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Category: News on policy issues

Call for evidence: recruitment agencies and criminal records

Unlock works with employers to promote Fair Chance Recruitment for people with criminal records.

Through our helpline, we hear that there can be some challenging ‘grey areas’ when applying for work via a recruitment agency.

We hear that there can be confusion around whether, how and when to disclose a criminal record when fulfilling an agency contract. We understand that this can lead to disappointment and unfair treatment, where an agency and an employer take different approaches to criminal records.

We want to hear from people who have sought work via a recruitment agency with a criminal record. Please tell us:

  • Why did you decide to find work via an agency?
  • Were you asked about criminal records when you joined the agency?
  • Did the agency find work for you? If so, what was the role/ company?
  • Were you asked to share your criminal record for the new role?
  • What happened next? Did your criminal record affect your agency employment? If so, how?
  • Anything else that you’d like to let us know

The information you provide will not be shared without your permission, and will help us to make recruitment practice fairer for people with criminal records.

Email us in confidence at

You can find information here if you are currently looking for work through a recruitment agency.

An insight into Northern Ireland’s consultation on spending periods

The Northern Irish government has just completed their initial consultation on changing spending periods for criminal offences, spurred by a judicial review brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). While that is outside of Unlock’s normal catchment area, we have been following the case closely and working with our colleagues at NIACRO to try and make the most of this opportunity for change.

While any real changes in Northern Ireland are still some way off, this is a good opportunity to talk about the nature of government consultations, and what we can learn from Northern Ireland.

The biggest take away is that strategic litigation really is an effective tool in creating change, and vindicates Unlock’s goal to continue using it. The NIHRC case is extremely meaningful in its own right, but even before the arguments have been heard Stormont have rushed to address some of the concerns. Whatever decision is reached, this one case will result in meaningful changes that impact thousands of people. This is extremely encouraging, and Unlock was happy to support the NIHRC case.

Next, the policy options that the Northern Irish government consulted on were an interestingly mixed bag. Northern Ireland hasn’t had a significant change for spending periods since 1978, and Stormont is not required to follow along with England and Wales, so it’s understandable they have come up with their own options – but they were still a bit odd.

They did offer two possible reforms to address concerns about longer sentences never becoming spent. However, each one was only half of the proposed version in England and Wales. Option one was to simply raise the threshold for a sentence that can’t become spent from two and a half to four years. This update would match the present England and Wales system, but not include any changes from the sentencing bill.

The other proposal was to allow some longer sentences to become spent, depending on the conviction – but offences classified as violent, sexual or terrorism related would still have to be disclosed for life if the sentence was longer than two and a half years.

The proposed version in England and Wales is to use a list of offences and a longer threshold for lifelong spending, and it was not initially clear why Stormont would break these two aspects apart. If they were going to follow the England and Wales system, it would make more sense to copy it fully. However, Unlock sat in on some of the Department of Justice’s feedback sessions, and it seems that the concern for the civil servants is drawing up reforms that can be actually be passed through parliament.

To some degree that is disappointing, because a really ambitious set of reforms seems unlikely. At the same time, we do need to stay grounded to this reality. Reforms are unlikely to go as far as we might like, and both MPs and the general public might well be less well informed than we might hope. However, positive reforms are still positive, and we should be aiming to make them happen. It might not be ideal, but changes that actually happen help more people than those which are too radical to be accepted.

Another interesting factor in Northern Ireland is that certain terms have a different meaning, highlighting that language can be much more politicised than we might think. In England and Wales, ‘terrorism’ is a little contentious but in Northern Ireland that is an extremely emotive term, with decades of history and injustice behind it. We don’t even have to leave the UK to see that the question of who exactly is a terrorist is not easily answered.

This is even more relevant because most conflict-related convictions are really quite old at this point, and so would immediately become spent if they were ever eligible. That means that charging decisions made in the 1960s would come back to haunt the justice system yet again, with questions about unequal application of the law to different communities.

This same effect is just as true with the other categories of offences that will be exempt from becoming spent. What is a violent crime? And what is a sexual offence? In Northern Ireland the Department of Justice at least intend to write a new list to address this, which is something. In England and Wales, the government are proposing to use a pre-existing list drawn from 20 year-old legislation. Again, you do not have to travel far to see how these dodgy definitions will cause problems, and may create systematic injustices.

The flurry of activity in Northern Ireland is a microcosm of what we are seeing in Westminster, and helps to show how even relatively small differences actually become huge concerns for this area of law. Simple rules that reduce the length of spending periods are clearly better than the periods we have at the moment – both in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland – but we can already see the difficulties in applying them on a large scale.

It seems increasingly clear that whatever changes are made to either system in the coming year, there is going to be a lot more work to do. We are seeing more and more that very broad categories just don’t work well and that we need a real paradigm shift. Creating an independent review mechanism seems the obvious first step, although few politicians ever want answers that will cost them money.

