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Category: Campaigns

Reforming the criminal records disclosure regime – Have you a sentence of over 4 years in prison?

We’ve published an updated briefing on reforming the criminal records disclosure regime and we want to hear from you if you have a conviction that can never become spent.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) means that most convictions can become spent after a period of years. Changes implemented in 2014 (through focused mainly on reducing rehabilitation periods. However, the current law means more than 8000 people every year receive sentences that mean they can never be legally rehabilitated and will have to declare them for the rest of their life – on job applications, for housing or insurance.

A never spent conviction is a lifelong barrier to moving on. We think this should change and that’s we we’re campaigning for ROA reform. As part of our campaign, we use case studies to show why reform is necessary to help law abiding people with convictions move on.

What we need from you

If you have a conviction that can never become spent (i.e. a prison sentence of over 4 years), please contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: ROA reform’. Please include:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Contact details (email and/or telephone) and how you’d like us to contact you
  • The details of all your cautions/convictions including dates and a DBS certificate if you have one
  • The difficulties you’ve faced, recently or in the past, as a result of your criminal record not becoming spent
  • If you would be willing to contribute to any media coverage on this issue in future (this is for our reference, we won’t share your details without consent)

Any information you provide will be kept in line with our confidentiality policy. Any personal information provided to us will not be shared externally without your consent.

Find out more about how we handle your data

Find out more about our work on ROA reform.

Government responds to Supreme Court ruling with plans to change criminal records disclosure regime

Responding to government plans to change the criminal records disclosure regime to address the Supreme Court judgment in the case of P and Others v SSHD & SSJ (the ruling on the filtering system and the disclosure of criminal records), Christopher Stacey said:

“We welcome the government’s intention to fully comply with the Supreme Court ruling on filteringUnlock 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. The changes announced today are a crucial first step towards achieving a fair system that takes a more balanced approach towards disclosing criminal records.


“However, ware 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. Reviews by the Law Commission, Justice Select Committee, Charlie Taylor and David Lammy MP have all stressed the need to look at the wider disclosure systemThe 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.”



On 30 January 2019, the Supreme Court directed the Government to fix the broken Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) system. Four claimants had challenged the blunt and punitive rules, that require them to disclose multiple offences, no matter how historic or minor, and to disclose cautions received in childhood. Every year about 25,000 youth cautions are disclosed in criminal record checks, around 75% of those cautions were for incidents that happened over 5 years ago.

The Court, agreeing with two lower courts whose judgments the Government had challenged, said the Government needed to fix the rules to allow people to move on from past mistakes.

Planned changes 

This change affects spent convictions that may continue to be disclosed on standard and enhanced checks. It does not affect unspent convictions which will continue to be disclosed.  

A Statutory Instrument is a way of amending existing law. It means changes can be made in a shorter timeframe than passing new primary legislation. The planned changes to the filtering rules are set out in Statutory Instruments relating to the Police Act 1997 and Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975

The Statutory Instrument’s remove the automatic disclosure of: 

  • youth cautions, reprimands and warnings (an out of court disposal issued to young offenders that were replaced by youth cautions in 2013); and 
  • all spent convictions where the individual has more than one conviction (except where disclosed under the other rules) 

What will not change 

Convictions resulting in a custodial or suspended sentence will still be disclosed.

Convictions or adult cautions for an offence that can ‘never be filtered will still be disclosed. 

The time that must pass before filtering applies remains the same – 11 years for a conviction (5.5 years for convictions under the age of 18) and 6 years for adult cautions (youth cautions will no longer be disclosed). 

In addition, enhanced criminal records certificates may also include any information which a chief officer of police reasonably believes to be relevant and in the chief officer’s opinion ought to be included in the certificate.

What does this mean for you? 

It’s important to note that these changes are not yet law.

You will no longer have to disclose reprimands, final warnings or cautions received under the age of 18 on application forms for regulated jobs or university courses. These will no longer be disclosed on a standard or enhanced DBS certificate. 

