We are delighted to publish our Annual Report and Accounts for the year 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. Reviewing a whole year of activity can be a demanding process. Our activities are always taking us forwards, driving us on to the next challenge, so to take a step away, look back and reflect, can sometimes seem like a distraction. In fact, it is extremely important to take that time. The Annual Report gives us an archive of what Unlock has done in the course of a year and, crucially, provides an overview of how that activity cumulates to make a significant, positive impact on the lives of people with convictions. It’s also an opportunity to say a huge thank you to all the wonderful people who make our work possible – our Trustees, staff, volunteers, Patrons, contributors to our web resources, partners, donors and funders.
At the beginning of this financial year, we were preparing for the appeal by the Government at the Supreme Court of a complex case challenging the current criminal records system. It was the first time in Unlock’s 18-year history that we had intervened in a legal case, but we were committed because of the potential to achieve a better a system from one that continues to trap people in their pasts. The work was made possible by the 555 pledges of donations through Crowdfunder, which helped us raise over £17,000 towards our legal and campaign costs. Our evidence demonstrated the breadth and scale of the problem (for example, that in the last 5 years, nearly 1 million youth criminal records disclosed on standard/ enhanced checks were over 30 years old). We also demonstrated that generally, employers do not make deeper assessments of individuals but default to avoiding selecting candidates with any kind of criminal record. The judgement came at the end of January 2019, with a ruling that two aspects of the criminal records disclosure scheme are disproportionate and in breach of Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. We were pleased that the judgement provides a crucial step towards achieving a fair and proportionate filtering system that takes a more calibrated and targeted approach to disclosing criminal records. When taken together with reviews by the Law Commission, Justice Select Committee, Charlie Taylor and David Lammy MP there is a powerful case for a fundamental review of the wider criminal records disclosure regime.
Since the judgement, we have been working with others to argue for that wider review, and, ultimately, for a fairer, proportionate and flexible filtering system that protects the public without unduly harming the ability of people to move forward positively with their lives.
“I hope you’re successful in helping people move away from their pasts and live their lives without the worry and shame of their past.” (Crowdfunder donor)
In July 2018, Rachel Tynan joined the staff team, to a newly created role of Policy and Practice Lead. Rachel had previously worked in the Civil Service and higher education and joined us following the completion of her PhD and a stint at Open Book at Goldsmiths. Her role is designed to support our campaigning and policy work. As Rachel says:
“Research consistently shows that re-offending is reduced where people are in sustainable employment or training, and employers and universities providing opportunities are contributing to a safer and more just society.”
Rachel has worked closely with Co-director, Christopher Stacey, on a number of our policy issues. As well as the work pushing for a review of the criminal records system, our work has included, working directly with employers to improve their recruitment processes, working with universities to increase access to higher education, researching the increased impact of having a criminal record on young and BAME people, challenging Google and other search engines to remove spent convictions from their indexing and helping people with convictions to understand the law discouraging people with convictions to become charity trustees or senior leaders. We were delighted to see the government abandon the disproportionate, unfair and ineffective “disqualification by association” rules for schools. We also published a number of consultations, submissions and reports including
- A report – A life sentence for young people – on the impact of criminal records acquired in childhood and early adulthood (May 2018)
- A paper – University admissions and criminal records: Lessons learned and next steps (June 2018)
- A report – A question of fairness – research on employment practice of top national employer (October 2018)
Unlock’s policy work is, of course, based on the experiences of people using our direct information, advice and support services. It is only by listening to personal experience that we can see where problems lie and how things can be improved. Our helpline means we are talking to people and helping them overcome their individual challenges daily and our online resources help people find their own solutions at times and in ways that suit them best. We are delighted that we continue to reach large numbers of people with all our services, and that we continue to get very positive feedback on the help we offer.
“Having access to Unlock really gives me the confidence for the future. It is very important to know the facts when applying for employment. My offences were some 20 years ago, and it been a long interesting journey with life to this point. I don’t want to blow it or let those down who have invested time in me to get to this stage because of ‘misinformation’ or incorrect facts.”
“I wanted to get in touch to firstly thank you for the advice and support I received leading up to my applying for University. Secondly to update you with my conditional offer to study BSc Hons Social Work! Without your organisation’s help I would not have had the confidence or motivation to put myself out there as someone with a criminal record for fear of rejection.”
The enquiries our team responds to cover a huge range of problems, across employment, education, training, housing, financial matters and travel. An example of the complicated way having a criminal record affects people, include a client who had believed her 22-year-old conviction was not only spent but would also be filtered from an enhanced DBS check, only to discover that because there were three ‘counts’ it was not filtered. Our support helped them make the case to keep their teaching job.
We are indebted to our volunteers – all people with convictions and some still serving prison sentences – who train as helpline volunteers, and over the year answered nearly 75% of enquiries. We aim to make volunteering for us as beneficial as possible to the volunteer, providing as much training and support as possible.
This is just an introduction to the full story of our activities which we hope you will enjoy reading in our Annual Report.
We’re happy to give the last word to two of our supporters, who were inspired to make donations to help our work:
“I’m an ex-offender who was fortunate enough to be able to largely support myself through the criminal justice process in the main (thank goodness) but 15 years on, when life dictates, you are still the first port of call for advice. Thank you for everything you did for me and continue to do and fight for others.”
“May I take this opportunity to warmly applaud and thank you for the excellent work you are doing. From my experience of living abroad in several Western European countries I have long thought the UK criminal justice system to be far too heavy handed and punitive. It does not surprise me that a criminal record in the UK has a greater, longer term effect than other EU countries.”