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Category: Financial services

Insurance industry trade body issues updated guidance to insurers on how they should treat people with convictions

Last week, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) published updated guidance on how insurers should treat people with convictions. The guide, first published in 2011 and revised in 2014, has been updated this year to reflect recommendations made by Unlock.

In research we published in September 2017, we found major problems in the way that insurance companies dealt with the criminal records of people applying for home insurance. We looked at the approaches of 42 high-street insurance companies and found that two-thirds failed to make it clear to people that they didn’t need to disclose convictions that were ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We found that nearly 1 in 5 companies took into account a spent conviction when considering an application even though they were under a legal obligation to disregard it.

We recommended that the insurance industry updated its good practice and that insurers should implement clear and consistent wording in relation to asking about unspent convictions.

The ABI describes the aim of the updated guidance published last week as being “to ensure that insurers:

  • Only seek information about information relevant to the risk, asking clear, concise and explicit questions about unspent convictions. Spent convictions do not have to be disclosed and – if they are – insurers must ignore them;
  • Make clear to customers the consequences of not disclosing, or misrepresenting unspent convictions;
  • Ensure that staff are fully trained on relevant laws and regulations; and
  • Assist customers in finding insurance, through signposting and/or referral arrangements where they are unable to provide cover themselves.”

It is welcome to see the updated guidance be much clearer to insurers that they should not be asking questions which could lead customers to thinking they need to disclose spent convictions. However, in our 2017 research we also highlighted the blanket approaches taken towards applicants that declare any type of conviction. None of the companies gave any individual consideration online – 100% of the insurers refused to offer a policy online to an applicant that disclosed conviction, without any specific consideration about the relevance of the offence to the policy being taken out. Only one company offered a policy over the telephone.

Although the guidance is clear to insurers about only considering unspent convictions, it fails to explain the evidence base for approaching unspent convictions in such a generic way and appears to simply assume that any unspent conviction is material for insurance purposes. There remains a significant lack of transparency about what, if any, evidence insurers rely on. Critically, we have never seen any robust evidence for the claim that correlates criminal records with a higher insurance risk. Quite the opposite. The specialist brokers that work quietly behind the scenes have some of the best claims ratios of all of their customers. The updated guidance fails to address this.

It remains to be seen what impact this updated guidance will have on the practices of insurers. What is ultimately important is that insurers themselves update their policies and practices. This updated guidance is a welcome step forward towards achieving this, and we look forward to seeing how the ABI will be monitoring the take-up of this guidance amongst its members.


The ABI guidance is available here.

Our guidance for insurers is here.

Our policy work on access to insurance is here.

Our practical information on buying insurance with convictions is here.

Insurance companies are breaking the law by taking into account old criminal records

Unlock, the leading charity for people with convictions, has today published new research which highlights major problems in the way that insurance companies deal with the criminal records of people applying for home insurance.

The charity looked at the approaches of 42 high-street insurance companies and found that two-thirds failed to make it clear to people that they didn’t need to disclose convictions that were ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. They also found that nearly 1 in 5 companies took into account a spent conviction when considering an application even though they were under a legal obligation to disregard it.

The research also highlights the blanket approaches taken towards applicants that declare a conviction. None of the companies gave any individual consideration online – 100% of the insurers refused to offer a policy online to an applicant that disclosed conviction, without any specific consideration about the relevance of the offence to the policy being taken out. Only one company offered a policy over the telephone.

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

“We regularly get contacted by people who are confused by what they’re being asked to disclose when applying for insurance, and these findings show that when they mistakenly reveal something they didn’t need to, they’re getting punished for it. It doesn’t have to be this way, and insurance companies themselves are contributing to this problem.


“The insurance industry needs to update its good practice and insurers should implement clear and consistent wording in relation to asking about unspent convictions. Given that two-thirds of the insurers we looked at are not doing this at the moment, there’s a lot of work to do. That’s why we’ll be referring these findings to the Information Commissioners Office, as we believe insurers are breaching the principles of the Data Protection Act.


“For an industry that prides itself on assessing risk, it was astounding to find that all of the insurers blanketly refused to offer cover online where an unspent conviction was disclosed – there is clearly a widespread policy of ‘computer says no’. Given there’s nearly three-quarters of a million people in England & Wales with an unspent conviction, with thousands of people having convictions from decades ago that are still unspent, one has to ask whether insurers are taking a proportionate approach to risk by simply refusing to offer cover to people in this situation.”



  1. Press/media enquiries
  2. The research is available to download from Unlock’s website.



The findings of this research were featured in:



Insurance companies ask about criminal records when a person applies for cover across a range of insurance products, including buildings, contents, motor and public liability insurance. Convictions that are now ‘spent’ (as set out by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) do not need to be disclosed for insurance purposes and they should not be taken into account by insurance companies when providing quotes.

