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Category: Disclosure Calculator

Blog – The impact of our disclosure calculator and helping the Ministry of Justice to develop one

It’s about a decade since we first started work on developing an online tool to help people work out if they need to tell employers and others about their criminal record.

It was around 2009 when we started to receive an increasing number of calls to our helpline from people wanting to know if – and when – their convictions became ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This was at a time when the Disclosure and Barring Service didn’t issue basic checks, so it was difficult for people to get this answer from the government. As a small charity with limited resources, and given many people felt uncomfortable ringing up and providing sensitive personal details over the phone, we knew there was a better solution.

The concept was simple – an online tool that worked this out. Ultimately, our aim was that as many people as possible could get instant results online to the question “when does my criminal record become spent”.

In practice, it was a lot more difficult than that. The law is complicated, and so after a lot of hard work, we launched www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk in October 2011, having had a small grant from a foundation to develop it. We were pleased to have Lord McNally, who was the Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice at the time, speak at the launch event. He congratulated Unlock on “achieving what some previously considered impossible”.

It’s been going for over 8 years now, and over 200,000 people have used the calculator in the last 4 years alone. Roughly 55% of users find that all their convictions are spent, with about 40% getting results with some unspent convictions. Perhaps most notably, about 5% of users get a result that means their conviction will remain unspent for the rest of their life.

The calculator itself has been through several phases of development – initially, you had to ‘login’ to use the tool, but we soon realised this was a barrier to use and once we removed this, the number of uses increased significantly. For a long time we also had a way for organisations to set up ‘multiple use’ accounts, because we know many organisations (like probation service providers and employment support organisations) find the tool an important way for their teams to support individuals in working out what they do and don’t need to disclose. This was also an important way for Unlock to cover the costs of maintaining the tool. We also put a lot of time into adjusting the tool in early 2014 so that it was in line with the positive reforms that were made as to when convictions became spent, which came into effect on the 10th March 2014.

We’re pleased that the tool is now fully open to anyone to use. We know that a huge range of organisations – employers, insurers, universities – use the tool, and we know from the feedback that people with criminal records (who remain by far the biggest user group) value being able to use a tool that’s hosted by an independent charity.

We’d never have developed the tool if one like it had already existed, and ever since we launched the tool, we’ve constantly tried to push the government to do more to make sure that people can understand if and when their convictions become spent. We’ve always thought that, while there’s many benefits to an independent charity like Unlock having a tool like this, it’s also important that the government did more to help people with this.

In 2017, the Justice Committee published a report on their inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records, which Unlock had been heavily involved in. In the government’s response to this, there was a commitment to “updating guidance for ex-offenders on gov.uk to ensure that it is clear, consistent and easily accessible.”

So we’re pleased that the Ministry of Justice has been developing a tool to help people understand whether they need to disclose their criminal record. They are now seeking feedback on a ‘disclosure checker’, which they’re currently piloting. As it stands, the disclosure checker is far from the finished product – for example, it can only calculate single convictions at the moment and doesn’t cover motoring offences – but we’ve been contributing to its development from an early phase, and we’re continuing to support it so that it can be as effective as possible.

As with using our calculator, it’s important that practitioners, especially those tasked with helping individuals with disclosing criminal records don’t simply use tools like this as a replacement for providing specific information and advice – for example, probation providers have it in their contract to provide one-to-one support on this. So it’s important that practitioners continue to develop the skills and knowledge to be able to sit down and support individuals so that they understand the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and what it means to them.

There’s also an important question as to what extent a calculator is the right solution. The law is complex, and any calculator is only as good as the information put into it. Unlock doesn’t have access to police records so that was the only way it could run for us, but for the government, who can check police records, there’s an argument that there’s a better approach. Rather than having people work through a tool that relies on the information they put into it, instead the government could simply issue some form of free criminal record check which showed any current unspent convictions (like the current basic DBS check) but then also gave dates for when those convictions will become spent. This would overcome many of the issues that come with an online tool.

