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Category: Employment

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.

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.

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.

Has an employer wrongly carried out a standard or enhanced DBS check?

As part of our fair access to employment project we’re gathering information on employers who have carried out standard or enhanced checks where only a basic is legally permitted.

For some jobs, employers are allowed to consider cautions and spent convictions (unless they have been filtered). Employers recruiting for these jobs are legally permitted to carry out a higher level DBS check – a standard or enhanced check. Both checks disclose cautions, spent and unspent convictions and enhanced checks may also include additional “soft intelligence” held in police records. It is a criminal offence for an employer to knowingly request a check at a higher level than the law permits.

Find out more about eligibility here.

What we need from you

Has an employer has carried out a standard or enhanced criminal record check for a role that wasn’t eligible?

Have they taken into account spent convictions or other information that they were not entitled to see (so called “soft intelligence” or “local police information”?

If so, please contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: ineligible DBS check’. Please include:

  • The name of the employer (or umbrella body if relevant) that did the check
  • The job title of the role you applied for, and a description of the responsibilities
  • A copy of the job advert (if available)
  • The full details of your criminal record
  • Details of any correspondence with the employer about the check – for example, did they tell you it was necessary for the role you were applying for and, if so, did they say anything else about why?
  • Details of what happened when the disclosure certificate was given to the employer
  • Whether 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. To help us provide you with the best advice, we may discuss your case, anonymously, with legal practitioners.

Find out more about how we handle your data.

Find out more about what we do with your experiences and evidence.

Blog – Looking to the future: incentivising employment of people with convictions

It’s fair to say 2020 has been a year of major change – and we’re only halfway through. Whether you’ve been adapting to home working, learning a new skill, or embracing your natural hair, we’re all dealing with change. That can be challenging but there’s a sense that this moment is a portal to the future.

Unlock’s helpline receives calls every day from people who want to change their future by applying for a new job, or a promotion. No matter what skills, qualifications or experience they have, they know that once they tick the box to say they have a conviction, there’s a good chance they’ll never hear from the employer again. Sometimes people get as far as the interview before being told ‘oh no, you can’t work here – we’ve got a policy about that’.

This week, Unlock have published a briefing calling on the government to use financial incentives to improve employment prospects for people with convictions.

There are more than 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record. Most have never been to prison and most will never commit another crime. Yet 75% of companies admit discriminating against applicants who declare a criminal record. In a 2016 survey, 32% of employers had concerns about this group’s skills and capability, 45% were concerned they would be unreliable and 40% were worried about the public image of their business.

These might seem reasonable concerns – but they’re just not accurate. Employers who pro-actively recruit people with convictions report positive experiences. Polling from 2019 shows that 81% of employers say hiring people with criminal records had a positive impact on their business, while 75% of consumers would buy from a business that hired people with convictions.

Exclusion from the job market has a significant effect not just on individuals and their families but also their communities. People from some ethnic backgrounds – particularly Black and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller – are over-represented in the justice system and face this additional barrier when looking for work.

Keeping people out of the work place because of a criminal record is unnecessary – and it’s expensive. People with convictions want to support themselves and their families, but unemployment has a scarring effect that can last a lifetime. Reoffending costs £18bn a year but targeted opportunities just for people leaving prison could reduce that by around 10%.

Financial incentives can be a powerful force for change. In Belgium, subsidies have improved employment prospects for disabled people, while a 2018 study in the US found that 80% of employers said a tax credit on a worker’s wages would encourage them to hire someone with a conviction.

None of us can predict what the future will bring but it’s going to need a collective effort. The more people in work, the quicker the economy can recover. Do we want to live in a country that excludes people because of their background, or one that sees what people have to offer and gives them a chance?

Download the briefing here.

Contact us for more information.




Unlock’s guest post for the Cabinet Office’s Life Chances blog

Going Forward into Employment is a government wide scheme providing employment opportunities in the civil service for people from a range of backgrounds. Prison leavers are one of the groups that can benefit from the scheme, and so far more than 30 people have taken up a civil service post after release. The Going Forward into Employment team have launched a blog series to share information on their work.

Unlock have contributed a guest post on the scheme’s work with prison leavers. Let us know what you think, or share your experiences of applying to the Civil Service by email  or social media.

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.

Report backs tax breaks to employers that recruit people with convictions

Commenting on a report published today by Onward, Unlocking a Better life, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“As things stand, although a prison sentence can end, the impact of a criminal conviction can be felt far beyond the conclusion of any sentence. People with convictions, and especially those leaving prison, face significant stigma and discrimination directly as a result of them having a criminal record and it frustrates access to employment long into the future. Many businesses are fearful of hiring people with a criminal record. 75% of companies admit to discriminating and not offering an applicant a job on the basis of them declaring a criminal record.”

“The government should recognise and champion those employers that are already employing people with convictions. Yet there are many more companies that need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices to take on people with criminal convictions, and they need to be given the support to do so. So we would like to see the government pilot the use of financial incentives for those employers who actively employ people leaving prison, those on probation and those with unspent convictions. That’s why we welcome Onward’s recommendation that government should deliver on the manifesto commitment to give employers a national insurance tax break to employers who recruit people with convictions.”

Download the report by Onward.

Bloomsbury Institute breaks new ground with ban the box for staff and students

Bloomsbury Institute becomes the first higher education provider to Ban the Box for all.

Bloomsbury Institute in London is the first higher education provider in the UK to adopt Ban the Box principles for staff as well as students, a move that could encourage other universities to follow suit.