Unlock’s helpline regularly receives enquiries from people with convictions that are looking for insurance. Common problems include:

  1. Individuals being unable to obtain quotes from mainstream insurance providers when they reveal that they’ve got a criminal record.
  2. Others with spent convictions being confused by the questions they are being asked by insurers, with many wrongly believing that spent convictions need to be disclosed and may be taken into account.
  3. Instances where insurers take into account spent convictions when they have a legal obligation to disregard them.
  4. Policies being withdrawn because, instead of asking a question, the insurer includes some form of “no convictions” statement in the assumptions of the quote. When the individual discovers this and informs the insurer, they revoke the policy.


Case study – Paula

Paula was convicted of an overpayment of benefits 6 years ago. She was given a 4 month suspended prison sentence. The conviction became spent around three and half years ago, because under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, that sentence becomes spent 2 years after the end of the 4-month sentence.

“Pretty much straight after my conviction, we had to renew our home contents insurance, and our existing insurer refused to renew it because I told them of the conviction. The only companies we ended up being able to get quotes from were specialist brokers that specifically helped people with unspent convictions.


“When I was originally convicted, nobody told me when my conviction would become spent, or what that would mean at that point. So for the last 3 years, I’ve been continuing to use specialist brokers for my insurance.


“Recently, I tried to get a quote online through the Post Office, but I ticked the box about convictions because they asked “Has anyone in the property ever been convicted…?” – I thought the right answer was “yes”, because I had, and they were unable to give me a quote.


“It wasn’t until I spoke to Unlock that they told me that my conviction was now spent and that I didn’t need to tell insurance companies anymore. Two weeks ago, I went and got a quote from Admiral. They made it clear that they only needed to know about unspent convictions, so I could confidently answer “no” to that without feeling like I was doing anything wrong.


“Why don’t insurers make that clear when they ask you the conviction question on the quote form? For the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve been paying over the odds with specialist brokers when I could have been using mainstream comparison websites and getting a much better deal.” Paula


Case study – John

John was convicted of attempted murder in 1971. He got a life sentence. He’s been out of prison for nearly 30 years. But when he discloses that conviction to insurance firms, they refuse to cover the contents of his flat.

“In 1971, I was attacked and I retaliated a couple of weeks later. I was convicted of attempted murder. I got a life sentence. I was 23 years old.


“In 1986 I had a stroke and was discharged from prison and came to live here. I’ve lived here a number of years, and I can’t get household contents insurance. I’ve tried many times but because I answer the question “do you have any criminal convictions”, because I put “yes”, I’m declined insurance because they say that thee sentence isn’t spent. Well, it can’t be spent because I’m on life parole. So, the only way I can get insurance is to lie, but if I do lie and they find out, I’ll have paid money for years, possibly for nothing, becuase they will find any excuse not to pay out, and that would be a valid reason because I hadn’t answered the question truthfully.


“I just feel like I’m still being sentenced. I’m vulnerable because I’m now getting on; I’m 72 years of age. I would feel comfortable if I could have household contents insurance; I just want to insure the few bits and pieces I’ve got.


“I’ve been to a broker. The housing authority offer household insurance but they declined to insure me. I’ve been to Aviva, I’ve been to Direct Line. None of them will insure me because I have an unspent conviction. There are several politicians that have been to jail for fraud yet their convictions will be spent. Well mines never spent because it was a life sentence.


“How can I integrate with society if I can’t have household contents insurance. I feel like I’m missing. I think I should be treated as everyone else. I have been almost 30 years out of prison. I can get car insurance. I get travel insurance. Why can I not have household contents insurance? And why should I pay a higher premium? I think I should be treated just as Joe Bloggs in the street is treated, who’s 72 years of age, living in a local authority property and just gets on with life.”  John


Responses from insurers

In response to Radio 4’s Money Box featuring the launch of the research, a number of insurers provided a comment to the BBC (see below)



“We insure customers with spent convictions, and we apologise that in this instance we incorrectly declined the quote, which is not our standard policy.

“We are now implementing additional training to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

“For customers that take out insurance online, we have a Q&A on our website to provide information on convictions.  However we are also reviewing the wording within our quote process, to ensure that it is clear.”



“esure and Sheilas’ Wheels do not ask customers to disclose spent convictions when they apply for a motor or home insurance policy. Our approach is entirely in line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

“Spent convictions are therefore not taken into account in our underwriting or pricing policies regardless of the time when the conviction was spent.”



“We want to help customers understand whether a conviction should be declared so we invite customers with previous convictions to phone in and speak to one of our experts to ensure there are no issues around non-disclosure.

“Aviva does not ask customers to declare spent convictions nor do we take into account spent convictions when offering home insurance.

“We continually review our customer journeys and later this year will be making some changes to our online home quote journey to ask customers only to consider unspent convictions, and we will be providing a link to Unlock so that customers are fully informed and are able to establish for themselves whether their conviction is spent or not.”



