The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act | Criminal record advice | Nacro
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Spent and unspent convictions – what are they?

Spent and unspent convictions FAQs

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) allows most convictions and all cautions to be considered spent after a certain period. This period – known as the rehabilitation period – is determined by the sentence or disposal given, rather than by the type of offence. The ROA gives people with spent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings the legal right not to disclose them when applying for most jobs, most courses and all insurance purposes.

Most jobs are covered by the ROA, but some are not. They are exempt from the Act. If you apply for a job that is exempt from, or not covered by, the ROA, the employer is entitled to request details of spent and unspent convictions and cautions that are not protected (i.e. eligible to be filtered) and is entitled to take this information into account when determining your suitability for the job.

Once a caution or conviction becomes spent, it does not need to be disclosed to most employers, or when applying for most courses, insurance or other purposes (e.g. applying for housing). It is against the law for an organisation to obtain information about an individual’s spent cautions or convictions unless the law specifically states that they can ask an exempted question; usually when someone is applying for a job or role that is exempt from the ROA.

For custodial sentences, the rehabilitation period will start from the end of the total sentence imposed by the court (including the licence period) – not from the day of release. The rehabilitation period includes an additional buffer period that runs from the end of the sentence. This buffer period is determined by the length of total sentence imposed.

Example

David (aged 25) is convicted of fraud in October 2022 and receives a one-year prison sentence.

The rehabilitation period is the total length of the sentence (i.e. one year) plus an additional buffer period of one year. David’s conviction will become spent in October 2024.

The buffer periods are halved if you were under the age of 18 when convicted.

The rehabilitation periods for custodial sentences (including suspended prison sentences) are shown in Table A below.

Table A: Rehabilitation periods for custodial sentences which have a ‘buffer period’

Sentence/disposal Buffer period for adults (aged 18 and over when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period Buffer period for young people (aged under 18 when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period
Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for 12 months (1 year) or less 1 year 6 months
Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for over 12 months (1 year) and up to and including 48 months (4 years) 4 years 2 years
Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for over 48 months (4 years) 7 years 3.5 years
Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for over 48 months (4 years) following a conviction for any serious violent, sexual, or terrorist offences listed in Schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020, or a public protection sentence (of any length) Never ‘spent’ Never ‘spent’

+A community order or youth rehabilitation order which has no specified end date has a default rehabilitation period of two years from the date of conviction or from the time the disposal is administered. If the order is subsequently changed, this will not affect the rehabilitation period. The rehabilitation period is not halved if the person was under 18 when convicted. The changes made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 provided for all subsequent community orders to have an end date.

Table B below contains the rehabilitation period for sentences which do not have buffer periods and for which the rehabilitation period starts from the date of conviction.

Table B: Rehabilitation periods for non-custodial sentences which start from the date of conviction 

Sentence/disposal Rehabilitation period for adults (aged 18 or over on the date of conviction/ the disposal is administered) Rehabilitation period for young people (aged under 18 on the date of conviction/the disposal is administered)
Caution/youth caution ‘Spent’ immediately ‘Spent’ immediately
Diversionary caution/conditional caution/youth conditional caution 3 months or when caution ceases to have effect if earlier 3 months or when caution ceases to have effect if earlier
Absolute discharge ‘Spent’ immediately ‘Spent’ immediately
Reparation order N/A ‘Spent’ immediately
Referral order N/A At the end of the order
Conditional discharge order At the end of the order At the end of the order
Fine 1 year 6 months
Compensation order Once paid in full Once paid in full
Hospital order (with or without restriction) At the end of the order At the end of the order
Relevant order When the order ceases to have effect When the order ceases to have effect
Endorsements 5 years 2.5 years
Community order/youth rehabilitation order At the end of the order At the end of the order

++Youth caution replaces the disposals – reprimands and final warnings – which were abolished in April 2013.

+++The rehabilitation period for a fine applies even if the person is subsequently imprisoned for default of the fine. Fines arising from fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder (PND) are not covered by the Act as they do not form part of an individual’s criminal record so they do not have a rehabilitation period.

++++It is important that individuals obtain proof of payment of the compensation order from the court and keep this document to prove it has been paid in full. This evidence of payment may be required before a basic disclosure can be issued by Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS).