Multiple childhood convictions will be filtered after 5.5 years unless they are for a specified offence and did not result in a custodial or suspended sentence. 

Multiple convictions acquired after the age of 18 will be filtered after 11 years, unless they are for a specified offence or resulted in a custodial or suspended sentence. Adult cautions have not changed. 

Find out more about the impact of these planned changes.

Useful links

  1. The government announcement can be found here.
  2. The letter to Unlock from Victoria Atkins explaining the changes
  3. Unlock’s response to the judgment on 30th January 2019, including case studies and a background to the case, is available here.
  4. More information about our policy work on the DBS filtering system is available here
  5. #FairChecks movement – calling for a fresh start for the criminal records system


  • Press & media
  • Unlock is an independent national charity that provides a voice and support for people who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.

Unlock cautiously welcomes incentives for employers who take on young adults

Unlock welcomes the Chancellor’s summer statement, in particular, incentivising employers to create training placements and apprenticeships for young adults. This age group has been significantly affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – by mid-June, around a third of 18-24 year olds had been furloughed or made redundant.

The ‘Kickstart’ scheme means 16-24 year olds will be able to apply for Government grants to subsidise six-month work placements. In addition, firms taking on new apprentices aged 16 to 24 will receive £2,000, and those hiring new apprentices aged 25 and over will be paid £1,500.

Unlock’s co-director Christopher Stacey said:

These incentives have the potential to set young people on the path to employment. However, government backed schemes must offer opportunities to the most vulnerable young people – care leavers, people of minoritised ethnicity and those in areas hardest hit by the economic downturn. We know from evidence and experience that these young people are more likely to be criminalised and that a criminal record acquired in adolescence can be a life sentence.


With that in mind, we hope the scheme will ensure that a criminal record is not a barrier and that employers who benefit from Government subsidy have in place fair recruitment practices.


Too often, a criminal record is a barrier to moving on. As we move towards a ‘new normal’ let’s give all young people the chance to make a contribution.

Read about our priorities for government, which includes incentivising employers to recruit people with convictions.


MP puts #FairChecks on Boris Johnson’s radar

Boris Johnson was called out this week for “dithering” in sorting out our “damaging and discriminatory” criminal records system.

At Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, John Spellar MP, who represents Warley constituency, called for Boris Johnson to “sort out this scandal now”.

The Prime Minister conceded there are issues with the system that need looking at urgently, adding “I think that every MP will have had representations from people who feel they’ve been unfairly treated by it.” Watch the clip here.

It’s thanks to those of you that have written to your MP through the #FairChecks site that MPs like John Spellar feel compelled to bring it to the government’s attention. Your support is making all the difference!

The bigger the movement the bigger the change. Help us grow in numbers by signing up if you’ve not already done so, and encouraging your friends, family and networks to write to their own MP about #FairChecks.

What’s your experience of ban the box?

As part of our fair access to employment project, we are gathering evidence of employers’ approaches to people with criminal records. We work with employers to develop fair policies and practices and highlight good practice. Ban the box is a key part of helping people with convictions get back into the workplace, and we have called on government to place it on a statutory footing. We know this is only part of the answer though – employers need to have embedded fair recruitment practices to make ban the box effective.

We’re gathering evidence on how ban the box works in practice.



  • Did it encourage you to apply for a job you might not have otherwise?
  • Did you feel you were treated fairly?
  • Or maybe the employer claimed to support ban the box but had a blanket ban on unspent convictions?
  • Maybe it made no difference at all.

Whatever your experience, we want to hear about it.

What we need from you

If you have experience of applying to a ‘ban the box’ employer, contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: ban the box’. Please include:

  • Your name
  • Contact details (email and telephone) and how you’d like us to contact you
  • Details of your experience (please include the name of the employer and of any staff you spoke to, include emails/screenshots etc if possible)
  • What you think should change
  • Whether you would be willing to take part in media coverage on this issue (this is for our reference, we won’t share your details with others).