Unlock will continue to push for these changes until all people with criminal records the chance to live a normal life. It may be a hard fight, but we do believe it can be won.

Written by Sam Doohan, Policy Officer for Unlock.


Further reading

  1. NIHRC challenge spending law
  2. Department of Justice consultation
  3. NIACRO’s website

Pardons for historic gay convictions: a call for evidence

It is quite rare for any government to admit to some historic wrongdoing, and even more so to take some concrete efforts to tackle it. When the government announced that it would be creating a process for gay and bisexual men to have their certain convictions removed from the record, this was a unique opportunity to right many historic wrongs.

However, the reality hasn’t lived up to the potential. To gain a pardon, people have to apply for one, which hugely limits the scheme’s reach. Many eligible people don’t know the pardons exist, and the vast majority of men who were persecuted for being gay or bi are not willing to trust the government to handle cases privately and sensitively.

We want to hear from people who were prosecuted for historic gay offences and who have not yet applied for a pardon.

Click here to share your story.

What is eligible?

Only convictions under sections 12 and 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 are eligible – “buggery” and “gross indecency” – and only if the charge would not be illegal under another law today. For example, charges for sexual activity in public cannot be pardoned because they would still be illegal, even though this kind of charge was historically used to persecute gay and bi men.

This means that there are only two types of convictions which can be pardoned. First; convictions which date from before 1967, and which were only brought because both partners were male. Second; convictions from after 1967 which occurred because the age of consent was different for gay and bi men. For both types, as long as both partners were over 16 at the time, and there was no other criminal behaviour, then you are eligible to apply first for a disregard and then a pardon.

“Disregards” were created in 2012, and allowed these two types of convictions to be removed from criminal record checks. Pardons were created in 2017, after Alan Turing was given a posthumous pardon for his homophobic convictions, and were then made available to all men with similar charges. The disregard has the real legal force and removes the conviction from public record, with a pardon more representing an apology from the British state.

Despite existing since 2012, only 483 people have successfully applied for a disregard, and even fewer for a pardon. The combination of strict eligibility criteria with the need to actively apply ensures that the numbers are much lower than the number of outstanding convictions.

It is difficult to know how many men with eligible convictions are still alive, but between 1967 and 2003 when the offences were abolished, there were 26,652 convictions for “Buggery” and 37,200 for “Gross Indecency”. About 30,000 of these convictions were prosecuted after 1980, so there are at least tens of thousands of men who could be pardoned who have not been.

Unlock are hoping to show that the process of disregards and pardons is unfair and discriminatory. While no more people can be prosecuted under the old laws, as long as the criminal records continue to exist, the old regime has not truly been abolished. Thousands of men still have to live with the fallout from a system which attacked them for their sexuality, and to escape that they are expected to apply to the same government which persecuted them.

About You

We want to hear from all men who could benefit from a disregard or a pardon, to hear about their challenges and experience of the criminal justice system. However, we are particularly keen to hear from men who have held off from seeking a pardon because of concerns about their privacy and their past being dredged up again.

  • You could be any age today, but are likely between 40 and 80.
  • You must have been convicted of an s.12 or s.13 offence before 2003.
  • You must be eligible for a disregard or pardon, so your conviction can only be for activity that is legal today and with a partner who was over 16 at the time.
  • You must have not yet applied for a disregard or pardon, because either you are afraid the process will involve your convictions becoming public, or because you are concerned the process will be insensitive and accusatory.

Get in touch

Click here to share your story. We want to hear about all experiences and points of view about pardons and disregards, both positive and negative. We understand that these kind of convictions can be difficult to talk about, but your input are critical to our efforts to improve the system and ensure as many people as possible benefit from it.

Your experiences will only be shared with your consent, and Unlock will never reveal your name or any other identifying details.

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A momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records

Today is a momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records. 

The stigma and embarrassment of a criminal record means many people simply don’t apply for jobs or voluntary roles that would require them to disclose their old and minor convictions or cautions. It’s a toxic form of punishment to keep punishing people forever and far too people many are unnecessarily anchored to their past as a result.  

That’s why today is such a big day. Changes to the law have come into effect, meaning tens of thousands of people every year will no longer have their old and minor criminal records show up when they apply for jobs or voluntary roles that involve standard or enhanced DBS checks . 

There are two main changes to what convictions and cautions are removed from standard and enhanced DBS checks. These are referred to as the filtering rules. 

The first change is that childhood cautions will no longer be automatically disclosed. Up until now, about 25,000 childhood cautions were disclosed every year, so this change will help thousands of people move on from minor things they did when they were a child.  

