What does the law say about disclosing criminal records when applying for jobs?

What does spent mean?

How long will it take for my criminal record to be spent?

Do I need to disclose my criminal record?

How should I disclose my criminal record?

When should I disclose?

Where can I get help with disclosing my criminal record to prospective employers?

What does the law say about disclosing criminal records when applying for jobs?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) allows most convictions and all cautions, reprimands and final warnings 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 exempt. If you apply for a job that is exempt from the ROA, the employer is entitled to request details of spent and unspent convictions and cautions that are not protected (i.e. eligible for filtering) and is entitled to take this information into account when determining your suitability for the role.

What does spent mean?

Once a conviction, caution, reprimand or final warning becomes spent your client does not need to disclose it 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.

How long will it take for my criminal record to be spent?

For custodial and community sentences, the rehabilitation period will start from the end of the total sentence imposed by the court (including the licence period) – not from the time served in custody (i.e. 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.

The buffer periods are halved if the person was aged under 18 when convicted, except for custodial sentences of six months or less where the buffer period will be 18 months.

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

Table A: Rehabilitation periods for custodial sentences and community sentences

Sentence/disposalRehabilitation period for adults (aged 18 and over when convicted) from end of sentence including licence periodRehabilitation period for young people (aged under 18 when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period
Sentence/disposalRehabilitation period for adults (aged 18 and over when convicted) from end of sentence including licence periodRehabilitation period for young people (aged under 18 when convicted) from end of sentence including licence period
Community order or youth rehabilitation order+Total length of order plus 1 yearTotal length of order plus 6 months
Prison sentence or detention in a young offender institution for 6 months or lessTotal length of sentence (including licence period) plus 2 yearsTotal length of sentence (including licence period) plus 18 months
Prison sentence or detention in a young offender institution for over 6 months and up to and including 30 months (2½ years)Total length of sentence (including licence period) plus 4 yearsTotal length of sentence (including licence period) plus 2 years
Prison sentence or detention in a young offender institution for over 30 months (2½ years) and up to 48 months (4 years)Total length of sentence (including licence period) plus 7 yearsTotal length of sentence (including licence period) plus 3½ years
Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for over 48 months (4 years) or a public protection sentenceNever spentNever 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 which do not have buffer periods so start from the date of conviction

Sentence/disposalRehabilitation 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)
Sentence/disposalRehabilitation 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)
Simple caution/youth caution++Spent immediatelySpent immediately
Conditional caution/ youth conditional caution3 months or when caution ceases to have effect if earlier3 months or when caution ceases to have effect if earlier
Absolute dischargeSpent immediatelySpent immediately
Bind overAt the end of the orderAt the end of the order
Conditional discharge orderAt the end of the orderAt the end of the order
Fine+++1 year6 months
Compensation order++++When paid in fullWhen paid in full
Attendance centre orderAt the end of the orderAt the end of the order
Care orderWhen order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Confiscation orderWhen order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Forfeiture orderWhen order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Hospital orderWhen order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Referral orderAt the end of the orderAt the end of the order
Relevant order+++++When order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Reparation orderSpent immediatelySpent immediately
DisqualificationsWhen order ceases to have effectWhen order ceases to have effect
Endorsements5 years2½ years

++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 (FPNs) and penalty notices for disorder (PNDs) 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.

+++++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.

Do I need to disclose my criminal record?

file_pdf  Do I need to disclose – flowchart (265 KB)

How should I disclose my criminal record?

It is best to prepare a written disclosure statement in advance of applying for work. Even if you would prefer to make a verbal disclosure, it is important to prepare exactly what you are going to say. This will reduce the chances of being caught off guard by a question about your criminal record or gaps in your employment history that might be due to imprisonment or being held on remand. In short, preparing a disclosure statement will increase your chances of securing a job.

The best disclosure statements are those which are genuine and accurately reflect your circumstances and attitudes. Even though you might feel embarrassed about disclosing a criminal record, remember that almost one in four people of working age have at least one conviction and many more have cautions, reprimands and final warnings. You are not alone, and the employers are likely to have come across criminal record disclosures before. When disclosing your criminal record, it is important to relate what you write (or say) to the job for which you are applying. A good disclosure statement reassures the employer about your offence(s). Try to put yourself in the shoes of the employer who is receiving this information and trying to make a judgment on the basis of the information you are providing. If the following points apply then you should emphasise them in your disclosure statement:

  • The offence was committed a long time ago. In some cases it may be that the conviction is recent but the offence is not. If so you should clarify this.
  • The offence was a one-off and was out of character. If you have 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 you are applying. Offence codes 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 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 you 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, normally 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 you had an addiction issue at the time of the offending which you have since addressed.
  • Reassure the employer that you have addressed, changed or learnt from the reasons or causes that led to your offending.
  • You took responsibility for the offence(s) at the time. For example you pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity or cooperated with the investigation.

