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A simple guide to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA)

Aim of this information

On the 28 October 2023, changes were made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This information reflects the situation after these changes.

Why is this important?

Once your conviction is spent, you don’t need to disclose t it when applying for jobs requiring a basic DBS check and insurance. This means you can generally answer “no” to the question about convictions. Being aware of how the law works will ensure you are able to work out if your convictions are spent or not.

What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 gives people with spent convictions and cautions the right not to disclose them when applying for most jobs, and buying insurance.

What are the benefits of it?

The main benefits of the Act relate to applying for work and insurance. Generally, once spent, you can legally ‘lie’ about your past convictions by answering ‘no’ to a question about convictions.

Applying for work

Once your convictions are spent, the Act gives you the right not to disclose them when applying for jobs, unless the role is exempt from the Act. Most employers with jobs covered by the Act will only ask for ‘unspent’ convictions. If they ask about all convictions, you should check what level of disclosure they’re entitled to, and if it’s only a basic DBS disclosure, then this may be an ineligible check and you can legally withhold any spent convictions.

Applying for insurance

Once your convictions are spent, the Act gives you the right not to disclose them when applying for insurance. For example, spent motoring convictions do not need to be disclosed when applying for car insurance. This applies no matter what question an insurance company asks. Most will only ask for unspent convictions, although some might ask for ‘any convictions in the last 5 years’. If it’s spent, you do not need to disclose it under any circumstances when applying for insurance.

What doesn’t it cover?

  1. It only applies in England and Wales. If you’re applying for work in another country you’ll need to check the disclosure laws that apply in that country.
  2. You may have to disclose spent convictions when applying for jobs that are exempt from the Act. These will normally involve a standard or enhanced DBS criminal record check.

Rehabilitation periods for specific sentences

Prison sentences and community orders


A community order which has no specified end date will have a default rehabilitation period of 2 years. The rehabilitation period won’t be halved if you were convicted when you were under the age of 18.

Prison sentences of over 4 years

A prison sentence of over 4 years can be spent after 7 years providing the offence you were convicted of is not listed in Schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020 or is a Public Protection Sentence.

The types of offence which would be excluded from rehabilitation are:

Other community sentences

What about further convictions?

If you already have an unspent conviction and you get a further conviction before the earlier one becomes spent, then neither conviction will become spent until the longest of them does. If the further conviction results in a prison sentence of more than 4 years, then potentially neither the second nor the first conviction will ever become spent.

How do I work out if my convictions are spent?

If you only have one conviction, it should be relatively straight-forward to establish whether your conviction is spent by using the tables in this guide. If you have got a number of convictions, it might be more difficult. You can use our online disclosure calculator which will help you to work it out.

Can I get a copy of my unspent convictions?

Yes. You can obtain a list of your unspent convictions by applying for a basic DBS disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service. The current cost is £18. An employer may also carry out a basic DBS disclosure as part of their recruitment process (but they’d need your permission to do this).

When can spent convictions be taken into account?

There are many jobs or roles where you might need to disclose your spent convictions particularly when applying for certain jobs or volunteer work. Examples include:

  • Working with children and other vulnerable groups (jobs such as teachers, social workers, doctors, dentists, chemists and nurses).
  • Working in professions associated with the justice system (such as solicitors, police, court clerks, probation officers, prison officers and traffic wardens).

These jobs will usually involve a standard or enhanced DBS criminal record check. It is important to realise that these types of checks will show both spent and unspent convictions and cautions. The only exception to this is where your caution or conviction is eligible to be filtered.

Only an employer can apply for a standard or enhanced DBS disclosure, you are not able to apply for your own. However, it’s really important that you find out exactly what your criminal record is so that you know what you do and don’t have to disclose. You can apply for a Subject Access Request (SAR), from your local police force. This is a copy of your criminal record and is free of charge. It provides information that is held on the Police National Computer (PNC), about you. This is for your information only and shouldn’t be given to an employer. If an employer forces you to give them a copy of your SAR, this is now a criminal offence and employers can be prosecuted for this. There are other times when spent convictions might be taken into account, including:

  1. When applying to stay in the UK (i.e. immigration and nationality decisions).
  2. When travelling abroad to another country.

What does it mean if I have…?

  • If asked by an employer, you have to disclose them, and they can legally refuse you or discriminate against you.
  • They will be disclosed on all types of criminal record disclosure (basic, standard and enhanced).
  • If asked, you will have to disclose them when applying for financial products and services, such as insurance, a mortgage or renting a house.
  • You could be prosecuted if you fail to disclose them when asked.

  • For most jobs, you do not need to disclose them to an employer, even if they ask about convictions.
  • They will not be disclosed on a basic DBS criminal record check.
  • For some jobs (those exempt from the ROA), you may need to disclose them if asked – these jobs will usually involve a standard or enhanced DBS criminal record check. If your conviction is filtered, then you do not have to disclose, however, if it is not filtered an employer can legally refuse you or discriminate against you.
  • You do not need to disclose them to insurers when purchasing insurance.
  • You might need to disclose them when travelling or working outside of England and Wales.
  • They will remain on your record for life – they will not be deleted

More information

  1. For practical self-help information – More information is avaliable on our:
  2. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on this issue
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline

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This page was last fully reviewed and updated in October 2023. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to


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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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