+++++A relevant order (e.g. restraining order or sexual offences prevention order (SOPO) which has no specified end date has a default rehabilitation period of two years from the date of conviction or from the time the disposal is administered.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, as it applies in Scotland, was amended under the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019. The following disclosure periods apply:

Disclosure periods for custodial sentences

Sentence/disposal Buffer period for adults (aged 18 and over when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period Buffer period for young people (aged under 18 when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period
Imprisonment, or detention in a young offender institution for 12 months or less Length of sentence plus 2 years Length of sentence plus 1 year
Imprisonment, or detention in a young offender institution for over 12 months and up to and including 30 months (2½ years) Length of sentence plus 4 years Length of sentence plus 2 years
Imprisonment, or detention in a young offender institution for over 30 months (2½ years) and up to 48 months (4 years) Length of sentence plus 6 years Length of sentence plus 3 years
Imprisonment, or detention in a young offender institution for over 48 months (4 years) or a public protection sentence Never ‘spent’ (although a review mechanism will be available in due course) Never ‘spent’ (although a review mechanism will be available in due course)

Disclosure periods for non-custodial sentences

Sentence/disposal Rehabilitation period for adults (aged 18 or over at the time of conviction or at the time the disposal is administered) Rehabilitation period for young people (aged under 18 at the time of conviction or at the time the disposal is administered)
Absolute discharge Spent immediately Spent immediately
Admonishment Spent immediately Spent immediately
Bond of caution 6 months, or length of caution period, whichever is longer 3 months, or length of caution period, whichever is longer
Fine or compensation order 1 year 6 months
Community Payback Order, Drug Treatment & Testing and Restriction of Liberty Order 12 months or length of order, whichever is longer 6 months or length of order, whichever is longer
Adjournment/Deferral after conviction Until relevant sentence given Until relevant sentence given
An order under section 61 of the Children & Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 N/A 12 months
Ancillary Orders (e.g. non-harassment order, antisocial behaviour order, driving disqual.) Length of order Length of order
Endorsement made by court in relation to offences in schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1968 5 years 2½ years
Compulsion Order (mental health) Length of order (after 12 months, an application can be made for disclosure to end) Length of order (after 12 months, an application can be made for disclosure to end)
Compulsion Order with Restriction Order Length of order (if restrictions end and CO remains, application can be made for disclosure of CO to end 12 months after restriction order ends) Length of order (if restrictions end and CO remains, application can be made for disclosure of CO to end 12 months after restriction order ends)

Alternatives to prosecution

Sentence/disposal Buffer period for adults (aged 18 and over when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period Buffer period for young people (aged under 18 when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period
Category 1 AtPs* Spent immediately Spent immediately
Category 2 AtPs 3 months 3 months

*Category 1 AtPs are warnings given by a constable or a procurator fiscal and fixed penalty notices given under s. 129 of the Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004. All others are Category 2 AtPs.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 specifies the following rehabilitation periods.

Sentence/disposal Rehabilitation period Rehabilitation period (under 18)
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody or corrective training for a term exceeding 6 months but not exceeding 30 months 10 years 5 years
A sentence of cashiering, discharge with ignominy or dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty’s service 10 years 5 years
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for a term not exceeding 6 months 7 years 3 years
A sentence of dismissal from Her Majesty’s service 7 years 3½ years
Any sentence of service detention within the meaning of the Armed Forces Act 2006, or any sentence of detention corresponding to such a sentence in respect of a conviction in service disciplinary proceedings 5 years 2½ years
Fine 5 years 2½ years
Absolute Discharge 6 months 6 months
Conditional discharge 1 year or date of order (whichever is longest) 1 year or date of order (whichever is longest)
Probation Order 1 year or length of order (whichever is longer) 1 year or length of order (whichever is longer)
Community Order/Service Community Order 5 years 2½ years
Juvenile justice centre order/attendance centre order/reparation order 1 year or the length of the order (whichever is longer)
Hospital Order 5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest) 5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest)
Relevant Order The length of the order The length of the order

No. If you are on the Sex Offenders Register (i.e. under a notification order), this has no bearing on the length of the rehabilitation period applicable to your offence. The rehabilitation period will be determined by the sentence or disposal you received.