Any information you provide will be kept in line with our confidentiality policy. Any personal information provided to us will not be shared externally without your consent.

Find out more about how we handle your data.

May 2020 update on research understanding the influence of an early life criminal record on adult life courses

Nicola Collett, a PhD student at Keele University, is currently researching the potential influence of a criminal record acquired between the ages of 10-25, later on in adulthood. Following on from her last update in September 2019, Nicola writes here about how her research is progressing.

I am delighted to be sharing another update on my PhD research exploring the potential influence of an early life criminal record later on in adulthood.

Since my last update in 2019 I have been incredibly busy thinking about the information shared with me in the interviews and drawing together the key ideas and arguments I wish to make in my thesis. I have been busy writing draft chapters and getting essential feedback from supervisors – a very long and reflective process. I would like to again thank those who took part for sharing so many personal experiences and thoughts with me. I look forward to sharing some more detailed thesis ideas with you at a later date.

Nicola presenting at the conference in Ghent

In September 2019 I presented some preliminary findings and reflections at the European Society of Criminology conference in Ghent. I highlighted four themes emerging from my work that highlight the complexities of living with a criminal record from youth – anchoring, everlasting, uncertainty and resilience. You can read more about these by downloading these slides.  

At the event I also drew on the interviews I had conducted, emphasising the diverse range of experiences shared with me. I shared some powerful quotes* taken from my transcripts  and explained to the audience that each person I spoke to shared something unique and personal to them. No two individuals experienced the same challenges in the same way. People were surprised to hear that in England and Wales a historical youth record can be disclosed later in adulthood in such a wide range of instances. They were keen to ask further questions about the experiences of those I had spoken to and it was a real privilege to be able to share this with them.

A third important update to share is that I successfully encouraged Keele University to sign up to the Fair Chance for Students with Convictions pledge designed to improve access and participation to UK universities. Given the research I am conducting I felt it was important to ensure my institution was engaging with this and challenging their admissions policy. Keele is now one of 16 universities which have signed up to this pledge.

What’s next?

Despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus I have been fortunate enough to continue working from home, albeit at a slower pace. I am pressing on with my writing whilst continually reflecting upon the work I have produced so far having video calls with supervisors where possible. As circumstances continue to change it is unclear when this project will be finished but I will continue to provide updates along the way. 

I hope everyone is keeping safe and well in these challenging times.

Written by Nicola Collett

* Direct quotes have only been used where permission has been granted via a signed consent form. Where participants did not want direct quotes used, paraphrasing has been used instead.



Unlock speaks to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about the launch of it’s #Fairchecks campaign

Together with the charity Transform Justice, Unlock has launched the #FairChecks movement to help push for a fresh start for the criminal records system.

In this programme, Woman’s Hour’s Jenni Murray, talks to two women who have experienced problems with having to disclose their criminal records and to Unlock’s Policy & Practice Lead, Rachel Tynan. Rachel explains the need for the #Fairchecks movement and how people can support the campaign.


Following the launch, Unlock’s Co-director, Christopher Stacey spoke to BBC Radio Kent about the #Fairchecks movement and the issues people face when having to declare their convictions.


Blog – Join the #FairChecks movement to help get a fresh start for the criminal records system

In the 1960s, when Richard was 16, he was found in possession of a small amount of cannabis. He was prosecuted for possession and given a one-year conditional discharge. As a student a few years later, Richard got into trouble again and was convicted of taking an item of food from a warehouse where he worked stacking shelves. He was given a one-year conditional discharge and put the mistake behind him.

After fifty years of good behaviour, a productive career and many positions of responsibility, Richard believed his record was clear. He was approaching seventy when his son wanted to join a choir and as a dad, Richard needed an enhanced DBS check. He suddenly discovered that the police were still listing his youthful mistakes as criminal convictions. Richard feels he is being punished for things that happened decades ago.

