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Category: Employment support

Decade-old criminal record disclosures? The need for reform

With the disclosure of old and irrelevant criminal records in the spotlight, Christopher Stacey looks at how the system is unfairly holding people back

Over four million jobs every year involve employers requesting an enhanced criminal record from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Although these were originally for roles that involve close contact with children and vulnerable groups, the types of positions that often involve them has now gone way beyond the core purpose. For example, Unlock is regularly contacted by people who have been told they need an enhanced check for a job, for example, as a delivery driver or a receptionist.

These checks alone would not be so much of an issue, if it were not for the fact that, given the current rules for disclosing old and minor criminal records, it means that around 250,000 people every year are affected by old and minor cautions and convictions being revealed on enhanced DBS checks.

Couple that with the known negative reactions (and often blanket policies) of employers towards applicants with a criminal record, it is unsurprising that they are the least likely ‘disadvantaged group’ to be employed.

Against unnecessary disclosure

We need to make sure that enhanced DBS checks do not unnecessarily disclose information that is old, minor or irrelevant to the job being sought. Up until now, there has been very little detail on what type of information gets disclosed on DBS checks, which is why the briefing published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is so welcome.

The research shows that in 2015, over one million criminal records were disclosed on standard or enhanced checks. Yet nearly three-quarters of those criminal records (742,482) were more than ten years old.

We know that the length of time since their last offence is one of the most important factors in establishing the likelihood of someone committing an offence in the future, so why is it that these criminal records are being disclosed over a decade later?

The desperate need for reform

The crux of the issue are the current ‘filtering’ rules. Although these are complex, they essentially mean that if someone has a certain criminal record, it will be disclosed on an enhanced DBS for the rest of their life. This includes someone:

  1. With more than one conviction on their record, or
  2. has been cautioned or convicted for a certain type of offence (there are over 1,000 of these, including aggravated bodily harm and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution), or
  3. who has received any type of prison (or suspended prison) sentence.

This can affect somebody who stole two chocolate bars when they were 14 and who is now in their fifties. This puts a lot of people off applying and unnecessarily anchors people to their past. The routine rejection by employers locks people out of the labour market and has a considerable financial cost to society through out-of-work benefits.

At Unlock, we have argued that the filtering rules are in desperate need of reform. Earlier this year, Court of Appeal agreed, ruling that the current system is disproportionate and not in accordance with the law. The government is dragging its heels by appealing to the Supreme Court. It is clearly not listening to the compelling evidence that shows the significant and unnecessary barriers to rehabilitation that the current regime is creating.

Recent reports by David Lammy MP and the Justice Committee have also added weight to the need for changes.

It is common sense that certain offences need to be disclosed to employers. But we should not be unnecessarily blighting the lives of people who are trying to move on, by disclosing old, minor or irrelevant information that holds them back and stops them from reaching their potential.

A fairer and more flexible system would be one with expanded automatic filtering rules and a discretionary filtering process, with a review mechanism so that individual circumstances can be considered.

Alongside changes to the filtering rules, Unlock has long supported the introduction of a criminal records tribunal. This would allow enable individuals to apply for an end on the disclosure of their criminal record to employers on a relevant criminal record check.

There is evidence from overseas that this approach works. It would help to address the injustice that many people face as a result of what are currently arbitrary, fixed rules that take no account of the positive steps that people have taken since the actions that resulted in their receiving a criminal record.


Blog – ‘Through the gate’ services are failing to support people leaving prison into employment

‘Through the gate’ services are failing to support people into employment. That’s one of the conclusions in a report published last week by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons into the ‘through the gate resettlement services’ that were introduced in 2015 and run by newly formed ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ (CRCs).

Right from the start of the government’s ‘transforming rehabilitation’ programme, there were a number of concerns about the problems that would arise. For me, there are three key things I took away from the report last week:

1. Too much focus on contracts

As the report found last week:

“There is much more CRCs should be doing to make a difference to the lives of those they are meant to be helping, but we found them focusing most of their efforts on meeting their contractual targets, to produce written resettlement plans. Responding to the needs of prisoners received much less attention, but meaningful expectations are not specified clearly in CRC contracts, and good, persistent work is not incentivised or rewarded sufficiently.”