The second change is that a so-called ‘multiple conviction rule’ is being abolished. This arbitrary rule had meant that people with more than one conviction on their record had them all disclosed, no matter what the offences were, and no matter how long ago they were, simply because there was more than one. From the experience of Unlock’s helpline, we know this rule had meant that lots of people with minor convictions from decades ago were still finding them showing up on their check. According to Home Office data, these changes will mean around 45,000 people a year will now have a clear standard or enhanced DBS check. But this estimate is based on people that had previously applied for checks – and given we know many people are simply put off applying through fear and embarrassment, the number that will benefit from these changes will be even higher still.  

How we got here

It’s been a long road to get to this point. I was part of an independent panel that was set up back in 2010 to advise the Home Secretary on this issue, and the system of filtering that was brought in in 2013 made a difference to a lot of people, but we could see that there were problems, which is why we set about advocating for further change. When it was clear the government were resisting that, it took a number of legal challenges to get them to listen. 

And being honest, it is hard to give the government much credit for bringing forward these changes. They have contested the legal cases all the way up to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. Unlock supported those various legal challenges, and formally intervened in the Supreme Court for the first time in our history, because of the significance of the case. The result was a landmark ruling against the government. Even then, it’s taken the government nearly two years to get to this point of actually making the changes.  

But we are where we are, and I’m genuinely delighted for the thousands of people that have been in contact with us over the years waiting for changes like this to happen. It’s difficult to do justice to the struggles, shame and stigma that they have feltFinally, today is the day when that injustice ends and many thousands of people will be free of the stigma of their past. For every one of you that benefits from today’s changes, I want to thank you for all of the support you have given to Unlock’s work on this over the years.  

Unlock’s guidance for individuals and employers

The changes being made today are actually quite simple, but the rules around what gets disclosed on checks are still quite complicated, so it’s important that you find out what these changes mean for you. We’ve been busy working on updating our guidance for individuals and employersand that is all available from this page of our website. You can:

The need for further reform

But there’s still a lot more to do. Despite today’s changes, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs that they are qualified to do because of a mistake they made years ago. For example, Unlock research found that over a five year period, 380,000 checks contained childhood convictions, with nearly 3,000 checks including convictions from children aged just ten. Many of these childhood convictions will continue to be disclosed forever, despite today’s changes.  

At a time when we’re facing significant economic uncertainty, people with criminal records are finding it harder than ever to find work. The government must commit to a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery. 

That’s why Unlock is continuing to call for a root and branch review of the criminal records system to reduce the length of time a record is revealed. Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone deserves the chance to build a good life. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for you to show your MP that you support reform of the criminal record disclosure system. 



Government announces date when planned changes to criminal record disclosure rules will take effect

The government has today confirmed that planned changes to the rules on filtering will come into effect on Saturday 28 November. After years of campaigning for change, and after many months of holding the government to account on the implementation of the changes, the news was confirmed in a letter to Unlock from the Home Office yesterday.

The changes are simple; for jobs and voluntary roles that involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service, childhood cautions will no longer be disclosed, and a rule that meant someone with more than one conviction had all their convictions disclosed, regardless of offence or length of time, has been abolished. For people who have been held back from employment and volunteering to help others because of mistakes they made years ago, the impact will be life changing.  

According to Home Office data, these changes will mean around 45,000 people a year will now have a clear standard or enhanced DBS check. One in five people who under the old rules would have had their criminal records disclosed, will now have a clear certificate. Clearly this shows that we still have a long way to go; we hope to see further reforms that allow more people to leave their past behind. 

These changes come as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in January 2019. Unlock intervened in that vital case because we know thousands of people are unnecessarily anchored to their past due to an arbitrary regime which forces the disclosure of old and irrelevant information. Until now, about 25,000 childhood cautions were disclosed in criminal record checks every year, most of which were for incidents that happened over five years ago. These changes will end the disclosure of childhood cautions.  

Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, said: 

It shouldn’t have needed individuals to bring legal challenges against the government, who fought the case all the way to the highest court in the land, but I am proud that Unlock played a crucial role over the last seven years, working with other charities, to make sure this moment came. The changes coming in on 28 November are a crucial first step towards achieving a fair system that takes a more balanced approach towards disclosing criminal records.  

However, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs that they are qualified to do. We found that over a five year period, 380,000 checks contained childhood convictions, with 2,795 checks including convictions from children aged just ten. Many of these childhood convictions will continue to be disclosed despite these changes. Reviews by the Law Commission, Justice Select Committee, former Chair of the Youth Justice Board Charlie Taylor and David Lammy MP have all stressed the need to look at the wider disclosure system. The government’s plan for jobs should include a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery.”  

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“We all want a criminal justice system that treats us with humanity, and allows people to move on from mistakes. For too long a blunt and bureaucratic system has meant that if you made mistakes in your past, you were prevented from moving on.

“The Government had to be taken to the highest court, then took nearly two years to accept it had lost, but this injustice will finally be fixed. This case shows that through bravery and persistence a few individuals can use our legal system to stand up to power and obtain justice that will help countless people in similar situations.”

Jennifer Twite, Head of Strategic Litigation at Just for Kids Law, said:

“Every year, about 25,000 youth cautions are disclosed in criminal record checks, most of which are for incidents that happened over five years ago. This new legislation will help to ensure that no child who is given a caution ends up with a lifelong criminal record that robs them of the chance to get their lives back on track.”

It is important that both individuals with a criminal record and employers understand the impact of these changes. That’s why we’ll be publishing updated guidance for both individuals and employers. 

A smarter approach to criminal records?

On the 16th September the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published it’s much anticipated white paper “A Smarter Approach To Sentencing”. It is a mixed bag, offering  ‘tough on crime’ sentencing measures along with some more positive reforms to criminal record disclosure periods.    

The MoJ says that they want to improve employment prospects for people with convictions, and so reduce reoffending, which sounds great. Given that they have also announced some positive changes you could be forgiven for thinking that reducing disclosure periods might actually ensure better access to employment. Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Seen in a vacuum the proposals are somewhat progressive. A significant number of people, 15,000 per year, would see their convictions become spent more quickly, and no longer have to disclose them for most jobs. Many other people who have been living with an unspent criminal record for decades would finally be able to move on, as the proposed changes would enable some sentences over four years to become spent. That’s a strong start.  

Here are what the proposed disclosure periods look like in more detail:









There are three things that really jump out.   

Firstly, some sentences over four years would have the opportunity to become spent. The asterisks are quite significant, with most violent, sexual and terrorist offences excluded, which means only about 30% of longer sentences are eligible. But in spite of this, it would still be a big change. At the last review in 2014, even this limited version seemed impossible. 

Secondly, disclosure periods would be generally shortened, which would reduce the period people face discrimination forThis is certainly better than nothing, but the periods are still quite long even compared to other proposals from within Parliament. Lord Ramsbotham’s 2017 bill proposed cutting four year periods to two years, for example, but the MoJ has chosen to ignore this despite crossparty support.  

Finally; the shortest period of disclosures would cover sentences under 12 months, instead of only six months. This is in line with the changes we saw in Scotland, with all magistrates sentences being spent at the same rate . This would result in far fewer cases where the differences between regions and judges leads to a major difference in disclosure length.  

To put these changes into perspective; MoJ figures show 7,980 people were given sentences between six months and one year in 2019/20. At present they have to disclose their convictions for four years; under these proposals they would only have to disclose for one year. Around 7,500 people receive sentences of over 30 months each year, and they would only disclose for four years instead of seven after these changes. 

However, while shortened disclosure periods will certainly help thousands of people get their lives back on track, the white paper still seems to have missed the point. The proposals are a general relaxation, but they do little to actually improve employment prospects.  

The critical time for employment is at the beginning of the disclosure period, not the end. Finding the first job is the hardest part, when discrimination is most felt. Reducing the period of discrimination is positive, but the discrimination is still there and will still hold people backEven while the MoJ is making the right argument about employment, they don’t offer proposals to tackle this core issue. 

This can be seen in other places, especially in the rationale given for preventing most longer sentences becoming spent. The white paper justifies shortened disclosure periods by arguing that employment reduces reoffending. We completely agree, and the evidence backs this up. But a few paragraphs later, the paper says lifelong disclosure, and lifelong discrimination, is justified because reoffending would be particularly harmful. Surely if reoffending would be so bad it is even more important to do everything we can to reduce it, including improved access to employment? 

People with more serious convictions face more serious discrimination, and for longer. The MoJ knows this is a big factor in reoffending, but they are not doing anything to change it. Most alarmingly, by continuing with lifelong disclosure the MoJ is signalling that many thousands of people cannot be rehabilitated and always present a risk to the public, even after 40 or 50 years. 

In the end, while this paper says all the right things about employment and reoffending, the MoJ are content to leave the old system intact and not consider a genuinely new approach. They argue that discrimination is severe and needs to be addressed; but their proposals are only for less discrimination for some, and they don’t consider the possibility of zero discrimination. 

Of course, Unlock will be pushing for any change that helps people with convictions, even small ones. Better is still better. But our real goal over the coming year or two as the paper moves forward is to push the Government to be bolder and less restricted in their thinking, and to deliver a criminal records system that works for everyone.  

Written by Sam Doohan, Unlock Policy Officer


Read more:


Scottish Government Reforms criminal record disclosure

The Scottish Government has passed a significant reform to their criminal records regime. The Scottish system is separate from the one that applies in England and Wales, and had fallen behind the rest of the UK after Westminster made significant updates in 2014.  

The reforms that Holyrood have now passed make for interesting reading. The Scottish reforms, which come into force in November, give an insight into how criminal records are seen inside government and should be seen as a barometer for the rest of the UK 

The new system does not just mirror England and Wales; It is broadly similar, but the changes are significant, especially when looked at in terms of the numbers of people who will be impacted. Note: the Ministry of Justice recently published a sentencing white paper, including proposed changes to the criminal records system in England and Wales.  

