whenever possible, please allow as much notice as possible to avoid unnecessary delays to the recruitment process.


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There are two levels of check:

The level of checks will be determined by the requirements of the role. Some posts within the University involve access to highly sensitive information, valuable items, hazardous or safety-critical work (such as with dangerous substances or materials), physical requirements such as working at heights, or working with animals or “at risk” groups. In such cases appropriate additional checks may be necessary to prevent inappropriate recruitment either of those who may cause harm or of those who may be harmed by the work that is offered. Applicants for additional checks shoudl understand and consent to the process taking place.

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Some pre-employment checks, such as Right to Work, can be carried out during the earlier stages of the recruitment process whilst others, such as new starter health checks, or DBS checks may only be started once a conditional offer has been made. 

Job offers must be made ‘subject to’ the satisfactory pre-employment checks using the standard wording in the offer letter and contract templates. Most checks need to be completed before employment can commence.

Some checks which involve external agencies may take a considerable time to complete. Where, for example, a DBS disclosure (criminal record check) has not been received by the anticipated start date, it may be possible for an individual to start work on the planned date, but to a reduced set of duties, with extra safeguarding measures in place until all the checks are complete. In the case of a post requiring a DBS disclosure for working with vulnerable groups, this may include prohibition of lone working or, close access to vulnerable groups, and ensuring that work is supervised at all times until the necessary clearance is received.

The pre-employment checks and gates document (which you can download on the right-hand side of this page) summarises the time-scale for checks.

The level of checks to be carried out must be clearly stated in the job description – it is unfair to introduce a requirement for a candidate to undergo additional role-related checks if these have not been advised before the candidate applied.  If the role involves regulated activity and the individual is on a barred list, applying for the work will be a criminal offence.

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Where documentary evidence is required as part of pre-employment checks, candidates must provide original documents, and copies should be taken for the prospective employee’s personnel file. Right to Work evidence must be record according to strict rules.

Where a DBS check is required special rules apply, please read the full guidance.

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PeopleXD guidance

For guidance on managing the PeopleXD systems changes please visit: