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‘How long do I have to disclose my criminal record for?’ – A detailed guide to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974


This detailed guide has been put together based on our best understanding of the law as it now stands. Throughout this guide, we try to use examples to help explain the points being made. The examples we provide in this guide are all based on somebody over 18 at the time of conviction/disposal, unless otherwise stated.

This guide focuses on the more detailed and technical aspects of the Act as it now stands. This guide should also be read alongside other information we have available, including:

  1. Disclosing to employers
  2. Information on jobs that are exempt from this law

What are the benefits of it?

The main benefits of the Act relate to applying for work and insurance. Generally, once spent, your conviction does not need to be disclosed, it will not appear on a basic criminal record check and you can legally ‘lie’ about your past convictions by answering ‘no’ to a question about convictions for roles covered by the Act.

Applying for work and volunteering

Once your convictions are spent, the Act gives you the right not to disclose them when applying for most jobs and volunteer roles, unless the role is exempt from the Act. Most organisations with roles covered by the Act will only ask for ‘unspent’ convictions. Roles that are typically covered by the Act include:

  1. Retail, supermarkets
  2. Hospitality industry
  3. Construction industry
  4. Office work
  5. Working in airports
  6. Personal licence to sell alcohol

Please note – depending on the nature of the work, it might mean that some of the roles above will be entitled to know about spent convictions.

If an organisation asks about all convictions, you should check what level of disclosure they’re entitled to, and if it’s only a basic DBS disclosure, you can legally withhold any spent convictions. We have detailed information on eligibility that might be helpful with this. Common jobs and roles where spent convictions will normally need to be disclosed are covered later in this guide.

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. We have more detailed information on insurance available here.

Other areas that it applies to

Areas that it doesn’t apply to

What countries does it cover?

The ROA only applies in England & Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own versions of the legislation, but they differ in a number of important respects.

To decide which laws you’re covered by, you have to ask yourself what you’re looking to do.

If you’re applying for a job, you will normally be covered by the disclosure laws that apply to where the job is based. This will normally be obvious. However, this isn’t always the case.

If you work for a large English-based company, but your base is in Edinburgh, you might think that you’re covered by Scottish law, because that is where you work. However, your contract of employment might say that you’re subject to English law.

It’s quite common for employees to have contracts of employment governed by, for example, the laws of England and Wales but for their place of employment to be in another jurisdiction, e.g. Scotland. This can often be the case if you’re a seconded employee, or if you’re posted abroad after initially working for an employer in England.  Normally, this means that all contractual disputes will be honoured in accordance with the laws of England and Wales. However, if you’re spending the majority of your physical time working outside of England and Wales it is likely that you will be covered by the relevant legislation in the country/jurisdiction they are working in, regardless of what your contract of employment says.

If you are applying to work in Scotland under a contract of employment governed by English law, an employer is likely to be bound by the obligations of the law of Scotland by virtue of you working there.

If you’re applying for home insurance, you will be covered by the disclosure laws that apply to your home address.

These are important questions when looking to get a basic DBS disclosure. See later in this guide.

Making use of the changes made in October 2023

On 28 October 2023 the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act came into effect significantly reducing the time it takes for community orders, prison sentences and suspended sentences to become spent.

One of the biggest changes is that for the first time, some convictions which resulted in a prison sentence of over 4 years could become spent after 7 years depending on the offence an individual was convicted of.

The rehabilitation periods for all other disposals remains the same. This means that there will be some instances where an individual convicted of less serious offences (for example minor motoring convictions) will have to disclose their conviction for longer than somebody who receives a community order or a short prison sentence.

The changes brought in on the 28 October 2023 mean that, for many people with unspent convictions, the length of time it takes for the convictions to become spent is reduced. It also means that some convictions that were previously never spent will now be able to become spent. This guide will explain these in more detail, and our online disclosure calculator tool, has been updated to reflect this.

Understanding the rehabilitation periods

Each sentence has a ‘rehabilitation period’. During the rehabilitation period, the conviction linked with that sentence is ‘unspent’. Once the ‘rehabilitation period’ has passed (and subject to any further convictions) the conviction becomes spent.

There are two types of rehabilitation period:

  1. Sentences with a buffer period – the rehabilitation period is made up of the original sentence, plus an additional fixed period
  2. Sentences with no buffer period – the rehabilitation period is either the length of the order, or a fixed period starting from the date of conviction (which it is depends on the specific sentence)

When the offence was committed does not influence the rehabilitation period.

If you committed an offence in 2002 but were not convicted until 2010, the ‘rehabilitation period’ would run from 2010.

In the majority of cases, the rehabilitation period depends on the sentence you were given, not the type of offence that was committed.

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:


  1. Sarah received a six-month prison sentence in June 2023. Her conviction will be spent in December 2024 (the 6-month sentence + 1 year).
  2. Mohammed received a three-year prison sentence in January 2022. His conviction will be spent in January 2029 (the 3-year sentence + 4 years).
  3. Toby received an 8-year prison sentence in February 2017 for possession with intent to supply. As the offence he was convicted of does not appear in Schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020, Toby’s conviction would be spent in February 2032 (the 8-year sentence + 7 years).
  4. Billy received a 3-year prison sentence in August 2023 for sexual assault. His conviction would be spent in August 2030 (the 3-year sentence + 4 years).
  5. If Billy had received a prison sentence of 5 years for the same offence, then his conviction would never be spent. It is a prison sentence of over 4-years and the offence is listed in Schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020 and excluded from rehabilitation.

Other community sentences

Compensation orders – A conviction which resulted in a compensation order won’t be spent until the compensation order is paid in full. You’ll need to provide proof to the DBS that payment has been made at the time you apply for your basic DBS check.

The rehabilitation period for a fine will apply even if the fine isn’t paid. Fines arising from a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) or Penalty Notice for Default (PND) do not form part of your criminal record and don’t have a rehabilitation period.

Military offences

The Act applies to everyone convicted of a criminal offence in a civilian court. It also applies to service disciplinary offences (e.g. absence without leave) dealt with by a Service Court or the Commanding Officer.

The same rehabilitation periods apply to sentences which are imposed in the service justice system as are imposed by the civilian criminal justice system

A fine imposed by a Magistrates’ Court and a fine imposed by a Court Martial would each have the same rehabilitation period of a year beginning with the date of conviction.

Where there are civilian equivalents to a service offence, the same rehabilitation period will apply as if it were a civilian offence. There are also specific rehabilitation periods for military sentences. All other sentences particular to the service justice system (for example a severe reprimand or a service supervision and punishment order) that are not listed elsewhere in the guidance are spent immediately.

Removal from Her Majesty’s services includes examples such as cashiering, discharge with ignominy, dismissal with disgrace or dismissal.

Other military disposals particular to the service justice system includes examples such as severe reprimand or a service supervision and punishment order.

Sexual offences (SHPO’s and Barring)

Sexual offences per se are covered by the ROA in the same way as any other offence.

The length of time somebody is subject to the sexual offence notification requirements (often referred to as the Sex Offenders Register) does not directly impact on the length of time it takes for a conviction to become spent. This does not constitute “any disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty” and so does not effect when a conviction becomes spent.

However, some people who are convicted of a sexual offence may also be given a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). The view of the Ministry of Justice is that SHPO falls within the definition in the ROA of an “order that imposes a prohibition”, so the rehabilitation period ends on the date when the prohibition ceases to have effect. This will depend on the length of the SHPO. This means that a conviction cannot become spent until the SHPO that relates to that conviction ends. It follows that if a SHPO is imposed for an indefinite period then it will be subject to disclosure indefinitely, until the SHPO is ended in some other way (e.g. going back to court to get the end date amended). Find out more about SHPO’s.

If somebody is included in one of the ‘barred lists’ maintained by the DBS (which might get disclosed on an enhanced check), this is separate to how long it takes for that conviction to become spent and therefore not disclosed on a basic disclosure.

Motoring offences

Motoring offences are covered in a specific page here.

A-Z of current sentences/disposals

We’ve put together a list of sentences/disposals with details of the length of time it takes for them to become spent under the ROA.

