Advising a client on criminal record disclosure: practical advice for practitioners

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Jasmine* is a probation officer. She contacted our public helpline as she had been trying to get her client into employment for several months. Her client always stumbled when it came to telling the employer about their criminal convictions. “What am I doing wrong?” and “What do I do next?” were among the questions she had.
We advised her that it would be useful to help her client prepare a written disclosure statement before they start applying for jobs. At first Jasmine was cautious. What if her client preferred to make a verbal disclosure? We stressed to Jasmine that even if her client wished to disclose verbally, it was important that they prepared exactly what they were going to say – this would give them the opportunity to gather their thoughts and to have someone else objectively review what they intended to say.

We advised that, quite simply, preparing a disclosure statement would increase her client’s chances of securing a job. Jasmine asked if we provide a template for disclosures; we explained that we do not distribute templates at Nacro as our position is that each disclosure should be in the individual’s own words. We also do not write statements on behalf of those we help. If a client has difficulties with reading or writing, we advise asking them the following questions and writing down their answers verbatim. With this information, a disclosure statement can be constructed.

What to disclose

Our advice to Jasmine and others like her is that if the following points apply then your client should emphasise them in their disclosure:

The offence(s) was/were committed a long time ago. In some cases it may be that the conviction is recent but the offence is not. If so, this should be clarified.

The offence was a one-off and was out of character. If your client has a number of offences that occurred over a period of time, try to group them together (e.g. “Between 2001 and 2005 I was convicted on a number of occasions for offences relating to…”).

The offence is not relevant to the job for which your client is applying. Offence codes are often very broad and can make it difficult for employers to judge whether the offence is relevant. For example, serious violent and sexual offences are generally considered relevant to roles which involve unsupervised work with children or work with vulnerable adults. There are also a wide variety of offences that may have little relevance, such as public order offences.

The offence sounds more serious than it was. One way of explaining to employers that an offence is not as serious as it might sound is by drawing attention to the penalty or sentence received. Offence codes cover a very wide range of offences that vary in terms of seriousness. A sexual offence, for instance, covers everything from young men sleeping with their underage girlfriends to indecent assault and rape. Violence covers everything from slaps and smacks, often recorded as battery or common assault, to grievous bodily harm and murder. Drug offences cover everything from possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use to possession of class A drugs with intent to supply. Burglary covers everything from taking goods from shop storerooms to entering the homes of elderly people, leaving them in fear. Arson ranges from a person setting fire to litter bins to a person destroying property and endangering lives.

There were particular circumstances, which have now changed, or reasons behind the offence(s). For example if your client had an addiction issue at the time of the offending, which they have since addressed. Reassure the employer that your client has addressed, changed or learnt from the reasons or causes that led to their offending.

Your client took responsibility for the offence(s) at the time. For example they pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity or cooperated with the investigation.

Your client can demonstrate a change in attitude and/or behaviour. It might be the case that a person who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment was released early for good behaviour, or an order was revoked early for the same reason. If this is the case, it is usually a good idea to highlight this to the employer.

Writing a disclosure statement

As with any application or CV, a disclosure statement must be tailored to the specific job for which your client is applying, as different employers may have different safeguarding concerns. A disclosure statement is personal to your client and their circumstances, so there is no perfect disclosure statement. Your client might find it useful, however, to try and follow this simple structure:

Paragraph 1 – Start with something positive

Paragraph 2 – Explain the offence(s) in their own words

Paragraph 3 – Reassure the employer they are not a risk

If you require specific advice and guidance on disclosure read our dedicated webpage on Helping your clients with disclosure, book a place on one of our upcoming criminal record disclosure training sessions or contact our Resettlement Advice Service.

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*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.