The changes in Scotland









The most important difference is that the lowest tier for disclosing custodial sentences in Scotland now cuts off at 12 months, not six months as in England and Wales. This makes a significant difference, because short sentences are the most common, and those between six and 12 months are just under 20% of the annual total.  

As a result, about 2,000 more people per year will fall into the two year disclosure period, instead of the four year period they would face in England and Wales. 80% of all custodial sentences in Scotland will now be in the lowest tier for disclosurecompared to 62% if they had adopted the same system as England and Wales.   

This change also impacts the kinds of offences which will fall into the shortest disclosure period. Twelve months is the maximum sentence that can be imposed by a magistrate (summary process by a sheriff in Scotland). This means that all custodial sentences imposed by will have the same disclosure regime, which is a much fairer approach 

Minor variations in sentencing between individual sheriffs or magistrates will not lead to multiple additional years of disclosure. There will still be discretion over sentence lengths, but not over how long they will be disclosed for. This also shows more joined up thinkingIt makes sense that the existing division between magistrates and crown court is reflected in the subsequent disclosure. 

Another major change is that the Scottish legislation will allow – eventually – for sentences over 4 years to become spent. This will not happen automatically, but the Scottish government have committed to creating a review process to determine when, or if, they can become spent.  

This is a significant shift in position, and it is the first attempt in the UK to handle these more serious convictions on a case by case basis. While longer sentences are less frequent overall, the current requirement to disclose indefinitely means they impact people for decades, regardless of how much they have moved on. The ability to review a conviction and have it become spent is much fairer than blanket rules.   

We do not know what that review process will look like, or even necessarily the criteria that will be used, so there are still some hurdles to overcome. We are particularly concerneabout the resources that will be available, because this will hugely impact how effective that system can be. However, this is still a big move in principle, and we hope it will be as meaningful in practice. 

These changes are not huge in legislative terms, but they will make a major difference to a large number of people. 22% of annual sentences in Scotland will have a fairer disclosure regime than in England and Wales. 2,500 people per year will have a more positive future because of a more progressive criminal records system, with easier access to employment and education, and fair access to insurance. 

How does this impact England and Wales? 

It is very encouraging for our reform work in Westminster that Holyrood has made this move. We can see that political and government circles are interested in a more progressive approach, and that they do see the positives associated with a less draconian system 

Once the Scottish system is in action it will provide a continuous stream of data showing the impact that reducing disclosure has in numerous different ways. If the figures show lower reoffending and improved employment, as the Scottish government believes they will, this will be powerful evidence for making similar changes in England and Wales.  

Equally, the Scottish Government has shown that the arguments that Unlock is making in Westminster do impact policy decisions. The Scottish Justice minister, Humza Yousaf, said: Progressive changes to disclosure allow people to move on with their lives into employment, [and are] proven to reduce the likelihood of further offending. As a result, these changes] help keep crime down and communities safe.”  

These are exactly the arguments that Unlock make, and it is very positive to see officials citing these benefits as the reason for reducing disclosurestance taken further, especially for intermediate-length sentences where Scotland will largely mirror the wider UK. 

In the coming year, our calls to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will certainly be strengthened by the Scottish reformsThe arrival of new legislation will shine a spotlight on the regime in England and Wales, and help to break the inertia, as well as providing real world dataUnlock will be building from Scotland’s example to deliver a truly fair criminal record system that works for everyone.  

Get involved 

Join the FairChecks movement, and call on the government to reform criminal records checking in England and Wales. 

Written by Sam Doohan, Unlock Policy Officer 


More information 

Unlock’s response to Ministry of Justice plans to make reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Commenting on today’s announcement (16 September) by the Ministry of Justice on plans to make changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the disclosure of criminal records, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said: 

Unlock very much welcomes and supports today’s announcement by the Justice Secretary that disclosure periods for criminal records will be reduced. If these proposals proceed to statute, it will mean more people with criminal records being able to get jobs and make a positive contribution to society. The current criminal records disclosure system does little to promote rehabilitation or serve public protection, but it does result in people being locked out of jobs and opportunities, often for the rest of their life, because of a criminal record that serves as a second sentence. 

England and Wales has one of the most punitive criminal record disclosure regimes in Europe – and there’s no evidence that it’s reducing crime. Getting people with convictions into work, supporting their families and contributing to the economy is one of the best ways of making communities safer. Evidence shows that more than half of men, and three quarters of women who receive a conviction, will never be convicted again.  

Today’s announcement that some sentences of over four years in prison will no longer have to be disclosed when applying for most jobs if people are conviction-free seven years after completing their sentence is a positive step forward. We have long campaigned for a system that enables all convictions to become ‘spent’ at some point. For those that these proposals apply to, once they have completed their rehabilitation period they will no longer be required to disclose their conviction for most jobs or education courses, nor for housing or insurance. 