When you look at this record, it looks dreadful. But I was never really the drug taking thief that it suggests – I was a young person who made a couple of silly mistakes. But it’s harder than you would ever believe to correct the impression this record creates, even though no-one apart from me knows or should care about what happened over forty years ago.”

Because of this “new” old record, Richard had to go through the shame and embarrassment of disclosing a criminal record that was older than some of the panel considering his case. He feels unable to apply for third sector work he would like to do. He believes he is being prevented from contributing to society in a way the justice system never intended.

“I thought that conditional discharges were invented to help people get back on track – but since the invention of the CRB/DBS, people like me are shackled with old records they cannot get deleted. This creates a problem that never goes away. We have lost faith in the capacity of people to learn from their mistakes and to change for the better.”

Around one in six people in England & Wales have a criminal record. Whether it resulted in a prison sentence or a fine, a criminal record can be disclosed on a standard or enhanced criminal record check for the rest of their life. Even a minor criminal history produces lifelong barriers that can block reintegration and participation in society. The vast majority of people won’t have been to prison, and many don’t even realise they still have a criminal record until they apply for a new job or volunteer role that involves a standard or enhanced criminal record check.

People like Richard must declare their convictions if they want to be a traffic warden or taxi driver aged 50.  A person can change quickly, particularly when they are young, but their criminal record remains.

Our current criminal records disclosure regime prevents people from achieving their full potential. It can be particularly crippling for employment, with 75% of employers discriminating against applicants because of a criminal record, and 50% of employers saying they would not recruit offenders or ex-offenders. The stigma attached means that if a conviction or caution is revealed, people often don’t get the chance to explain how they have turned their life around.

An increasing number of employers require DBS checks, and we know that many convictions and cautions that are revealed on these checks can be from many years, sometimes decades, ago. For example, research published by Unlock in 2018 showed that in the previous 5 years, over 1 million criminal records that related to offences from more than 30 years ago (when the person involved was between the ages of 10-25) were disclosed on standard or enhanced criminal record checks.

This happens without any good evidence that shows disclosing criminal records makes society safer. What the evidence does show is that time-passed is a key indicator – research from the US academic Karl Hanson shows that after 10 years offence-free (5 years for children), the risk presented by most individuals with a criminal record is not meaningfully different from that of the general population This begs the question why so many convictions from so many years ago keep on being disclosed on DBS checks.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in an important case that Unlock intervened in. The case focused on the rules that determine what gets disclosed on standard and enhanced DBS checks. The Supreme Court ruled that two aspects of the rules are disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government has yet to properly respond to this ruling.

The inclusion of old and minor offences on DBS checks carried out for employment and volunteering opportunities remains the single biggest issue that people contact Unlock about. This ultimately comes down to the rules (known as ‘filtering’ rules) that determine what gets revealed and what comes off a standard or enhanced check. Working to change the rules has been one of our priority areas for a number of years.

That’s why, together with Transform Justice, Unlock has set up the #FairChecks movement. The #FairChecks movement has been launched to advocate for reform of our outdated criminal records regime. We would like the government to reduce the length of time a record is revealed and remove out of date information from DBS checks. And we are asking MPs to get the government to work out how to do this by launching a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. If you are interested in reforming the criminal records system so that everybody can fulfil their potential, visit where you can join the movement and write to your local MP.

Launch of #FairChecks – A fresh start for the criminal records system

Together with the charity Transform Justice, Unlock has launched the #FairChecks movement to help push for a fresh start for the criminal records system.

Our outdated criminal records regime is holding hundreds of thousands of people back from participating fully in society. Even a minor criminal history can produce lifelong barriers to employment, volunteering, housing and even travelling abroad, many years after people have moved on from their past. The system needs to change.

The #FairChecks movement is calling for the government to launch a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records to reduce the length of time a record is revealed.