Multiple sentences/convictions

Multiple sentences

Where you receive multiple sentences for a particular conviction, the sentence with the longest rehabilitation period will apply.

Example 1 – If you get a fine and a 2 year community order, it will become spent at the end of the order.

Example 2 – If you get a motoring conviction which results in a 6 month driving disqualification and an endorsement on your licence, it will become spent after 5 years.

Multiple convictions at the same time

If you receive more than one sentence at the same time, the total rehabilitation period will depend on whether the sentences run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other).

If concurrent sentences are imposed, then the longest applicable rehabilitation period will apply to all the sentences.

Example 1 – If you received a four month and six month prison sentence ordered to run concurrently (together), this will count as a single term of six months (carrying a “buffer period” of one year from the end of the sentence, giving a total rehabilitation period of one year and 6 months before both convictions can be considered spent).

If consecutive sentences are imposed, then the sentences will be added together to calculate the rehabilitation period.

Example 2 – If you receive a four month and six month prison sentence running consecutively, this will count as a ten month sentence (carrying a “buffer period” of one year from the end of the sentence, giving a total rehabilitation period of one year and ten months before the convictions can be considered spent).

Prison sentences that are ordered to run consecutively to sentences already being served are not affected by this rule.

Relevant orders

Relevant orders can be given upon conviction to impose a disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty or requirement. They include things like restraining orders, compensation orders and sexual harm prevention orders. A relevant order is considered spent on the day the order comes to an end. If there is no date provided then the rehabilitation period is 2 years.

The relevant order rule

There is an anomaly to the further conviction rule. When considering the ‘drag through effect’ of further convictions, relevant orders issued upon conviction are not generally taken into consideration.

Example 1

John was convicted of possession of an offensive weapon on 25 January 2017 and received a two-year conditional discharge order. His conviction would be spent on 25 January 2019.

On 10 December 2018 John was convicted of battery and received a 12-month community order. This conviction would be spent on 10 December 2020.

Although he has been convicted of a further offence during the rehabilitation period of the first offence, the first conviction will not be subject to ‘drag through’ because a conditional discharge is a relevant order and wouldn’t be taken into account. Therefore, in this example the first conviction would become spent on 25 January 2019 and the second conviction would become spent on 10 December 2020.

A relevant order could be subject to ‘drag through’ but only in line with the longest rehabilitation period of any other sentence that may have been passed in the same proceedings that the relevant order was imposed.

Example 2

On 1 August 2009 Mary was convicted of common assault and given a three-month suspended prison sentence. The rehabilitation period would end on 1 November 2011.

She was convicted of battery on 10 June 2011 and sentenced to:

  • A six-moth prison sentence
  • A restraining order until further order
  • A fine of £150

In this case the conviction for battery will remain unspent due to the indefinite restraining order having the longest rehabilitation period.

However, the earlier conviction for common assault will only have it’s rehabilitation period extended until 10 December 2013 at which time it would be spent. This is because Mary was convicted of the second offence during the earlier rehabilitation period, but the rehabilitation period for the relevant order (the restraining order) is ignored; the conviction is extended due to the rehabilitation period of the prison sentence.

In this case the prison sentence has the longest rehabilitation period and so ‘drag through’ will apply until the date when the prison sentence is spent = 10 December 2013.

The indefinite restraining order shouldn’t be used to extend the rehabilitation period of any other offence.

The majority of relevant orders are subject to the ‘drag through effect’ (see below) however, there are some relevant orders which are not taken into account when considering ‘drag through’.

Further cautions or convictions

After a previous conviction….