“Shop Direct introduces Very and Littlewoods Home Insurance to consumers, with the products sold by Ryan Direct Group and underwritten by Royal & Sun Alliance. We were unaware of this issue and would like to thank Money Box for bringing it to our attention. We have since reached out to Royal & Sun Alliance to understand more and will take any steps necessary to ensure that its practices are both fair and clear.”



“We’d like to thank Unlock for bringing this issue to our attention, it is absolutely not our intention to decline customers with spent criminal convictions.

“The majority of our business comes from price comparison websites who all ask about unspent criminal convictions. Our website is in line with this, we ask about criminal convictions within the last 5 years and have text on the page explaining that we don’t need to know about spent criminal convictions.

“However, on the telephone, we simply ask for criminal convictions in the last 5 years. We recognise that this is not right and have already begun a process to educate staff on this matter. This will ensure they are aligned and there’s no risk of inadvertently considering spent criminal convictions.”

Families of prisoners pay high insurance premiums and face more refusals

An article in the Independent reports that families of offenders face higher premiums and even flat refusals when it comes to getting insurance.

The article quotes a report by Unlock, which revealed that 37 per cent of the calls made to its helpline related to insurance.

It also revealed a startling issue; that many families of prisoners and former prisoners did not know that they had to declare the situation to their insurer. You can read the full article here.


Insurers are not following good practice when dealing with criminal records

Last month, the Financial Conduct Authority published an occasional paper on access to financial services. I fed into this work, particularly focusing on the issues people with convictions face in accessing insurance. So it was good to see the authors include an especially challenging section of the report focused at a lack of buy-in to industry guidance.

There was heavy reference to the work that Unlock has done with the Association of British Insurers (ABI), including developing good practice, but highlighted how:

“it is still commonplace for proposal forms to have questions such as “have you ever been convicted””

The ABI guidance states that it is good practice to refer only to ‘unspent’ convictions, so clearly insurers are not doing this.

Extract from the FCA occasional paper

Although it didn’t name the companies involved, the FCA paper included two anonymous examples of current questions by home insurers and motor insurers.

Extract from the FCA occasional paper

The poor wording of questions by insurers is a major problem. Unlock’s helpline regularly gets contacted by people using insurance websites and asking us for clarity about what they do and don’t need to disclose. Very often, this is because the insurance company hasn’t made it clear that they don’t need to disclose convictions that are now spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

This is something we’re looking at. We’ve had one our helpline advisors do some research into the questions asked by insurers, and we’re in the process of pulling this together and analysing the findings.

As an aside, it was good to see a number of other issues featured in the occasional paper, including:

  1. The numbers of people affected – In the infographic that the FCA used, they said that 750,000 people with unspent convictions and their families can struggle. This comes from a figure we presented a couple of years ago, and this is a conservative estimate of the numbers with unspent convictions. Although this figure is an underestimate for another reason – it doesn’t include those that are potentially covered by some of the misleading questions that insurers ask (see below). When this is taken into account, the numbers affected by the practice of insurers runs into the millions, given there’s over 10.5 million people in the UK with a criminal record.
  2. The lack of insurance products for people with unspent convictions
  3. How people with convictions can be good customers

More information

  1. You can find out more about the FCA occasional paper.
  2. There are details of our policy work on fair access to insurance and dealing with misleading questions.
  3. For practical self-help information on insurance, visit the information section on our website.
  4. There is practical guidance for insurers

Briefing for insurers on criminal convictions

Back in late January, we took part in a briefing event for the insurance industry on criminal convictions and insurance.

In our day-to-day work, and especially through our helpline, we regularly come across examples of poor practice by insurers. Whether it’s a poor understanding of when convictions become spent, insurers insisting that spent convictions need to be disclosed or claims handlers telling those who make a claim that they have to provide their full police record. All of these are situations that people with convictions regularly face. We want to put a stop to this kind of practice.

That’s why we were pleased to take part in the event in January, hosted by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). We had three main aims:

  1. To help insurers’ understanding of disclosure periods for offences under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  2. To promote good practice when asking for criminal records
  3. To provide guidance to insurers on the proper channels for accessing unspent conviction histories

It was good to see a number of big insurers represented, and it’s clear that there’s a lot more work to do.

We’ve published the briefing that we prepared for the event. We’re also reviewing the questions that insurance companies ask and are working on those examples that we come across that are misleading.

Ultimately, we want to see insurers take a fairer approach towards people with convictions.

More information

The way insurers lock out people with court convictions is bizarre








Mainstream home and car insurers have a blanket ban on people with unspent convictions – these kinds of policies are unfair and sometimes illegal

To many of the 1.2 million people convicted in court each year, it comes as a surprise to find that if they try to take out home insurance, or renew their existing policy, they’ll probably struggle. Every mainstream home insurer has a blanket ban on people with unspent convictions.

