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Implications of accepting a police caution

Aim of this page

This page sets out the implications that a caution can have in the future, particularly if you’re employed (or looking to work) in certain professions, such as teaching or nursing.

It may also be useful in identifying the things to consider before accepting a police caution.

It forms part of our section on understanding your criminal record and sits alongside our specific information on cautions.

Note that this page focuses on what are technically known as ‘simple cautions’. We have separate information on conditional cautions.

Why is this important?

Before you accept or refuse a caution it’s important to be aware of the possible consequences that it could have on you.  Although a caution is ‘spent’ immediately (under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act),it does form part of your criminal record and can come up on certain criminal record checks.

Our helpline regularly receives calls from people who have accepted a caution believing it wouldn’t affect them in the future, only to be disappointed when they’ve been refused a job or college/university place due to their caution being disclosed on a criminal record check.

When are cautions given?

A caution can be issued at the discretion of the police as a formal warning to somebody who admits to committing a criminal offence. Cautions can be a quick and useful tool for the police to give to first time offenders who have committed relatively minor offences. For an individual, accepting a caution means that they’ll be dealt with quickly and not need to go to court. So there are many instances where accepting a caution is definitely the best way forward.

Areas of life which may be affected by a caution

The police will often take the view that a caution is merely a ‘slap on the wrist’ and for many people this will certainly be the case with a caution having very little impact on their lives. For some however a caution will have more serious and ongoing consequences.

If you’re applying for a job which is covered by the ROA, you wouldn’t need to disclose a caution and it will never appear on a basic criminal record check.

If you’re currently employed or looking to work in a role that requires a DBS check then you’ll always need to disclose your caution to an employer or college/university unless it’s eligible for filtering.

Having an entry on a DBS certificate may result in you being refused a job, irrespective of how minor the offence and the disposal given. This is especially so if you’re applying for roles with some of the more risk averse employers (for example schools and hospitals).

If you’re already in work then before accepting a caution it would be worth considering whether:

  • Your contract of employment requires you to disclose any cautions/convictions received during your employment and if so, how your employer would deal with the disclosure. If you do need to disclose and you’ve been working for the employer for some time, then it’s probably unlikely to result in your being dismissed unless the caution is relevant to the work that you’re doing.
  • Your employer carries out regular criminal record checks on which the caution may be disclosed. If this is the case, then again you should give some thought to how your employer would deal with the disclosure.

If you’re considering applying for these types of job then before accepting a caution you should consider whether the caution:

  • Is relevant to the role you will be applying for and could prevent you from gaining employment.
  • Would be eligible for filtering in the future. If so, you may want to think about delaying when you apply for these types of jobs or college/university courses until the caution is filtered and no longer has to be disclosed.

If you accept a caution for an offence under Schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, this will also result in your being placed on the Sex Offenders Register for two years and possibly barred from working in regulated activity.

A caution is unlikely to affect your ability to study at college or university for the majority of courses as you will usually only be asked to disclose unspent cautions/convictions.

However, if you’re considering applying for a course which would involve working with children or vulnerable adults and where an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check would be required, then you would need to disclose your caution. Depending on the nature of the offence, you may be refused entry onto a course.

Cautions are spent immediately under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) and therefore irrespective of what type of insurance you’re buying, you will never need to disclose your simple caution to an insurer. This is the case no matter what question an insurer asks you.

If you’re looking to travel or work overseas it’s possible that you’ll need to apply for a visa together with a police certificate. This certificate will include details of all convictions, reprimands, warnings and cautions unless they are eligible to be ‘stepped down’. Depending on the nature of the offence, the disclosure of a caution may result in your visa being refused.

Further information about the entry requirements of other countries can be found here.

Court proceeding are exempt from the ROA and therefore if you’re attending court as either a defendant or a witness, your caution may be disclosed in any future court appearances.

When are cautions disclosed?

Basic criminal record checks

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, cautions become spent immediately and will therefore never be disclosed on a basic criminal record check.

Standard and enhanced DBS checks

Cautions will always be disclosed on standard and enhanced checks unless they’re eligible for filtering.

If your caution is eligible for filtering then after the relevant period (6 years if you were over 18 when you received it and 2 years if under 18) it will be filtered from the standard/enhanced certificate and will no longer be disclosed.

What should the police advise before issuing a caution?

Although it is a police requirement to ask people to sign a form which sets out the implications of a simple caution, the use of varying formats and guidance across different police areas means that this isn’t always consistent across all forces.

Home Office guidance on cautions states that:

The significance of the admission of guilt in agreeing to accept a caution must be fully and clearly explained to the individual before they are cautioned.

Example of a simple caution from Thames Valley Police

The police will often describe a caution as a ‘slap on the wrist’ and this may mean that individuals refuse legal advice and accept a caution for an offence they either didn’t commit or without properly understanding the implications of doing so. So before accepting a caution, think carefully about the impact it may have on you in the future.

What happens if I don’t accept a caution?

The evidence required by the police to issue a caution is the same as would be required to take a case to court. So, if you refuse to accept a caution, the police could decide to refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service who may decide to charge you and take you to court. If you’re subsequently found guilty, you’re likely to receive a conviction which could have more severe implications than a caution.

If you’re offered a caution by the police, you should get legal advice from a solicitor who will be able to advise you whether to accept it or not.

What else can you do if you’re offered a caution?

If the police offer you a caution, always seek legal advice and if you’re currently employed or thinking about working in a role that will require a DBS check, tell the solicitor.

You (or your solicitor) could request that the police consider dealing with you in a way which wouldn’t have such a negative impact on your future. For example, if your offence was one relating to a public order offence, the police may be able to issue you with a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) or a Community Resolution Order if your offence related to shoplifting. These informal disposals are unlikely to appear on an enhanced DBS certificate unless the police believed them to be relevant in which case, they may be disclosed under the ‘additional information’ section of the enhanced certificate.

If a caution is the only way the police are willing to deal with you, then in certain circumstances your solicitor may be able to request that the caution is given for a lesser offence. For example, if the police are looking to caution you for Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (which wouldn’t be eligible for filtering), they may be happy for you to accept a caution for common assault or battery, both of which would be eligible for filtering.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found on simple cautions (including youth cautions) and conditional cautions
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine
  3. To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in November 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to




Add Comment
  1. I have been invited to the police station for question regarding an incident at work which i admitted to some of the claims, because it wasn’t deliberate. the officer said he going to be a caution. How can you advise me

    1. Hi

      Before accepting a caution our advice would always be to get legal advice.

      For many people, accepting a caution will be the best option for them but it’s always good to remember that if you are working in any job which is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) and which requires a standard or enhanced DBS check, then a caution will appear on your DBS certificate for a minimum of 6 years and would have to be disclosed to an employer if asked.

      Under the ROA, cautions are spent immediately and never appear on a basic DBS certificate.

      Best wishes


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

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