Example 1

Andy (age 19) was issued a caution for a sexual offence for which he is subject to notification requirements (i.e. is on the Sex Offenders Register) for two years, but his offence is spent immediately by virtue of the disposal being a caution.

Example 2

Dave (age 23) was convicted of downloading indecent images and received a two-year community order. He will be on the Sex Offenders Register for five years, but his conviction will be spent after two years (at the the end order).

A relevant order is one that is given upon conviction and imposes any ‘disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty’. If you have received a relevant order, your conviction will not become spent until the order has finished. If there is no end date specified on your order, the default rehabilitation period will be two years from the date of conviction. If you have received an indefinite order, your conviction will remain unspent indefinitely.

The Ministry of Justice have not given definitive advice about what is meant by a ‘relevant order’, but based on the definition in the legislation a relevant order may include the following:

  • Anti-Social Behaviour Order
  • Attendance Centre Order – First Date (NI)
  • Attendance Centre Order (NI)
  • Breach of Prison Licence – Terrorism Act 2000 (NI)
  • Care Order
  • Combination Order
  • Community Payback Order
  • Community Responsibility Order (PSNI)
  • Community Service Order – Juvenile (NI)
  • Community Service Order Adult (NI)
  • Compliance Order (NI)
  • Compulsion Order
  • Confiscation Order
  • Criminal Behaviour Order
  • Curfew Order
  • Custody Youth Conference Order (NI)
  • Deprivation Order
  • Disqualification From Being Company Director
  • Disqualification From Keeping
  • Disqualification From Public Office
  • Disqualification Limited To
  • Disqualification Order (Children) (NI)
  • Disqualification Relating to Animals
  • Disqualification/Penalty Points Not Imposed (NI)
  • Disqualified – no endorsement (NI)
  • Disqualified due to Penalty Points exceeded (NI)
  • Disqualified for Remainder of Life (NI)
  • Disqualified from Driving – Discretionary
  • Disqualified From Driving – Non-Motoring Offence
  • Disqualified from Driving – Obligatory
  • Disqualified from Driving – Points (Totting)
  • Disqualified From Driving – Vehicle Used In Crime
  • Disqualified from Driving for Set Duration (NI)
  • Disqualified From Having Custody Of A Dog
  • Disqualified From Keeping A Dog
  • Disqualified Until Date Specified (NI)
  • Domestic Football Banning Order
  • Drink Banning Order
  • Enhanced Probation Order (Drugs)
  • Exclusion Order
  • Financial Reporting Order
  • Football Banning Order
  • Forfeiture Order
  • Grounds Accepted And Supervision Requirement Made
  • Grounds Established And Supervision Requirement Made
  • Hospital Direction (Scotland)
  • Interim Anti Social Behaviour Order
  • Interim Criminal Behaviour Order
  • Interim Disqualification From Driving
  • Interim Drink Banning Order
  • Interim Knife Crime Prevention Order
  • Interim Restraining Order (Jersey)
  • Interim Stalking Protection Order
  • Intervention Order
  • Justice Act – Banning Order (NI)
  • Knife Crime Prevention Order
  • Life Long Restriction
  • Matrimonial Exclusion Order
  • Matrimonial Protection Order
  • Parenting Order
  • Probation Order – Juvenile (NI)
  • Prohibition Order
  • Restitution Order
  • Restraining Order – Protection From Harassment (NI)
  • Restraining Order – Sexual Offence
  • Restraining Order (Jersey)
  • Restraining Order Protection from Harassment
  • Restriction Of Liberty Order (Scotland)
  • Restriction Order
  • Restriction Order (Football Spectators Act 1989)
  • Serious Crime Prevention Order
  • Sexual Harm Prevention Order
  • Sexual Offences Prevention Order
  • Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order
  • Sporting Event Exclusion Order
  • Stalking Protection Order
  • Supervised Release Order (Scotland)
  • Travel Order (Jersey)
  • Travel Restriction Order
  • Violent Offences Prevention Order – Renew (NI)
  • Violent Offences Prevention Order – Vary (NI)
  • Violent Offences Prevention Order Discharge(NI)
  • Violent Offences Prevention Order(NI)
  • Youth Community Responsibility Order (NI)
  • Youth Conference Order (PSNI)
  • Youth to be Monitored (NI)

Example 1

Veronica is convicted of harassment and receives a fine and a three-year restraining order. Although the rehabilitation period for a fine is only one year from the date of conviction, her three-year restraining order means that the conviction will not become spent until the three-year period has elapsed.