This has been clear to me in the training I’ve delivered to practitioners working in (and for) CRCs. The training I deliver looks at criminal record and disclosure rules, and how best to deal with that in terms of employment. Generally, despite a real willingness to want to help their clients, the staff simply do not have the time or resources, and instead they’ve had to focus on the “must-do” parts of the contract.

The review of probation that the Ministry of Justice has been working on needs to respond to these issues. Things are clearly not working as they are.

2. Lack of support into employment

Of the 98 individuals looked at in the report, none were helped by ‘through the gate’ services to enter education, training or employment after release. This is a damning indictment:

“The impact of Through the Gate services on education, training and employment was minimal. No prisoners were helped by Through the Gate services to enter education, training or employment after release.”


“We did not see any cases where Through the Gate services had assisted a prisoner to get employment after release. We did not find CRCs promoting links to local colleges or education providers for the prisoners where this would have been appropriate. There were some examples, however, of handover to specialist ETE staff in the CRC in the community for them to make onward referrals.”

Sadly, none of this is surprising. I highlighted many of these issues last year to the Work and Pensions Committee’s as part of their “support for ex-offenders” inquiry. I’d urge the government to implement the recommendations of that inquiry. In particular, the government needs to state clearly who has ultimately responsibility for helping prison leavers into work. CRCs should be required to track the outcomes of the people they help, including whether they have helped them into work. This should be a key measure by which CRCs are deemed successful.

3. Not enough being done to help open bank accounts before release

This problem is well-known to Unlock. A basic bank account is a fundamental necessity in modern society, particularly when seeking employment. That was the case over 10 years ago when we first started to look at this.

I led a project for many years to persuade banks to open their doors to applications from people in prison who were near to their release. Once we’d managed that, we then worked with both prisons and banks to implement safe and effective systems. To cut a long story short, it was very successful – by the end of the project in 2014 we had set up 74 prison-bank partnerships, and overall 114 prisons had links with high-street banks. The job wasn’t finished completely – which is why we made a number of recommendations (particularly to NOMS, as it was then) to act upon.

Unfortunately, the end of this project was closely followed by the ‘transforming rehabilitation’ changes. Again, to cut a long story short, it seems that things have been going downhill ever since.

In the executive summary of the report, it states:

“All except one of the prisons we visited were able to set bank accounts up for prisoners, but even where this service was available, some prisoners were still released without bank accounts. Other work on finance, benefits and debt was not being delivered to any great extent.”

In the main body of the report, it states:

“Some prisoners do not have their own bank accounts, and this can cause lengthy delays in claiming benefits. We expected that all the prisons we visited would be able to arrange bank accounts where needed. We saw some cases where this was recognised and assistance was given, but in others this need was recognised too late or overlooked completely.”

This has all the hallmarks of operational issues in the prisons. That wouldn’t be a surprise, give many of the changes in the last few years. Although it’s part of the contract of CRCs to help people open a bank account before release, what last week’s report clearly highlighted is how, generally, the ‘through the gate’ element to their work is not working well enough.

That’s why today I’ve written to the Prisons and Probation Minister, Sam Gyimah, to raise my concerns. I’ve recommended that he launch an immediate review into the provision of opening basic bank accounts for people in prison before they’re released. It’s clear that, operationally, the arrangements in prisons to open basic bank are not working as well as they should be. Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service need to get a grip of this, understand what the problems are, and find solutions to them.

Christopher Stacey

More information

  1. The report published last week is available to download.
  2. We’re working on improving the support to people with convictions into employment
  3. We continue to encourage the implementation of the recommendations we made around opening basic bank accounts for people before release from when we finished our project in 2014.

Government “exploring” incentives for businesses that take on ex-offenders

Today the Work and Pensions Committee has published the Government’s response to its report on the support for ex-offenders leaving prison, which indicates that the Government has accepted the case made for many of the Committee’s recommendations and is looking for ways to take them forward, including considering a range of ways to incentive employers to take on ex-offenders leaving prison. The suggestion of offering reduced National Insurance contributions to those employers is particularly “noted with interest”.