However, more than 8,000 people every year receive sentences of over four years and today’s proposals have wide-ranging exclusions which we understand will mean that around two-thirds of people sentenced to more than four years in prison will continue to have a lifelong ‘never spent’ conviction 

The risk of reoffending is consistently lower for those who have served longer sentences, and data on reoffending by index offence shows sexual and violent offences have lower rates of reoffending than many other categories. Exclusions by offence type risk creating unfairness and anomalies at the margins, further entrenching racial injustice and embedding the idea that some people are inherently incapable of rehabilitation. We do not believe that to be the case.  

We have long-supported Lord Ramsbotham’s Criminal Records Bill, and the proposals in that Bill are a pragmatic attempt to see positive change, given the rehabilitation periods for adults were recommended in the Breaking the Circle report in 2003, and accepted by the government of the time. The proposals today fall short by comparison 

Making changes so that more people have their convictions become spent sooner is a positive change. However, there is little point in having more people reach this stage if employers can continue to discriminate. There are fundamental questions as to how effective the legislation is in a society where information remains online and employers regularly ask about spent convictions even if they are not entitled to know about them. 

The government needs to make sure that the legislation does what it is intended to do – give people a chance to live free from the stigma of their past. Today’s proposals do nothing to address these issues, which is why we continue to call for a root-and-branch review of the criminal records regime.  

Everyone should have the opportunity to unleash their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone should have the opportunity of a fresh start. We hope the government will listen and make sure that law-abiding people with convictions have a real chance to move on with their lives without their criminal record hanging over them. 



For media enquiries, please contact Ruth Davies, Digital and Communications Manager. Email or call 07458 393 194 

Notes to editors 

  • Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.   
  • High-resolution images for media use are available from Unlock’s Flickr account. 
  • Spent convictions can still be disclosed for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults, or in some trusted professions. What shows up on standard and enhanced DBS checks is determined by the filtering rules. 


Case studies  

Below are case studies of individuals where their conviction will remain a lifelong ‘never spent’ conviction because their offences are excluded under the proposals by the Ministry of Justice. 

Case study – Ian 

Ian joined his well-known firm in the early 1990s when few employers asked about criminal records. Over the years he developed his skills and now managed the office, earning a good salary. 

In 2019, the firm introduced new HR systems and retrospectively carried out basic DBS checks on all staff. Ian had been sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in the 1980s for his involvement in an armed robbery. Ian explained this to his employer, hopeful that his 25 years of service and exemplary work record would stand him in good stead. Despite this, the firm let Ian go – they said they couldn’t risk anyone finding out that one of their employees had an unspent conviction. Ian is claiming JSA while he looks for work.  

Case study – Amir 

At 17 Amir was convicted, under joint enterprise, for a serious assault on a man. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. On release, he moved with his family to a new area and completed qualifications in business and IT. Amir eventually started a small business from home doing computer repairs and providing training.  

Now 29, Amir applied for a job in the training department of one of the big four accounting firms. After a telephone interview, assessment centre and face-to-face interview Amir was selected over the 18 other candidates. On receiving the offer, Amir disclosed his unspent conviction. The HR manager told him someone would be in touch. After three months of waiting, Amir contacted the UK Director of HR who said the company had a policy of not employing anyone with an unspent conviction. 

Case study – Anne 

Anne was convicted of the manslaughter of her husband and sentenced to 7 years. At her trial it was accepted that she was suffering from a psychiatric condition resulting from her husband’s abusive behaviour over two decades. Anne is out of prison now and volunteers as a speaker for a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse. 

Anne has applied for part-time work at a supermarket and a high street retailer but has been turned down both times because of her unspent conviction. She felt the interviewers were sympathetic when she disclosed but afterwards was told it was ‘company policy’ not to employ anyone with an unspent conviction. 

Taxi! New guidance for licensing authorities recommends exclusions for even minor convictions

In July 2020 the Department for Transport published new guidance for statutory taxi and private hire vehicles licensing authorities. This followed a consultation in April 2019 to gather views on the recommendations and draft statutory guidance. Recommendations included that licensees undergo enhanced DBS and barring list checks and minimum exclusion periods by offence category and our response focused on those exclusions.

Passengers getting into a taxi or PHV are placing themselves in the hands of the driver and it’s right that licensing decisions take into account all relevant information. The problem is, the draft guidance didn’t advise taking into account all relevant information. Instead, it proposed a blanket approach based on broad offence categories.  The guidance was based on the Institute of Licensing’s 2018 recommendations which emphasised the need to consider individual circumstances but then went on to propose blanket exclusions based on broad offence categories, along with lengthy exclusion periods.

