What does the law say about disclosing criminal records?

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 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.

What does ‘spent’ mean?

Once a conviction, caution, reprimand or final warning 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.

How long will it take for my criminal record to be spent (England and Wales)?

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 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 2014 and receives a two-year prison sentence. The rehabilitation period is the total length of the sentence (i.e. two years) plus an additional buffer period of four years. David’s conviction will become spent in October 2020.

The buffer periods are halved if you were under the age of 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 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 Scotland.

+++++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.

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

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, as it applies in Scotland, sets out the following rehabilitation periods:

Sentence/disposalRehabilitation periodRehabilitation period (under 18)
Sentence/disposalRehabilitation periodRehabilitation period (under 18)
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody or corrective training for a term exceeding 6 months but not exceeding 30 months10 years5 years
A sentence of cashiering, discharge with ignominy or dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty's service10 years5 years
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for a term not exceeding 6 months7 years3½ years
A sentence of dismissal from Her Majesty's service7 years3½ 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 proceedings5 years2½ years
Fine5 years2½ years
Absolute Discharge6 months6 months
Conditional discharge1 year or date of order (whichever is longest)1 year or date of order (whichever is longest)
Community Order/Service Community Order5 years2½ years
Referral OrderLength of order
An Order extending period for which a youth offender contract has effectLength of order
An Order under section 1(2A) of the Street Offences Act 19596 months6 months
A variety of Order imposed on those mainly under 181 year from date of conviction or length of Order (whichever is longest)
An Order for custody in a remand home, approved school Order, Attendance centre Order, A secure Training OrderLength of Order plus 1 year
Detention & Training OrdersLength of Order plus 1 year or 5 years from date of conviction, depending on age of offender
Hospital Order5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest)5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest)
Relevant OrderLength of the orderLength of the order

How long will it take for my criminal record to be spent (Northern Ireland)?

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

Sentence/disposalRehabilitation periodRehabilitation period (under 18)
Sentence/disposalRehabilitation periodRehabilitation period (under 18)
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody or corrective training for a term exceeding 6 months but not exceeding 30 months10 years5 years
A sentence of cashiering, discharge with ignominy or dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty's service10 years5 years
A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for a term not exceeding 6 months7 years3 years
A sentence of dismissal from Her Majesty's service7 years3½ 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 proceedings5 years2½ years
Fine5 years2½ years
Absolute Discharge6 months6 months
Conditional discharge1 year or date of order (whichever is longest)1 year or date of order (whichever is longest)
Probation Order1 year or length of order (whichever is longer)1 year or length of order (whichever is longer)
Community Order/Service Community Order5 years2½ years
Juvenile justice centre order/attendance centre order/reparation order1 year or the length of the order (whichever is longer)
Hospital Order5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest)5 years or length of Order plus 2 years (whichever is longest)
Relevant OrderThe length of the orderThe length of the order

Does being on the Sex Offenders Register affect when my conviction becomes spent?

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 was issued a simple caution for a relevant sex 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 simple caution.

Example 2

Dave 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 three years (i.e. one year from the end of his two-year order).

What is a relevant 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:

  • criminal behaviour orders (also known as ‘Crimbos’)
  • compensation orders
  • confiscation orders (Crown Court only)
  • deprivation orders
  • disqualification from driving
  • drink banning orders
  • disqualification from being a company director
  • financial reporting order
  • football banning orders
  • forfeiture orders
  • parenting orders
  • restitution orders
  • restraining orders
  • serious crime prevention order (Crown Court only)
  • sexual harm prevention orders (previously known as sexual offences prevention orders, or SOPOs)

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.

I have finished my community order. Is my conviction spent?

Not necessarily. If you were aged 18 or over when you were convicted, your community order will be spent one year from the completion of your order.

If you were aged under 18 when you were convicted, your community or youth rehabilitation order will be spent six months from the completion of your order.

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

I received a suspended prison sentence. How do I work out the rehabilitation period?

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 2016, 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 two years 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.

I received a short prison sentence and I am now subject to post-sentence supervision. Will this affect 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 March 2014, Gareth is sentenced to 10 months in prison. He serves five months and is released on licence for the remaining five months. His sentence ends in January 2015 and he is then subject to post-sentence supervision for an additional seven months. The seven-month period spent on post-sentence supervision does not impact on the rehabilitation period, so Gareth’s conviction will become spent in January 2019 (four years from the end of his sentence).

I served time on remand. Does this affect the rehabilitation period?

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 one year from the end of the two-year order (i.e. three years in total).

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 2015. He received an eight-month custodial sentence which, taking into account the two months spent on remand, would end in March 2016. The conviction would be spent in March 2020, four years from the end of the sentence.

I have received a fixed penalty notice (FPN) or penalty notice for disorder (PND). When does this become spent?

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) and Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND) are on-the-spot fines issued by the police for very minor offences. If you pay an FPN or PND 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.

Do I need to disclose motoring offences?

Motoring offences are criminal offences and they may form part of your criminal record, depending on whether the offence is recordable and on the disposal you received. If you were convicted of a motoring offence (i.e. admitted guilt or were found guilty in court), this will form part of your criminal record and will be subject to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and/or filtering legislation if you are applying for a standard or enhanced criminal record certificate.

If you received a fixed penalty notice for a minor motoring offence and you paid it on time, it will not form part of your criminal record and will not need to be disclosed for employment purposes, unless you are applying for a driving role or a role that requires you to provide details of your driving licence (see here for more details). Fixed penalty notices also need to be disclosed for insurance purposes.

The Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) hold records of any endorsements you may receive on your license as a result of a motoring offence. The length of time these endorsements are held depends on the nature of the offence. The DVLA records and the retention of endorsements are completely separate to police records. Your endorsements may be removed after a specified period, but if you have been convicted (or cautioned) for a motoring offence, the police will retain these details on the Police National Computer until you reach 100 years of age.

Do I need to disclose cannabis warnings?

If you have been caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use, you may have been issued a cannabis warning by the police. This is different from accepting a police caution. Cannabis warnings are recorded by the police but do not form part of your criminal record and do not need to be disclosed when applying for jobs, courses or employment. They are not covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and do not have a rehabilitation period.

Do I need to disclose a community resolution order?

A community resolution order is an out of court disposal that may be issued by the police for a low-level offence including theft (under £100), criminal damage (under £300), public order and minor assault.

If you have agreed to comply with a community resolution order, this information will be recorded by the police but it will not form part of your criminal record. You do not need to declare this when applying for jobs, courses or employment. Community resolution orders are not covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and do not have a rehabilitation period.

Will my conviction be removed from my record when it becomes spent?

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.

Are offences committed abroad treated under the rehabilitation periods of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

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 2013, 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 2023 (10 years from the date of conviction) as the law applies in Scotland, he will need to declare it to any employer if he is asked for a criminal record declaration.