If you already have an unspent conviction and you get a further caution or conviction before an earlier conviction has become spent, one of the following will apply:

  1. If the later outcome is a caution (either a simple caution or a conditional caution), neither rehabilitation period will be affected. They run separately.
  2. If the later outcome is a conviction, then neither conviction will become spent until the rehabilitation periods for both convictions are over. Essentially, none of them become spent until the longest of them does.
  3. There are limited exceptions to this where the original conviction only has a disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty which means that it becomes spent once it no longer has effect. For example, it is possible to be sentenced to disqualification from driving as the only sentence. If this was a further conviction, it would not impact on the rehabilitation period for the first offence. However, if the second conviction resulted not only in a disqualification, but also to another sentence with a rehabilitation period (e.g. an endorsement), then the second conviction may impact on the rehabilitation period for the first offence. These circumstances are very limited as there will be few occasions when a conviction only results in a disqualification, for example, but it is possible.
  4. There are also exceptions for relevant orders. When looking at the impact of an offence on the rehabilitation periods of other offences, relevant orders won’t be taken into account. They could however still be extended with reference to any other sentence that may have been passed at the same time that the order was imposed.
  5. 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 if the offence type is excluded from rehabilitation.
  6. Sentences received after a sentence which is never ‘spent’ – If the original conviction was one that could never become spent, further convictions which have a rehabilitation period can still become spent
  7. Breach of court orders – If you are given a community order or conditional discharge order and then go back to court for a breach of the order, this can affect the rehabilitation period applicable to the original conviction. If the court imposes a further sentence, the original conviction will remain unspent until both rehabilitation periods have expired.

Once a conviction becomes spent, it remains spent, even if you’re convicted again in the future.


As an adult, David received 3 separate convictions. In 2016, he was sentenced to 1 year in prison. Then in 2017, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Finally, in 2020, he was sentenced to a 1 year community order.

As you can see in the image below, none of his convictions will become spent until 2024, because his second conviction drags the first and third.

After a previous initial conditional caution

If you get another conditional caution or conviction before the first conditional caution becomes spent, it depends on whether it was related to the original offence.

If the later conditional caution or conviction is separate (i.e. not for the offence that you were cautioned for) then neither rehabilitation period will be affected. The conditional caution will become spent at the end of 3 months from when it was given, and the caution or conviction for the later offence will become spent after the normal period.

If you receive a 3 month conditional caution for shoplifting, and a month later receive a conviction for a separate offence, the conditional caution will become spent in the normal way (three months from the date of issue). In relation to the conviction for the separate offence, the rehabilitation period will apply for the sentence imposed by the court.

However, if you fail to comply with a conditional caution, and you are subsequently prosecuted the conditional caution will cease to have effect. Any subsequent conviction will then attract the relevant rehabilitation period for the sentence imposed by the court.

You receive a conditional caution for shoplifting and you fail to comply with the conditions and as a result are prosecuted for, and convicted of, the shoplifting offence for which he receives a fine, The conditional caution ceased to have effect when you were prosecuted and you now have a conviction with a 12 month rehabilitation period because of the fine.

Working out if your convictions are spent

If you only have one conviction, it should be relatively straight-forward to establish whether your conviction if spent by using the tables in this guide.

There’s also help on the internet. You can use our online calculator which will help you to work it out. This has been updated to reflect the new laws.

If you’re on Probation, you may be able to get help from them. If you’re unemployed, you may be able to access help through the Job Centre. You can also contact our helpline for advice.

Getting a copy of your unspent convictions

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 carry out a basic DBS disclosure as part of their recruitment process. It is only accurate at the time you apply, it cannot be backdated and will not show convictions that are spent.

Different laws apply in Scotland to those that apply in England and Wales. Which disclosure laws you should get the disclosure issued under depends on why you’re applying for a basic disclosure. As a matter of process, the Disclosure and Barring Service will assume that you want the disclosure issued in line with the laws that apply to your home address. If you live in Scotland, you should apply to Disclosure Scotland.

You should ask yourself why you need the disclosure before deciding what disclosure laws you want the check to be issued under. See ‘What countries does it cover’ earlier in this guide for further information.

If you’re applying for jobs that disclose all convictions (including spent ones), it’s really important to find out exactly what your criminal record is so that you know what you do and don’t have to disclose. To do this, one option is to get a copy of your police records. Under the Data Protection Act, you can apply for a Subject Access Request from your local police force. It’s free of charge and provides information that is held on the Police National Computer (PNC) about you (not just your unspent convictions).