Unfortunately, the final version of the guidance includes the same offence categories and exclusion periods recommended in 2018. The long exclusion periods are not scaled to the circumstances or gravity of an offence – a person convicted of possession of a firearm will be refused a licence for seven years, the same as a person who over-claimed benefits. An applicant with a conviction for common assault where the victim sustained no injuries would be treated the same as a serious assault in which a victim required surgery and refused a licence for at least 10 years.

Department for Transport has published a summary of responses to the consultation and acknowledged that

The proportionality of some of the baseline exclusion periods was questioned by some respondents, as was the range of offences that would fall under a particular heading.

However, they went on to say that:

The final version provides additional clarity and reinforces that the decision as to whether a person who has convictions should be licensed is and will remain dependent on the individual circumstance of each case.

Licensing authorities are not bound by the guidance but it would be a brave authority that would strike out on its own. Indeed, the president of the Institute of Licensing, James Button, is keen for the guidance to become law. In a comment to the Daily Mirror, he said:

In most authorities, when someone has previous convictions which fall outside that council’s policy, the decision is made by councillors. They can be swayed by sob stories. It has always surprised me why there is acceptance of a level of criminality among a significant minority of the taxi trade.

We can’t be sure what Mr Button would consider ‘a sob story’ but the proposed exclusions would mean a woman with childhood convictions for soliciting, as a result of child sexual exploitation would be treated the same as a man with a recent conviction for rape, and prevented from ever obtaining a licence. That same woman, if she had convictions for possession of a weapon or affray, would be refused a licence for a minimum of 7 to 10 years after the conviction, regardless of the circumstances. One such woman, Sammy Woodhouse, bravely waived her right to anonymity and spoke out on behalf of others still having to disclose criminal records acquired as a result of their abuse. Ironically, the guidance also recommends that drivers are trained in safeguarding and spotting signs of criminal or sexual exploitation.

In principle, a national framework can help with consistency – and let applicants know what to expect. We support clear guidelines to assist licensing authorities. This guidance, if taken up by local authorities, means law abiding people with convictions are likely to be unnecessarily excluded from the trade for years, or indefinitely. That has a ripple effect, reinforcing the idea that everyone with a conviction is a danger to the public. Thankfully this is not true – there 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record – about 1 in 6 of the population. Most want to move on positively with their lives, and they deserve a fair chance to do that.

Written by Rachel Tynan, Policy and practice lead at Unlock

New report highlights potentially hundreds of unlawful criminal record checks by employers each year

Unlock, a national advocacy charity for people with criminal records, has today published Checked out?a report on so-called ‘ineligible’ criminal record checks, submitted by employers and processed by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows some criminal records to become spent after a crime-free period. This means they are no longer disclosable – for example to employers – enabling people to move on and positively and contribute to society. For jobs working with children and vulnerable adults, spent criminal records must still be disclosed.

In 2019/20, the DBS carried out more than 4 million checks at the higher levels of enhanced or standard. Unlike basic checks, these disclose cautions and spent convictions and are legally permitted only for specified jobs and professions such as teaching, social work, accountancy or law. Carrying out a check at a higher level than permitted can be a criminal offence and a breach of data protection laws – exposing employers to financial and reputational risk. It unnecessarily prevents people with spent criminal records from gaining employment.

Despite the introduction of basic checks in 2018, Unlock’s helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls about ineligible checks. The report highlights the significant impact ineligible checks have on the lives of law-abiding people with criminal records – it estimates that over 2,000 people a year have to deal with the consequences of a caution or conviction unlawfully disclosed to an employer.

Responsibility for ensuring eligibility rests with the employer and the DBS trusts employers to request the right checks. The law is complicated, employers are rarely trained, and many show a blatant disregard for selecting the appropriate level of check. There is almost no chance of accountability and law-abiding people with criminal records are needlessly kept out of the workplace.

The report makes recommendations for government, the DBS and employers to prevent ineligible checks. These include amendments to the Police Act so employers and the DBS share liability for ineligible checks, legal protection for spent convictions and an urgent review of DBS processes for preventing ineligible checks.

Commenting on the report, Rachel Tynan, Unlock’s policy and practice lead and co-author of the report, said:

“Law abiding people with criminal records are struggling to find work as some employers are breaking the law to find out whether potential employees have ever broken the law. Ineligible checks are usually only carried out after offer, meaning the candidate has been chosen as the best person for the job, only to be rejected for an old or minor criminal record they are entitled to withhold.

“That’s bad news for them, their families and the economy – it’s got to change. This report sets out a number of recommendations to government, the DBS and employers that would turn the tide, prevent ineligible checks and improve compliance.”

For more information about the report, please contact Rachel Tynan. Email


  1. Unlock is an independent national advocacy charity for people who are facing obstacles, stigma and discrimination because of their criminal record
  2. There are over 11 million people in the UK that have a criminal record.
  3. Unlock’s main website is
  4. Download the report here: Checked out?
  5. The report has been published as part of Unlock’s fair access to employment project.