Commenting on the site, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“People who have made mistakes in the past find themselves locked out of jobs and opportunities, unable to fully contribute to society or to achieve their potential because of a criminal record that is effectively a life sentence. Helping people to secure employment, support their families and contribute to the economy is one of the best ways of making communities safer. Yet the law as it stands means people are forced to reveal criminal records to employers and others for many years – sometimes for the rest of their lives.

“Unlock is delighted to be partnering with Transform Justice to launch the #FairChecks movement to help push for a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. 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. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for people to show their MP that they support reform of the criminal record disclosure system.”

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, said:

“People want to move on from their past but our criminal records disclosure system is a barrier. Transform Justice is pleased to be partnering with Unlock to launch a movement for reform of the system. We know that everybody who has been in trouble with the law should have the opportunity of a fresh start”

How can you help?

Use the #FairChecks site to get the support of your local MP.
Because it is the government that has to make changes to the law, we need the support of MPs. You can help by getting the support of your local MP. The first step is to use the #FairChecks website to send them a letter letting them know that a fair criminal records system is important to you.

Share the #FairChecks site on social media.
Please tweet a link to the site using the hashtag #FairChecks, share it on Facebook and LinkedIn and highlight it with your networks, directing people to the website

Support it as an organisation.
Alongside encouraging individuals to use #FairChecks to write to their MP, we are keen for organisations to be part of this too. We want to encourage organisations to show their public support for #FairChecks through Twitter, other social media and blogs, and please do get in touch with us if your organisation is interested in showing its support in other ways.


For more information about #FairChecks, visit

Blog – Government publishes summary of responses to call for evidence on the employment of people with convictions

Last week, more than a year since the consultation closed, the Cabinet Office published a summary of responses to their Call for Evidence (CfE) on employing people with convictions. But what does this summary of responses mean for the future? This blog looks at some of the promising signs, some areas for improvement, and questions the lack of any recommendations from government.

The report draws together responses from 76 organisations – a small sample for a national consultation, but that in itself tells us how much work there is to do. The report indicates that the public sector could do more to increase employment of people with convictions but highlights some pockets of good practice in the voluntary sector.

Firstly, the evidence is promising

The responses are promising – 76 organisations from the voluntary (46%), private (32%), and public (14%) sectors responded to the Call for Evidence. Overall, 73% of the organisations that responded said they hire people with a criminal conviction, either directly or through intermediary companies, suppliers or contractors. Over half (56%) of them ask about convictions in a later stage of the recruitment process (i.e. during interview, at the offer stage, etc.) – with 33% asking at the job offer stage. Public sector respondents were particularly poor at this – 71% ask at the initial stage. The chart below shows that the voluntary sector tends to ask the question about convictions at a later stage compared to the private and public sectors – although there is clearly much more work to do with all sectors.

Of those that ask about convictions, when in the recruitment process do they ask?

In summarising the response, the report states: “The Call for Evidence has provided very useful insights for the Civil Service and organisations in general on how to engage in activities that support people with a conviction in finding employment. Furthermore, the Call for Evidence has helped to identify barriers and challenges, both within and outside organisations, when employing people with convictions, and highlights the need for a communication strategy on the benefits of this practice.”

The key messages from the analysis are at the end of this blog, and the report concludes by saying the results highlight how having specific recruitment practices and employability initiatives that reduce the barriers to employment for people with criminal records could have positive impact on the individuals involved, the organisations they are part of, and wider society as a whole in the long term.”

However, 76 responses is a very low number of employers and the proportion of private and public sectors is much lower than it should be. Most respondents were already actively engaged in recruiting from this population. It feels like this call for evidence was a missed opportunity to engage with a much wider range of employers across all sectors. How might the lessons from this call for evidence be used to engage with employers in the future?

