The quality of employee referencing across the UK is mixed with no real standardisation and approach. The Better Hiring Institute believes there is value in better referencing and is working on setting frameworks for industry. The Better Hiring Institute is involved with one current specific project launched by GOV UK in November 2020 focused on creating standards in the care sector. The Better Hiring Institute sees this as an important step in improving referencing across industry.

Sharing Effective References & Conduct Information Project

A collaborative project with Skills for Care, Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS), Dominic Headley & Associates, Reed Screening & VBA Consulting.

Gathering effective references for staff working in social care and health settings has always been an essential part of safe and fair recruitment, but many employers experience challenges in obtaining and providing them. Some employers refuse to complete references, others provide insufficient information and sometimes, appropriate ‘evidence of conduct’ is not provided, which is legally required by the Care Quality Commission.

The aim is to improve and standardise referencing in future where possible. The GOV.UK launch article can be found here

The project will develop resources which will provide social care employers with the guidance, knowledge, and tools to allow them to share accurate and relevant information about individuals with prospective employers – and with DBS, when appropriate.

The project has identified challenges with references through available data.


Currently there are challenges in industry regarding how many references are required and how far they should go back, often meaning there is little standardisation across industry, even within the same sector. Even in social care this can be a challenge for recruitment agencies who have got regulatory requirements, client requirements, their own standards and best practice, as well as other sector standards to meet.

This results in confusion, complexity, and lack of consistent approach for employers.

A study of over 101,969 references found that 62,092 were received which is a 61% return rate. This highlights the challenge within industry to not just obtain references but to also to provide them.


There are number of reasons why a reference may not be acceptable. This includes being provided by an inappropriate referee, information not completed on the reference, or the reference stating the person is unsuitable. This is estimated to be as high as 10% of references received.


This assesses whether or not the referee agrees with the information submitted by the candidate such as place of work, position, and dates of employment. Of the 62,092 references received, 19,399 were found to have discrepancies against information provided by the candidate, which equates to 31%.


So often referees now provide just employment dates rather than any qualitative or conduct information. 81% of references received contained dates only, this is inclusive of all sectors and is not just related to social care.


In most sectors it is required to verify a reference is real and genuine and has come from legitimate sources. 65% of referee information provided by the candidate are not the correct details.

The data also shows that 13,462 (22%) references had to be verified using other sources as not been able to obtain upfront/go back for qualifying information.


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