This follows on from the Committee’s published report in December, which made recommendations after hearing evidence from organisations including Unlock.

New ’10 things about criminal records’ guide for employability professionals

February 2019 update – We have done some work to update the original guide and have now published a version 2 of the guide.

People with criminal records make up a sizeable proportion of the unemployed population – 33% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants have received a criminal record in the last ten years. For many, it can be their main barrier to employment; people with convictions are the least likely ‘disadvantaged group’ to be employed, with nearly three-quarters (73%) of people unemployed on release from prison.

We know that employability professionals provide a vital form of support to people in the community. Yet according to a recent government report, only 29% of prison leavers received advice on dealing with their criminal record from the Work Programme. Historically, they have had very little training on supporting their clients with the complex laws around criminal records and how to practically deal with disclosing their criminal record to employers and others.

That’s why we deliver training to employability professionals; so that we improve the quality of the support provided to people with criminal records. We know from the feedback that we get that the training is high-quality and relevant to their work.

That’s also why we’ve recently worked with the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP) and today have published a ’10 things about criminal records’ guide aimed specifically at employability professionals.

The guide is designed for practitioners that support people with criminal records into employment, including employability professionals, job centre advisors, careers advisors and probation officers.

The guide is available to download and forms part of IEP’s range of ’10 things’ guides. We hope it serves as a useful introduction and reference point for employability professionals. It provides an overview of the key areas, following a similar structure to that taken by our ‘Advising with Convictions’ one-day training course.

Our training courses are regularly run in London. Places can be booked online. In-house training sessions for larger teams are also available; if you’re interested in learning more, details are available online or you can email

Useful links

  1. The ’10 things about criminal records’ guide is available to download.

Government should consider a statutory “ban the box” for all employers and improve the support to people released from prison

The leading charity for people with convictions has welcomed a report published today by the Work and Pensions Committee which calls on government to drastically improve the support provided to people released from prison and do more to encourage employers to recruit people with convictions.

Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, said:

“Today’s report shows that current government policy is failing people with convictions. There is no one person in government with responsibility for helping prison leavers into work and no clear strategy for how different agencies should work together to get people with convictions into employment.


“We are delighted that the Work and Pensions Committee has listened to the evidence that we submitted and has made a number of recommendations which, if implemented by government, would vastly improve the chances of people with convictions to become positive members of society rather than burdens of the state. Only a quarter on people leaving prison have a job to go to, yet stable employment significantly reduces the likelihood of people re-offending in the future.”


“Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and piloting a reduction in National Insurance contributions for those who actively employ people with convictions is a welcome step forward. Unlock supports the Committee’s recommendation of taking the “ban the box” campaign further by considering putting it on a statutory footing for all employers. We know that this practical change in recruitment practice, alongside other ‘fair chance recruitment’ measures, increases the chances that employers will recruit people with convictions.”


“We are pleased that the Ministry of Justice is working on a new employment strategy. This needs to be done jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions and place significant focus on people with convictions in the community. Crucially, it must recognise that no level of training or education in prison will overcome the negative approaches taken by employers, so supporting and challenging employers in their recruitment practices needs to be a fundamental part of this strategy. More broadly, government needs to fundamentally reform the law around criminal records disclosure to prevent the unnecessary and disproportionate barriers that people face long after they’ve served their sentence.”