For more information, see our guide about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

In most cases yes, as a community order or youth rehabilitation order are now considered spent at the end of the order.

However, If your community order or youth rehabilitation order does not have a specified end-date, it will be spent two years from the date of conviction.

If your community order does not have a specified end-date, it will be spent two years from the date of conviction.

Under the ROA, suspended prison sentences are treated in the same way as custodial sentences. It is the length of the sentence, rather than the length of the suspension, that determines the rehabilitation period.

Example

In January 2023, Nicole received a six month custodial sentence suspended for one year. The length of the sentence is six months, which means the rehabilitation period will be one year from the end of the six month period (i.e. 18 months from the date of conviction). The period of suspension is one year, but this has no impact on the rehabilitation period.

No. Under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2013, anybody sentenced to less than two years in prison will serve the second half of the sentence on licence and will then be subject to a further period of what is known as post-sentence supervision. The purpose of this is to ensure that all people being released from prison have a supervision period of at least 12 months.

Post-sentence supervision will not have any impact on the rehabilitation period for your conviction.

Example

In January 2020, Gareth is sentenced to 12 months in prison. He serves six months and is released on licence for the remaining six months. His sentence ends in November 2020 and he is then subject to post-sentence supervision for an additional six months. The six-month period spent on post-sentence supervision does not impact on the rehabilitation period, so Gareth’s conviction will become spent in January 2022 (two years from the end of his sentence).

If you served time on remand, but your conviction resulted in a non-custodial sentence, the rehabilitation period will be determined by the sentence or disposal you received.

Example 1

Evan was held on remand for three months before being convicted of ABH. He received a two-year community order with an unpaid work requirement. Evan’s conviction will become spent at the end of the two-year order.

If you served time on remand and your conviction resulted in a custodial sentence, the rehabilitation (or buffer) period will start from the last day of your sentence, which will take account of any time spent on remand.

Example 2

Aaron was held on remand for two months before being convicted in September 2020. He received an 12-month custodial sentence which, taking into account the two months spent on remand, would end in July 2021. The conviction would be spent in July 2022, 12-months from the end of the sentence.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) are on-the-spot fines issued by the police for very minor offences. If you pay an FPN within the specified time limit, all liability for the offence is discharged and the offence does not form part of your criminal record.

However, if you have received an FPN for a motoring offence and have had your licence endorsed with penalty points, technically the rehabilitation period will be five years from the date of conviction (or 2 ½ years if you were under 18 at the time). In practice, this means that you will need to disclose the FPN when applying for motor insurance, or if you are applying for a job that requires you to provide details of any driving licence endorsements, until the five year period (or 2 ½ year period) has elapsed.

No. The police hold records until you reach 100 years of age. However, once your record becomes spent, you have the right to withhold details of your record when applying for most jobs, most courses, insurance and other purposes. See here for further details.

Once your record is spent, it will no longer be disclosed on a Basic Check which is the level of disclosure certificate eligible for most jobs and courses.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 has jurisdiction in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different version of the legislation and different rehabilitation periods.

If you are applying for a job, a course or insurance in the UK, you should be treated in line with the disclosure laws of the relevant country.

Example 1

Jon lived in Spain for 10 years. During this time, in 2012, he was convicted of possession of class A drugs and was given a fine. Jon is now living in England and applies for a job as a bricklayer. The role is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and, as his conviction is considered ‘spent’ under the Act as it applies in England (and Wales), he does not need to declare it when applying for the job.

Example 2

Rory is an Irish national. In 2021, he was convicted of a serious assault and was given a two-year sentence while living in the Republic of Ireland. He is now living in Scotland and applies for a job as a bank cashier. This position is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, but because Rory’s conviction is unspent until 2027 (4 years from the end of sentence) as the law applies in Scotland, he will need to declare it to any employer if he is asked for a criminal record declaration.

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