There are positives in the analysis

  • Languageour response to the call for evidence explained why we use person-first language – people with convictions, not ex-offenders. We’re not taking credit for this, but the response refers to people with convictions, using the term ex-offenders only when referring to the questions asked and the initial title of the call for evidence. This alone is a really big step forward, and we hope it reflects an active decision by the Cabinet Office to use person-first language – and that it will be adopted by colleagues across Whitehall.
  • Highlights the variety of excellent work being done – predominantly by the third sector – in supporting people with convictions into, and during, employment.
  • Underlines the value to employers of recruiting people with convictions. In our experience, hearing from employers who already do this cuts through and shows other employers what can be achieved. For example, one respondent said “These staff tend to work extremely well, are productive and eager to learn. They are committed, have a good understanding and knowledge of themselves making for a supportive team member”

There are some areas for improvement

  • The majority of respondents ask at application stage. Even if the employer takes a proactive approach to people with convictions, there’s rarely a need to ask all applicants at this stage and the Cabinet Office should take this as an action to look at wider promotion of Ban the Box, including considering placing it on a statutory footing
  • The issue of enhanced checks and security vetting. This paragraph in the analysis raises some concerns –In relation to the security clearance level needed for the role, out of the 76 organisations, only 64% responded. Of these, the large majority need to conduct a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, or an enhanced DBS. A few others indicated they required a full security clearance, vetting checks, or Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.” Respondents might have used DBS check/enhanced DBS check interchangeably but it’s worth thinking about the implications of this. It could be a function of the large number of voluntary organisations who proactively recruit from this population – lived experience/peer roles etc. It’s interesting that a significant majority of employers require enhanced checks, security clearance and vetting – if employers in sensitive fields can recruit people with convictions, surely mainstream employers can do more too? It’s a shame this wasn’t analysed further. It could also be a misunderstanding of the ‘need’ to conduct a basic check. And I’d be interested to see how many say they need ‘CRB checks’ – it makes you wonder how out of date their processes are (the CRB was replaced by the DBS over 6 years ago!)

No clear recommendations from government

Although publishing a summary of responses and carrying out some analysis of them is helpful, a “summary of responses” is very different to a “government response”. There are no concrete recommendations or actions that the government is taking in response to this consultation – and it’s unclear why not. In the “conclusions and next steps” section, the report states “The value of this Call for Evidence does not merely derive from the immediate actions taken as a result of it, but from inspiring further Civil Service and Government reforms in this field. The Civil Service looks forward to working with its stakeholders to be more inclusive, and promoting a culture that supports people with convictions on their path to employment.”

Yet the report makes no mention of these “immediate actions”. And what are the “further Civil Service and Government reforms”? Given the time it’s taken the publish this summary, and the lack of any further clear commitments, one wonders whether this reflects a deprioritisation of this work for the Cabinet Office?

There has been some progress since we made our own submission back in August last year, and below as an addition to this blog we’ve set out how things have progressed against the areas that we called for government action on. Given the importance of this work, the Cabinet Office had a real opportunity to set the scene by producing a detailed response to this call for evidence and making a number of commitments. Given what ended up being published, we’ll be raising this with both the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice, who jointly published the initial consultation, to understand what their future plans are.

Promising signs from the civil service pilot

One thing that the summary of responses does highlight is the progress that has been made on the Civil Service pilot scheme, ‘Going Forward into Employment’ (GFiE), where people in prison and near to release have been matched to fixed-term office-based and field-based jobs in participating government departments, via a two-year recruitment exception route. We know that there has been an evaluation done of this pilot, and it seems that this Call for Evidence was initiated (at least in part) to support that project. It’s positive that the pilot is now continuing as a mainstream programme which looks at a range of other groups as well, including veterans, and I hope that the programme will be able to offer more opportunities to those people with convictions who are serving sentences in the community, as well as those near to release from prison who were the focus of the initial pilot. We hope that the evaluation of the pilot is published so that there is a better understanding of how it works and what lessons have been learnt.

