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Help and advice for ex-offenders

Disclosing convictions

It's important to know what information is stored on you and how having convictions can affect your search for work. Here are answers to some of the questions you might have.

What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 outlaws discrimination against ex-offenders and was amended by Section 139 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which came into force on 10th March 2014. It is intended to help people with few and/or minor convictions. People with many or serious convictions will probably not benefit from the Act because their rehabilitation period will usually be longer.

How long is it before convictions are spent?

Certain criminal convictions are 'spent' or forgotten, after a rehabilitation period. This period varies according to the offence.

There are two types of rehabilitation period:

  • sentences with a buffer period – start from the date of conviction and are made up of the original sentence, plus an additional buffer period
  • sentences with no buffer period – start from the date of conviction.

Buffer periods for people aged over 18 when convicted, from the end of the sentence, including licence period are:

  • community orders – one year
  • prison sentence of six months or less – two years
  • prison sentence of over six months up to and including 30 months – four years
  • prison sentence of over 30 months and up to 48 months – seven years
  • prison sentence of over 48 months or a public protection sentence – never ‘spent’.

Some buffer periods are halved if you were under 18 when convicted.

Visit the Nacro website for more information about the length of rehabilitation periods and examples of ‘spent’ periods for custodial and community sentences.

Do I need to tell an employer about spent convictions?

You don't need to disclose spent convictions when applying for most jobs. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 it's unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the grounds of a spent conviction. However, some types of jobs are exempt from this Act – this means you have to disclose spent convictions as well as unspent ones. These jobs include:

  • working with children and vulnerable adults, such as elderly and disabled people
  • senior roles in banking and the financial services industry
  • certain posts connected to law enforcement, including the judiciary and the police
  • work involving national security
  • certain posts in the prison service
  • certain professions in areas such as health, pharmacy and the law
  • private security work.

When should I disclose my convictions?

It will increase your chances of getting a job if you are aware of the disclosure process and apply for work in the right way, using the right procedures.

If an employer wants to know about criminal records, they will probably ask you in the application form. If there's space in the box you could disclose your convictions there, but it will probably be better to put 'see enclosed' and attach a separate sheet. List your convictions, how they came about and how you feel about them.

If the application form doesn't ask about your record, you could leave it to the interview stage. Some employers may ask you about your record when they are ready to make you a job offer, so be prepared for this.

What else do I need to know about disclosing convictions?

You and your employer have certain rights and responsibilities when disclosing convictions. You need to be aware that:

  • if an application form asks for details of spent convictions, check the post is exempt under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  • if an employer or application form asks you if you've got a criminal record and your convictions are spent, and the job isn't excepted from the Act, you can say 'no'
  • if you're in a job that’s not exempted from the Act, and you are dismissed for having a spent conviction, and can prove it, and have been employed for a year or more, you may be able to claim unlawful dismissal
  • if you've got unspent convictions and don't disclose them when asked to, you can be dismissed by your employer, and possibly prosecuted
  • it's a complex law so seek advice if you've got concerns, particularly if an employer claims a post is exempted under the Act when in fact it is not.

You can get advice from your local Citizens' Advice Bureau, Nacro or a careers adviser.

Where can I find out more about applying for jobs?

You can access lots of information about applying for work with a criminal record on the Nacro website. Nacro also offers a Resettlement Advice Service over the phone on 020 7840 1212.

Can an employer ask for additional information about me?

Depending on the job, employers can request that successful applicants apply for different types of disclosure:

  • Basic Disclosure — an employer can request this for any job (even jobs not exempt under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act). This contains only details of unspent convictions.
  • Standard Disclosure is for jobs with regular contact with children or vulnerable adults and jobs exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. This shows all convictions, including spent ones.
  • Enhanced Disclosure is for jobs with greater, unsupervised contact with children or vulnerable adults and for some judicial appointments and licensing purposes. This shows all convictions, including spent ones, plus possibly other information from local police records and the DBS barred lists if requested.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) deals with applications for Standard Disclosure and Enhanced Disclosure from England and Wales. Basic Disclosure is only available from Disclosure Scotland, but they can deal with applications from anywhere in the UK.

What is the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)?

The DBS is an executive agency of the Home Office, which provides access to criminal-related checks for employment and volunteering. Organisations are advised to only apply to the DBS for Standard or Enhanced Disclosure checks for successful job applicants.


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