The Ban the Box campaign is about giving law-abiding people with convictions a fair chance to compete for jobs. Applicants are not required to tick the box and disclose criminal convictions when they apply, so employers don’t miss out on talented applicants who might be put off, or be sifted out at the first stage because of misconceptions about what a criminal record really means.

Rachel Tynan, Policy and practice lead at Unlock, a founder member of the Ban the Box campaign said:

“Ban the Box can give people with convictions the confidence to apply. They know they’ve got more of a chance because they’ll be judged on their skills, strengths and experience, before their past.”

Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords in higher education, but what’s often overlooked is that many of the students universities are looking to recruit are disproportionately criminalised. Care leavers, forced migrants, first in family and students from some ethnic backgrounds are identified as under-represented at university – yet these are groups that are over-represented in the criminal justice system.

Whilst there has been progress on student recruitment, with many universities no longer asking applicants about criminal records unless there is a legal need to do so – for example, for teaching or healthcare courses – the sector has not yet done the same for staff. Until now. Rachel Tynan continued:

“Think about it, a graduate with a previous conviction wants to go on to teach where they studied – yet they’re faced with having to tick a box about their conviction and the possibility of rejection. That’s the reality of most universities’ recruitment at the moment. Banning the box is the first step to an open, fair and inclusive recruitment policy, ensures that universities are recruiting from the widest pool of talent, regardless of background.”

The issue of reducing reoffending and supporting those with convictions is clearly on the public and political agenda, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledging the need to act on the Supreme Court’s ruling that parts of the disclosure regime are unlawful. The court described the disclosure of warnings and reprimands given to under 18s for minor offence as ‘an error in principle’. These punishments were devised so that young people who committed minor crimes were not disadvantaged by a criminal record for the rest of their life.

By extending their Ban the Box commitment to both staff and students, Bloomsbury Institute has taken a timely and important step in encouraging other institutions to open their doors to anyone with the determination to fulfil their potential.

At a ceremony celebrating Bloomsbury Institute’s new approach, Academic Principal and Managing Director John Fairhurst said:

“I’m delighted that Bloomsbury Institute has Banned the Box not only for students, but for employees as well. If our stated purpose – and the purpose of education – is to unlock potential, who are we to deny anyone the opportunity to rebuild their life because of a previous criminal conviction?”

Lord Neuberger, former President of the UK Supreme Court said:

I am proud to have been invited to Bloomsbury Institute’s Ban the Box signing ceremony. Educating, training, and, where appropriate, rehabilitating people of all ages is of inestimable value not only to the people concerned, but also to society. And that includes giving any former offender the opportunity to gain access to higher education.


Sarah Bailey, Deputy Director, Student Engagement, Wellbeing and Success at Bloomsbury Institute comments:

“We know there are numerous barriers that prevent thousands of talented, ambitious students from enjoying the opportunities of higher education. And we know that with the right support, people who may have been written off in the past can succeed and go onto achieve great things.”

We’ve published a guest blog from Senior Lecturer in Law, Joe Stevens, explaining more.



Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who face stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.  There are over 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record.

Unlock is a founder member of the Ban the Box campaign in the UK and we continue to promote it as part of our Fair Access to Employment project. We support employers to put the principles of the campaign into practice, using our knowledge and experience of working with both individuals who have convictions as well as employers who are actively looking to improve their recruitment policies and practices. In the last five years over 120 employers have signed up.

Unlock also campaigns for reform of the criminal records disclosure regime. In 2014 changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 came into force which reduced the time it takes for most convictions to become ‘spent’ and so longer need to be disclosed when applying for most jobs and education courses. However, we think more fundamental reform is needed – for example, sentences of more than four years in prison can never become spent.

In 2018 Unlock intervened in a case at the Supreme Court which involved the disclosure rules that apply to standard and enhanced criminal record checks. The Government appealed against earlier rulings in the High Court and Court of Appeal that found the rules to be incompatible with the law. The Supreme Court ruling in January 2019 found against the government and identified two areas in particular that must be amended. Currently anyone with more than one conviction automatically has all their convictions revealed on standard or enhanced checks, no matter how minor or how much time has passed.

The Supreme Court found this rule did not achieve its intended purpose of indicating propensity as it applies irrespective of the nature, similarity, number or time intervals of offences.

The Court also found that disclosure of warnings and reprimands, given to under 18s for minor offences, was in conflict with their aim of rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Media contact: Ruth Davies / 07458 393 194

Bloomsbury Institute

We are a higher education institute specialising in business, law and accountancy. Established in 2002 as the London School of Business and Management, we now have 2,000 students on our foundation and full-time degree courses. We changed our name to Bloomsbury Institute in 2018 to better reflect our connection with London’s academic and cultural heartland and to signal our plans to award our own degrees in the coming years.

As an Associate College of the University of Northampton (UoN), our degrees are internationally-recognised and awarded by UoN after being designed and taught by Bloomsbury Institute lecturers.

If a student is struggling to adapt to life as an independent learner, we have the commitment, expertise and networks to offer the support they need through our sector-leading Centre for Student Engagement, Wellbeing and Success. That means tailored support covering everything from academic skills through to employability, disability and help with visa applications.

As a pioneering and progressive organisation that celebrates difference, our commitment to diversity and inclusion applies equally to colleagues and students. An individual’s potential, not their past, is what secures a place here. That’s why we’re recognised for our strong commitment to widening participation which, for us, means fair access for everyone and helping students overcome any barriers that may be holding them back.

Media Contact: Lydia Hesketh / 07730 041890

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