Standard Reference Request


One of the six NHS Employment Check Standards is to obtain information about an applicant's employment and/or training history in order to ascertain whether or not they are suitable for a particular position. As stated in NHS Employers Checks Guidance, employers have a duty of care to patients and staff to ensure that all reasonable checks are undertaken to identify any reason, if known, that would result in an individual not being employed or appointed to undertake any activity on its behalf. 

The guidance also reminds employers that they have a duty to staff and former employees under the Data Protection Act to ensure that when providing personal data within a reference, that this information is true, accurate, fair and can be justified. Any statement made in a reference which is untrue is likely to bring with it a claim for libel. It is therefore recommended that employers make clear that it is their organisation’s policy to provide only factual information about an individual's employment with them. 

At the time of the development in 2014 NHS Employers stated:

"The NHS Employment Check Standards are under constant review to ensure they are brought in line with current legislative requirements, the recent changes to the ESR functionality, further enhances the system to enable NHS organisations to meet these requirements."

How does this functionality support and comply with the NHS Employers guidance?

Introduced in August 2014, the standard reference request feature enables the IAT initiator to opt for the inclusion of a reference request as a part of the IAT process.  This allows the initiating Organisation to ensure the applicant’s approval to request the reference has been gained.  The reference is based on the templates outlined in NHS Employers guidance on obtaining Reference requests and employment history, issued in July 2013. 

This process is unique in that on receipt of a reference request from another Organisation the reference approver will be presented with a standard reference form pre-populated with a number of fields from ESR.  They will then have the ability to review, validate and amend any information contained on the Standard Reference Request.  Furthermore they will be able to add any additional supporting information where required or where information is unavailable in ESR.  Once the approver is satisfied with the content of the reference, they can submit the request, which will then send the information to the requesting Organisation. 

The initial recipient of the reference request will also be able to reassign or delegate the request to a more suitable person within the organisation should that be required. 

Standard Reference using IAT

For more detailed information please click on the process tab below

Want to know more about to reduce the time to hire? The East Midlands Streamlining Programme has worked with Derbyshire Community Healthcare NHS Trust to publish a case study.  

Requesting the Reference

An optional tick box called ‘Request Reference’ is located on the Initiate Person Request form

It is only available for Applicants, and it sends a notification to the selected Organisation once the IAT is submitted.  It should be noted that Organisations should ensure that the Applicant’s approval to request the reference data has been gained prior to initiating the IAT and selecting the request reference option.

Organisations should consider how they will include this action into their recruitment process.

Who will receive the Request?

Once the IAT request has been submitted, the reference request will be delivered via a Notification, to the ‘Reference Approver’ role in the Source Organisation.

Approved, Rejected and Reassign buttons are available on the Notification.

This enables the ‘Reference Approver’ role holder to either approve the reference once updated and checked or if required assign responsibility for its completion to a more suitable person, such as a more senior HR person.  Once transferred, they become responsible for the request. 

Refer to the section ‘Rejecting a Reference request’ below for more information on what happens.

Organisations should consider who the most appropriate person to receive the reference requests is. Use the NHS Employers guidance here to help you.

The Standard Reference Templates

The NHS Employers guidance identifies two templates for different stages in the requirement process:

a) Reference Type 1 - Reference request including sickness absence information 

Where the applicant is at one of the following recruitment statuses at the point of the request, then the reference will also include details about the number of sickness days/episodes in the previous 2 years:

  • Offered Post Conditional
  • Offered Post Unconditional
  • Offer Accepted 

If an applicant has multiple applications and at if least one of them is not at the offered status then Reference Type 2 will be sent.


b) Reference Type 2 - Reference request excluding sickness absence information 

Where the applicant is at any other recruitment status then the same reference, minus the sickness absence questions will be sent.

This example outlines the details the Reference Approver will receive to review and complete.

Completing the Standard Reference

The Reference Approver should review the pre populated fields for accuracy, make any changes where necessary and complete the remaining blank fields which relate to: 

  • Current Warnings on Employee Record
  • DBS further information
  • Recent or on-going disciplinary action
  • Safeguarding issues/ referrals
  • Contact details for follow up

These fields require the role holder to establish the answers to questions proactively. For example if the organisation uses the ESR Employee Relations module then refer there for details about any current or recent disciplinary actions. Alternatively, speak to a relevant HR manager about what information can be released.

Ensure all members of the Reference Approval role are aware of the best sources of information for completing the reference request

What happens on approving a reference request?

Upon completion of the reference, the first responder to approve the notification will send a notification back to the requesting organisation which is delivered to the ‘Reference Receipt’ role.  Once approved other copies of the reference request will be closed. 

The notification received by the Reference Receipt role holder contains both a summary of the reference details and an attachment, in PDF format, with the full reference details. This should be saved in a secure location locally.  The notifications remain open for 45 days before being purged.

The Reference Receipt holder will get the following notification and is able to open a PDF document containing the full details of the reference.

Consider a secure area to save local reference details received from ESR

The PDF reference is detailed below:

What happens if the Reference Request is rejected?

It is also possible for the Reference Approver to reject the request for an electronic reference, although this should be done rarely and only for a valid reason.  

Should the reference request be rejected by the previous employing organisation then a notification will be returned to the requesting organisation to the ‘Reference Receipt’ role.

It is up to local policy to decide whether this rejection should be followed up separately with the current/previous employer.

The Reference Requester can use the ‘Request Further Information’ button to seek reasons for rejection if required.  This will send another notification back to the rejecting organisations Reference Approver’ role who can then respond back if desired.

Producing a Reference for a Non ESR Organisation

ESR BI reporting functionality is able to produce a standard reference, based on the NHS Employers template, when responding to requests for references for an employee or ex-employee from non-ESR organisations. This capability is held in the “NHS Stationary Dashboard” tab Refer to the ESR Support website for more information.

Organisational Requirements

Organisations should ensure that they have considered the following in order to utilise the process fully: 

  • Reviewed recruitment policies to ensure that applicants are aware that a standard factual reference will be requested electronically via ESR.
  • Reviewed recruitment process to factor in the reference request process.  This should include who initiates and when.
  • Assigned the Reference Approver and Reference Receipt Roles to both request and receive references via IAT.

This functionality brings many benefits both to NHS organisations and to patient safety. 

  • Streamlines the recruitment process
  • Removes bottlenecks often experienced with waiting for references
  • Provides factual and accurate information about the prospective employee
  • Enables a robust recruitment decision to be made in light of information received
  • Robust and safe employment decisions reduces risks to patient safety

If you would like further guidance about using this functionality or have any queries about the process please contact your NHS ESR Regional Account Manager

Want to know more about to reduce the time to hire? The East Midlands Streamlining Programme has worked with Derbyshire Community Healthcare NHS Trust to publish a case study