We were contacted recently by an individual who wanted some advice about answering a criminal record question being asked by a housing provider on their housing application form.
The question on the application form stated:
Have you or any member of your household ever been convicted of a criminal offence? Yes/No
The individual concerned didn’t feel that the housing provider had the right to ask about spent convictions but was worried about raising this with the provider themselves.
We contacted the organisation highlighting the fact that the question on their application form could potentially be misleading and may result in an applicant disclosing more information than it was legally necessary for them to give.
We provided them with details of a High Court case in which Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council had been found to have acted unlawfully by basing its decision not to add an individual to its housing register on the fact that they had a spent conviction.
Despite several attempts at contacting them, the housing provider did not engage with us and we had no option but to raise our concerns with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) as we felt that the housing provider could be breaching the Data Protection Act if they processed information they were not legally entitled to hold. The ICO agreed that the wording on the form was excessive and contacted the housing provider encouraging them to make changes.
A month later we were contacted by the housing provider who informed us that they’d amended the criminal record question on their housing application form to read:
Do you have any offences which are currently unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (You do not need to disclose anything that is deemed “spent”)?
This case demonstrates how housing providers often believe they can ask questions about both spent and unspent convictions. However, as this case shows this can result in applicants over disclosing the details of their criminal record and housing providers potentially breaching data protection legislation if they were to take this information into consideration.
There’s information on housing on our self-help information site.
Notes about this case study
This case study relates to our work with other organisations
Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.