The Committee encouraged employers to change their recruitment process and made a number of recommendations to both government and companies, including:

  • Extending Ban the Box to all public bodies, with exclusions for the minority of roles where it would not be appropriate for security reasons
  • Piloting the reduction of National Insurance contributions for those employers who actively employ people with convictions
  • Consider making banning the box a statutory requirement for all employers and develop practical guidance to help employers recruit people with a criminal record
  • All prisons should be required to demonstrate strong links with employers, including local businesses
  • Government clearly state who has ultimate responsibility for helping prison leavers into work
  • All Jobcentres should have a specified person who specialises in helping ex-offenders into employment with expertise on matters such as disclosure of convictions
  • Recognising employers that actively employ people with convictions by factoring it into procurement and commissioning decisions



  1. The Work and Pensions Committee held an inquiry into support for ex-offenders. The report published today is available on their website here and a summary of the inquiry is available here.
  2. Unlock submitted written evidence to the Committee – available here.
  3. Unlock gave oral evidence to the Committee, which can be watched online here.
  4. Unlock also carried out a survey on people released from prison – available here.
  5. More details on Unlock’s policy work to improve support for people with convictions into employment is available here.
  6. More details on Unlock’s policy work to support and challenge employers in employing people with convictions is available here.

We give evidence to Parliament Committee on support for ex-offenders

Today Unlock, alongside Working Chance, Clinks and Revolving Doors Agency, gave oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into the support for ex-offenders. We were invited to give evidence following our written response to the inquiry.

At the session, Christopher Stacey, Unlock’s co-director, responded to questions focused on employment support, job centre staff and the approach of employers towards people with criminal records.

Watch the evidence session on Parliament TV.

We also supported the Committee by producing and circulating a survey amongst people with convictions. This received 82 responses, all of which were shared with the Committee.

We carried out an analysis of the survey results and submitted it to the Committee.

Download: Results and analysis of our survey

Unlock in prison!

In February 2016, we were invited by Plias Resettlement to visit Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville prisons to present workshops on criminal records and disclosure (they deliver the National Careers Service contract there). The aim was to look at the ongoing effects of a criminal record, how this can affect a person’s ability to reintegrate into society upon release from prison, and how to overcome these.


‘We recommend the workshops that Unlock deliver; they are informative, relevant and provide people with convictions with up to date and accurate information that enables them to move on with their lives.’  PLIAS Resettlement, 2016 


Plias gave us a fairly flexible brief in running a 2-hour workshop. This is where the idea behind our Top 10 things to know about a criminal record came from (which we developed at the same time). We wanted to keep things simple, but wanted to cover some of the key areas of life that people need to be aware of.


Wormwood Scrubs Workshop

Our 1st workshop at Wormwood Scrubs (photograph courtesy of PLIAS with permission from the prison)


The result was a new ‘Moving on with Conviction’ workshop. The idea being that we would highlight 10 key areas which we think, from experience of running our helpline, are important for anybody with a criminal record to know about, with plenty of opportunity for questions.

We had about 20 men come along to the classroom in the education department at Wormwood Scrubs. With a relatively small number of people, we were able to make the session very interactive with lots of questions and answers and many of the men shared their own personal experiences. Some comments after the event were:-


I think workshops like the one today should take place more often – enlightening


Very positive approach and really well presented


Full of confidence from the first one, we headed off to Pentonville a couple of days later. This one was quite different; it took place in the large prison chapel with around 70 men turning up. The size of the room and the number of people meant that the session had to be far more ‘controlled’ which made it difficult for too much interaction. Initially, this made it quite difficult to engage with the group.

We recognise how hard it is to take any positives out of being in prison and it’s easy to think that a criminal record will prevent you being able to move on successfully in the future. It was clear that many of the men in Pentonville felt this way.

Explaining to the group that there were may employers out there that were willing to give people a second chance and highlighting how 50% of Unlock’s staff and trustees had a criminal record seemed to endorse the positive message we were trying to put across.

From then on, the atmosphere in the room seemed to change, with the session becoming more upbeat. Comments from the men included:-


I understand a lot now about jobs and how to disclose


I felt the event was done very well under pressure


We are grateful to the support of Plias in covering our costs in preparing and delivering these sessions. We’ve come away with some ideas of how we might be able to do more of these in the future, as it’s clear to us that many people in prison are simply not made aware of things they need to be alert to in dealing with the impact of having a criminal record once they’re released.


Written by Debbie Sadler, Advice Manager


More information

You can find out more about our fair access to employment project here or get in touch with us.

Practical self-help information can be found on understanding your criminal record and disclosing to employers.


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