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director at Unlock

Progress since we made our submission

Written by Rachel Tynan, Policy and practice lead at Unlock

Unlock’s submission to the consultation last year emphasised the need for fair recruitment practices, the range of issues to consider when developing employability initiatives, and evidence on what works and what needs to change so that law abiding people with convictions can secure employment. We called on the government to: 

  1. Develop a cross-government strategy on employment of people with convictions 
  2. Pilot financial incentives for employers who pro-actively recruit people with convictions 
  3. Put Ban the Box on a legislative footing 
  4. Fix the broken DBS filtering system 
  5. Develop a legal framework to ensure individuals’ right to be forgotten where convictions are spent  
  6. Support the Private Members’ Bill on amending the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974  

Looking at the areas we called on the government to look at, below we’ve set out how things have progressed since:

Cross government strategy

Since the CfE the government has launched the New Futures Network and a new ROTL framework. The Ministry of Justice and Department for Work and Pensions have launched a three year programme, working in partnership. By committing resources to the recruitment of people with convictions the government has signalled its intent – but as the report shows, there is a lot of work to do.

Ban the Box

Our submission stressed how putting Ban the Box on a legislative footing – or even finding ways to incentivise business to sign up –  would signal government’s commitment to ensuring people with convictions have a fair chance of employment. Disappointingly, only around 30% of organisations responding to the CfE knew about Ban the Box suggesting much more needs to be to increase awareness and encourage take-up. There are 140 employers now signed up to Ban the Box but clearly a long way to go. Based on this evidence, we think the government should be more strident in its approach to employers.


Since the CfE the Supreme Court ruled that the current filtering rules are unlawful and must be changed in two key respects – the multiple conviction rule was found to be disproportionate, and reprimands and warnings (followed by youth cautions) should not be disclosed. We have written to the government calling on them to implement changes in line with the ruling, but also to commit to carrying out a fundamental review of the wider regime. The government is yet to formally respond to the Supreme Court ruling.

Reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Looking at the range of recruitment practices reported to the CfE, most employers still ask about criminal records at application stage – echoing Unlock’s research last year which found that three-quarters of national employers do just that.

We know that this is hugely off putting to people with criminal records –  over half of people with a criminal record say they would not apply for a job where they needed to disclose their criminal record. 75% of employers discriminate against an applicant with a conviction.

Not only is asking at application stage off-putting, it’s also unnecessary – and very likely a breach of the GDPR. In the absence of clear guidance or enforcement action from the Information Commissioner’s Office, employers are unlikely to change these practices, and again we call on government to take legislative steps to ensure Ban the Box becomes the norm.

This also highlights the discrimination people with convictions face. Most convictions will eventually become spent, but people can find themselves out of work, or only able to secure temporary or unskilled work in the meantime. The economic impact hits the individual, their family and wider society – can we afford that? That’s why we have and continue to call on government to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. In July the Ministry of Justice announced plans to reform the criminal records regime to improve employment prospects and we look forward to working with the new Secretary of State on this.

Key messages from the analysis

The summary of responses includes a set of “key messages from the analysis”. These were:

a. There are some indications (from the respondents to this Call for Evidence) that variations exist across the different sectors in relation to employing people with criminal records and at which stage of the recruitment this information is taken into account. Asking about criminal records should not constitute a barrier or a filtering criteria for offering employment;

b. Organisations that employ people with convictions across different roles – and responsibilities – reported having positive experiences, and affirmed that this part of the workforce constitutes an important asset thanks to their skills, commitment and experiences;

c. Attitudinal barriers across stakeholders, including customers, colleagues, and even people with criminal records themselves, are reported to be the main challenges to offering employment to someone with a conviction; consequentially cultural change is likely needed;

d. It is important to have activities that support and prepare people with convictions to be in the job market; examples are CV surgeries, mock interviews, mentoring schemes;

e. There is the need to produce and collect more robust evidence – in addition to case studies – that prove the positive impact of hiring people with convictions.

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