As with any application or CV, a disclosure statement must be tailored to the specific job for which you are applying, as different employers may have different safeguarding concerns. A disclosure statement is personal to you and your circumstances, so there is no perfect disclosure statement. You might find it useful, however, to try and include the following:

Start with something positive

Tell the employer why you are applying for the role, what you can offer, previous experience, skills, abilities etc.

Explain your offence(s) in your own words

Tell the employer, briefly and in your own words, the offences that need to be disclosed and, if appropriate, the circumstances. Highlight any mitigating factors (e.g. addiction issues, in with the wrong crowd, loss of a loved one etc.). It is important not to let mitigation sound like an excuse.

Reassure the employer you are not a risk

This should be the focus of your statement. Be sure to mention any employment, voluntary work or other experiences which demonstrate a proven track record of working as a safe and responsible staff member. If your circumstances have changed since the time of your offence(s), it might be helpful to mention this. For example, if you have family or financial commitments such as a mortgage, this might demonstrate that you have too much to lose from getting into trouble again. If personal problems contributed to the reasons behind the offence(s), it might be worth stating that these problems have been resolved and your circumstances are now very different. If you have any good character references, mention these as they will also be useful to the employer.

Please see our guidance on disclosing criminal records for further advice about preparing your disclosure statements. If you would like help with preparing a disclosure statement, please contact the Resettlement Advice Service on 0300 123 1999 or helpline@nacro.org.uk.

When should I disclose?

Employers use various methods to recruit new staff and the point at which you make your disclosure may not be the same for every job. In general, you should disclose your record at the point at which you are asked for a declaration. This is for two reasons: employers prefer it that way and it will help your own peace of mind. If an employer has a problem with your record, it is better to know early on.

Applying with a CV and covering letter

Often, you will be asked to apply for a job with a CV and covering letter. Submitting a CV gives you an opportunity to sell yourself by writing about your experience, knowledge and skills and why you are the best person for the job.

You should not include any information about your criminal record on your CV. If you have gaps in your employment history which are due to time in prison and you are not asked directly to write about your criminal record in your application, you could explain these gaps by stating that you were ‘unavailable for work’ at a certain period in time. Remember: if you are not asked for a criminal record declaration directly, then there is no need for you to disclose this information at this stage. But you must be prepared to answer fully and honestly if you are asked, at interview, to explain what you mean by ‘unavailable for work’.

We advise that you put everything in writing so you have evidence that you disclosed your criminal record. Some people prefer to disclose verbally at interview, but it is important to also have a written disclosure statement as well. It is likely that the subject will come up at interview and you should do your best to focus on reassuring the employer that you do not present a risk in the role you have applied for and support this with evidence of how your circumstances or attitude has changed.

Applying with an application form

Instead of being asked to submit a CV and covering letter for the job, you might have to complete an application form which includes a section asking you to make a criminal record declaration. Either state on the form that you have a conviction and that you will be happy to discuss it if selected for interview, or prepare a written disclosure statement that can be sent with the application form. If you decide to send a disclosure statement, you should enter on the application form that you are sending a disclosure statement under a separate cover. The statement should be sent in a sealed envelope which is marked confidential and states your name and details of the post for which you are applying.

Disclosing at the interview

You might be better at explaining things verbally rather than in writing. However, it is important to have a written statement as well. If disclosing verbally, you should prepare what you intend to say very carefully in advance. It is difficult to be totally relaxed in an interview and you do not want to be in the position of either letting the disclosure dominate the interview or, on the other hand, finding that you become confused when giving information about your criminal record.

You should be aware that sometimes it is not the people conducting the interview who will make the final recruitment decision when there has been a criminal record declaration. Therefore, if you decide to speak about your criminal record in an interview, take along a written disclosure statement to give to the interview panel so that it can be kept with your application and will serve as evidence that you have disclosed your criminal record.

Where can I get help with disclosing my criminal record to prospective employers?

You can contact our Resettlement Advice Service with any questions you might have about what, when and how to disclose. We can also give you advice about preparing a disclosure statement, review and provide constructive feedback on any draft statements.

All queries are treated in the strictest confidence. You do not have to provide any personal details, or tell us about the nature of your offence(s) if you do not want to. You can contact us on 0300 123 1999 or helpline@nacro.org.uk.