They say that ex-offenders are higher risk, citing vigilantism, arson and potential reoffending as some of the justifications. Many motor insurers do the same. Put simply, insurers use unspent convictions as a proxy for risk.

But research shows that those with a stable job, home and lifestyle are much less likely to reoffend. They become contributors to the system, rather than a burden. If we want people with convictions to be integrated into society, we have deal with the obstacles that stand in their way. If we would rather exclude them and treat them differently, we should not be surprised if stubbornly high reoffending rates continue to plague our failing criminal justice system.

Dubious practices
Insurers have the right to make risk judgments – they regularly load premiums for those living in high-crime areas – but their approach to criminal records is bizarre for an industry based on assessing risk. They place significant emphasis on whether a conviction is still unspent, which is determined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

We must learn to allow people to move on with their lives once they have paid their debt to society

This affects a lot of people. If you’re convicted of an offence and receive a fine, your conviction remains unspent for a year. And if you’re sentenced to four years or more in prison – as 7,000 people a year in the UK are – your conviction will never be spent.

Insurers are not legally allowed to consider spent convictions when they give you a quote. But it’s an arbitrary line: when it’s unspent, they refuse to quote; once it’s spent, they are not allowed to know.

Yet many insurers fail to make it clear that people don’t need to disclose spent convictions. Hidden away in Churchill’s online assumptions for home insurance, it states that you must “have never been convicted of any criminal offence (other than motoring convictions)”. This statement potentially covers the 10.5 million people in the UK that have a criminal record (excluding motoring offences). At best, this is bad practice. At worst, it’s unlawful – insurers have a legal duty to follow data protection and disclosure legislation. People with spent convictions have a legal right to access the same insurance as anybody else and insurers need to be clear with their customers about this.

Ending discrimination
This problem is not new. Nearly 12 years ago, the Guardian’s prisons correspondent Eric Allison wrote about insurance companies denying cover to ex-offenders. In research carried out by Unlock in 2010, 86% of former prisoners said it was harder to get insurance and four-fifths said that when they did get it, they were charged more. This prevents people from getting a mortgage, driving vehicles, securing employment and starting up small businesses.

Things have improved. Unlock runs an online disclosure calculator to help people work out if their convictions are still unspent. If they are unspent, it’s not impossible to get insurance – there are specialist brokers – but little competition can mean increased prices.

Critically, we have never seen any robust evidence for the claim that correlates criminal records and higher risk. Quite the opposite. The specialist brokers that work quietly behind the scenes have some of the best claims ratios of all of their customers.

Mainstream insurers must stop this discrimination. Not only would it demonstrate corporate social responsibility, but there is a strong business case for entering a market that has higher premiums and low claims ratios. They could be developing more progressive, data-driven, risk-pricing models. The Financial Conduct Authority should regard this as a market failure and raise access issues that come as a result of insurers not doing proper risk-profiling.

Ultimately, we must learn to allow people to move on with their lives once they have paid their debt to society.

More information

New guidance for insurers on (not) using enforced subject access to get details of criminal records

We’re pleased to see that the Association of British Insurers has produced guidance for insurers which clarifies the position for insurers after section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998 came into force earlier this year.

For far too long now, some insurance companies have relied on dubious practices when dealing with claims, relying on individuals to get a copy of their full police record, which runs the risk that they take into account spent convictions which the individual didn’t need to disclose. Since earlier this year, this practice was made illegal.

This guidance should help insurers to make sure that they operate fairer practices when dealing with individuals that have criminal records.


Useful links

RBS Magazine article – Unlocking a better future

RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) have published an article in their ‘Outside In’ magazine, which explains the work that Unlock did with RBS to open up access to basic bank accounts for people in prison before release.

You can read the article here.

Financial Inclusion Commission report published

Today, the Financial Inclusion Commission has published it’s report.

Unlock provided oral evidence and written evidence to the commission.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including on banking, insurance, savings and credit.

The report highlights how:

  • Nearly two million adults in the UK do not have a bank account
  • Financially excluded people pay a ‘poverty premium’ of £1,300 each year
  • An estimated two million people took out a high-cost loan in 2012 as they were unable to access any other form of credit
  • Up to 8.8 million people are over-indebted
  • 13 million people do not have enough savings to support them for a month if they experienced a 25% cut in income
  • 50% of households in the bottom half of the income distribution to not have home contents insurance
  • 15 million people report one of more signs of financial distress
  • Having the whole population of the UK making full use of the world’s most advanced financial services systems makes economic as well as social policy sense.

Our contribution to this work is to ensure that the specific issues surrounding criminal records are considered. In particular, our evidence focused on the way that criminal records are treated by insurance companies, as well as the difficulties people can face opening a bank account.

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