  • In 2019/20, the DBS carried out 5.9 million criminal record checks – 3.86 million enhanced and 326,000 standard checks, along with more than 1.7 million basic checks. Basic checks are available to any employer (provided they set out their lawful basis for checking). Standard and enhanced checks are only available for professions or roles exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  • A basic criminal record check reveals convictions and cautions that are unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. A conviction or caution is unspent for a period of time, determined by the sentence. Once a conviction or caution is spent, it no longer appears on a basic check. However, higher levels of checks (standard and enhanced checks) continue to disclose spent convictions and spent cautions. Only when a conviction or caution meets an additional set of strict technical rules can a conviction or caution be removed from a higher level of check, in line with the ‘filtering rules’.
  • The term ‘ineligible check’ refers to checks carried out at a higher level than permitted in law. This could mean an enhanced check where only standard is permitted, but the more common problem is requesting a standard or enhanced check where only a basic is permitted.

Case studies


Darren’s minor convictions were from 30 years ago and long spent but, as there was more than one conviction, they were not eligible to be removed (or ‘filtered’) from his enhanced check. He contacted us for advice when a job offer from his local council was withdrawn following what he believed to be an ineligible enhanced DBS check.

During our correspondence with the council it became clear that there was a misunderstanding of the type of work that would be eligible for an enhanced check. They said:

“Although the DBS is saying we only need a basic check, there may be opportunities that the team may have contact with children or vulnerable adults in their work and the fact that the majority of the team currently have enhanced DBS checks, then it may be a good idea to stay at this level. For example, a car parking officer may have to approach a car where a young child has been left alone”.

We went back to the council to confirm that approaching a car which has young children in wouldn’t make this type of role eligible for an enhanced check and explained the purpose of these checks. The council reviewed the role and agreed that a basic check was more appropriate but by the time the review was complete, Darren had taken another job.

Darren said: “Had the correct level of check been done in the first place, I would have been able to start the job. It took so long for them to acknowledge their mistake and I couldn’t keep waiting without a job. It’s disappointing that a big organisation like the council didn’t understand what type of checks they could do.”


Dennis was a driver for an out of hours doctor’s service, driving doctors to appointments and waiting whilst they attended to a patient. Rarely, he chaperoned whilst the doctor carried out a procedure on the patient – this had only happened twice in the previous year.

After several months in the job, the employer decided to carry out an enhanced DBS check for his job. Dennis did not believe the job was eligible but felt he had no choice but to agree. Before the check was submitted, Dennis disclosed details of his criminal record and was suspended by his employer.

On reading the job description, we agreed that his job would not appear be eligible for an enhanced DBS check. To be eligible, he would need to be performing chaperone duties once a week or more, or at least four days in a 30 day period. In any event, Dennis was always accompanied by a medical professional who had been DBS checked and had overall responsibility for the patient. We provided Dennis with information and advice on challenging the check and offered to speak with his employer.

The employer carried out an investigation into Dennis’s concerns and confirmed that the job was not eligible for an enhanced check and they would update their policy to reflect this.

Dennis said: “I knew the job didn’t require an enhanced check and I’m pleased that [his employer] recognised that. I wanted to share my story so other people might feel they can challenge bad practice at work too.”


Danny contacted us for advice when his employer, a company selling disability aids, requested an enhanced DBS check for his role as a driver/technician, stating that he would be required to instruct and train ‘vulnerable’ adults in the use of the equipment he was delivering. Danny hadn’t received training in using equipment and, in the few weeks he had been working there, had only delivered pillows, walking sticks and wheelchairs. He felt the job would probably only require a basic DBS check and wanted to know how he could challenge the company. He had a spent conviction which he had not disclosed when applying for the job, as he was led to believe that it was a delivery driver job which would not be eligible for an enhanced check.

Danny had no choice but to agree to the enhanced check and then raise it with the DBS. He told them other drivers doing the same job were also undergoing enhanced checks. The DBS confirmed that they had put his application on hold whilst they investigated the eligibility of the check but could not do the same for the other drivers.

The DBS told Danny that his employer had given his job title as an Outreach Support Worker. This did not match his job description, qualifications or experience. He was told that the DBS did not question job titles with requesters and, on the job description provided, the role was eligible for an enhanced check. Danny decided that the only option open to him would be to arrange to speak to his employer about his conviction – who immediately terminated his contract.

Danny said: “I wouldn’t have applied for a job as a support worker – I’ve got no experience or interest in that type of work. As far as I was concerned, it was a driving job, dropping things off at the front door. None of the other drivers trained anyone either.

The DBS would not investigate why Danny’s employers provided a different job description to the one being performed. Had they investigated the other drivers’ roles and found all of them raising the same objections, they might have reached a different decision.

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