Believe it or not, reference checks aren't actually a necessary part of the job application process. It's easy to forget this judging how many times you've probably submitted information about your own ex-employers and background.
Reference checks have actually become such the norm these days that hardly anyone doesn't conduct them anymore. Public sector services especially - whether it be policeman, teacher, nurse or council worker - are still the most likely employers to want to check the validity of a job application; owing to the nature of their jobs. These are the people who look after the general public in various ways; from their health or education to their observation of the law.
The private sector however, also has a responsibility to the general public, so they too shouldn't fail to make sure that the people within their organisations are trustworthy, honourable and beacons of justice - even, if that last part might be taking it a little far.
Investigating just what kinds of problems can arise should an employer not properly reference their applicants ultimately shows why few - either in the public or private sectors - are willing to take the risk.
Right to work in the UK
Embarrassingly enough, there are still hundreds of employers taking on staff that have no legal right to work in the UK. Most likely these are people from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) whom are absent of a working visa.
Other EEA workers can be employed but it could be difficult to reference them because they are not domestic nationals. This means it can be difficult to authenticate the validity of someone's education, work ethic and criminal record, without the help of a professional agency or software.
There are also other regulations which prohibit the members of some countries - like Bulgarian and Romanian - from working, so this is indeed a muddy area.
Businesses found to be employing people illegally are liable to pay fines up to £10,000 per worker.
Without thorough vetting procedures, it's also possible to tell if someone has had a criminal background - and what their crimes were. Clearly some people with former convictions won't be suitable in certain sectors, like health and adult and child protection. People with former crimes in relation to any of these areas should most likely not be near these vulnerable groups.
Sometimes there are legal reasons why employers can't employ people with criminal backgrounds. Someone convicted of fraud for example may not be able to practice in the financial services industry due to industry regulation.
A worst-case scenario for any employer here would be for their latest employee to commit a crime on their turf, potentially tarnishing the reputation of the company and souring the faith of the workforce at large.
Education and job references
It's of the utmost importance to fill a position with the person most suitable and skilled for the job, so knowing their education and experience is necessary.
A reference can confirm that these details are true, because if they are fabricated - or misconstrued - then an employer could end up with a weaker worker than another whom also applied.
In the long-term, a dishonest applicant, or one that bends the truth is one that may also carry the same habits in the company.