When spent convictions are taken into account

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act only covers certain things. There are a number of important areas of life where the Act does not apply. The main ones are listed below.

Jobs/roles that can carry out standard or enhanced checks

There are many jobs where you might need to disclose your spent convictions. These are normally where a standard or enhanced criminal record check can be carried out, and where both unspent and spent convictions and cautions will be disclosed. The only exception to this is where a conviction or caution is eligible to be filtered – click here for more information on filtering.


When applying to stay in the UK (i.e. Immigration and Nationality decisions)

Travelling to the UK, when applying for a visa to stay in the UK, or when applying for citizenship, spent convictions can be taken into account. There is detailed guidance available which covers travelling to the UK and applying for citizenship. Although spent convictions can be taken into account, there are guidelines on how spent convictions are dealt with.

When travelling abroad to another country

The Act only applies to England & Wales. This means that, when travelling to another country, you have to look at what processes that country has in place to deal with individuals who have convictions. Very often, they will have their own guidelines, which you should look at and apply to your situation.

Differences between unspent and spent convictions

The differences between unspent and spent convictions are set out here.

Common mistakes

Through the work that we do, we often come across common mistakes that people make when trying to understanding the Act. Some of these mistakes, and the associated facts, are detailed below.

Mistake – I only got a community sentence as I got a suspended prison sentence 
Fact – A suspended sentence is treated in the same way as a prison sentence when determining the rehabilitation period.

Mistake – If you only served 4 months, that’s what counts
Fact – The rehabilitation period is decided by using the sentence imposed at court, rather than the time served in custody.

Mistake – A community order is spent once you’ve finished your unpaid work
Fact – Most community orders will have a date set by the court when they end. This will usually be for longer than it takes to complete your unpaid work. 

Mistake – A fine at court for speeding is only 1 year
Fact – A fine for an endorsable motoring offence will normally result in an endorsement on your licence, which means it’ll take 5 years to become spent.

Mistake – Sex offences can never be spent
Fact – Sexual offences can be become spent, so long as a conviction didn’t result in more than 4 years in prison. The rehabilitation period depends on the sentence you were given, not the offence that was committed.

Key points

Sentence or time served?

The rehabilitation period is decided by using the sentence imposed at court, rather than the time served in custody.

If you received an 8 month sentence, but were released after 4 months, your rehabilitation period would be based on the 8 month sentence.

The ‘buffer’ part of the rehabilitation period starts from the end of the full sentence. The date that you are released is irrelevant.

If you were sentenced to 2 years in June 2013 and are released in June 2014, the ‘buffer’ period of 4 years doesn’t start until June 2015, so the conviction would become spent in June 2019.

Breach of court orders

If you are given a probation or conditional discharge order and are later back in court for a breach of that order, this can affect the rehabilitation period applicable to the original conviction. If the court imposes a further sentence when it deals with the breach, then the original conviction will run on until both rehabilitation periods have expired.

Sometimes the courts may not deal with the breach until after the rehabilitation period applying to the original conviction has already expired. If the court then imposes a further sentence in dealing with the breach, the original conviction will still not become spent until the new rehabilitation period has expired.

Overseas convictions

A conviction for the purposes of the ROA includes a conviction issued outside of England and Wales and therefore convictions issued abroad are eligible to receive the protection of the ROA whilst you are in England & Wales.

If you were convicted in Italy in June 2013 and given a fine, this would be spent in England & Wales in June 2014.

There can sometimes be confusion where the sentence given abroad doesn’t match with those in the ROA. Where the sentence does not match one of those contained in the Act, you should try to find a sentence which is the nearest equivalent. If you check your police record, this may help you to see how it has been recorded on the Police National Computer (if at all), as this is what will be used when getting the data to go onto a basic DBS disclosure.

The organisation that looks after the translation of overseas convictions onto the PNC is the UK Central Authority. If you have any queries, you can call them on 0207 0354040 or write to UK Central Authority, Judicial cooperation unit, 5th floor Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF.

More information

  1. For practical self-help information – More information on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act can be found here
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on our Community
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum.
  4. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on this issue.

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

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