Looking back on our calculator, charities like Unlock innovate in spaces like this, but we also recognise our aim – we want as many people as possible to get instant results online to the question “when does my criminal record become spent”. It’s perhaps disappointing that it’s taken the government nearly a decade to get around to doing this themselves, and perhaps there’s a better way for the government to help people find out the answer to this important question. We’ll continue to work the government to try to improve people’s understanding on if and when their criminal record is spent.

More information

  1. We have posted on our hub about the MoJ’s disclosure checker and then at the end there’s an option to provide feedback.
  2. You can use our calculator at disclosurecalculator.org.uk

We’ve made some improvements to our disclosure calculator

Between April 2016 and March 2017 our disclosure calculator was used by over 50,000 people who were looking to find out if and when their caution/conviction would become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

Although we’re delighted to see so many people using the tool, it makes it even more important that we’re constantly looking at ways of improving it.

With more people being given relevant orders as part of their court disposals (for example, sexual harm prevention orders, hospital orders and restraining orders), some of which run indefinitely, it was important that there was a way for a user to reflect this when using the tool.

So we’ve recently worked with the programmer who helped us develop the tool to make a few improvements. In particular, we’ve:

  1. Added a ‘tick box’ which allows users to record an indefinite relevant order. This is important, because an indefinite order will mean that a conviction remains unspent until such time as it is given an end date. This usually means going back to court to have the order amended or revoked.
  2. Added a specific sentence/disposal of “Sexual harm prevention order (formerly sexual offence prevention order)”. We’d received feedback from some users who had not chosen “Relevant order” (which is what those disposals come under) so we thought it would make it clearer for these to be a standalone option to add.

If you have any suggestions for further improvements, please email your thoughts through to advice@unlock.org.uk.

Film about disclosing convictions – “Making your past pay”

Earlier this week, there was a film launched by Staffordshire and West Midlands CRC about disclosing convictions to employers.

We helped them out with some of the content, and they mentioned Unlock and our Disclosure Calculator, which is good to see.

You should be able to watch the film below, and there’s more details about the video on the SWM CRC website.

Let us know what you think – feel free to comment at the bottom of this page!

 

Making Your Past Pay – Help with disclosing previous convictions to employers from SWM Probation on Vimeo.

Sins of Omission – Ex-offenders get help on knowing when to own up to insurers

The Observer picked up on our launch of the Disclosure Calculator and featured this as an article, looking at how it will help people when applying for insurance. You can read the article below.

sinsofommission

Launch of the Disclosure Calculator

This October we took to the House of Lords, armed with one Minister and two Lords, to launch the Unlock Criminal Record Disclosure Calculator. It’s a new online tool to help people determine when their conviction will be ‘spent’.

The Rt Hon Lord McNally – Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice; Lord Navnit Dholakia OBE PC DL; and Unlock President, Lord David Ramsbotham GCB CBE , congregated with Unlock staff, volunteers and members, plus insurers, barristers and more for the highlight of our year.

Opening the meeting, Unlock called for a “right of access to a normal life for reformed offenders” which isn’t currently available under the ROA.

Christopher Stacey of Unlock explained how the calculator can be used to determine when a conviction will become “spent” under the ROA. Stacey said: “Currently the ROA is very complicated, so we need a calculator that’s easy to update in response to any changes. It’s been developed with our members and feedback from various organisations, supported by a grant from Persula Foundation”.

Members echoed the sentiments and welcomed the new calculator: “It’s so simple to use and you don’t have to worry talking to people, where they might judge you on a past offence. You can use it in the comfort of your own home. And it’s free too.” said an Unlock member.

Closing the meeting Lord McNally congratulated the work. His speech is provided below to give you an insight into what the Government has to say about your least favourite law.

Further feedback on the calculator has also been positive with news of its launch sweeping across various online social networks. To use it is simple. You just need to register with an email and some brief personal details such as your DOB, gather and enter information pertaining to your conviction, sentence or disposal received and agree to the terms and conditions.

The calculator is sponsored by online insurance providers homeprotect whose website is at www.homeprotect.co.uk. To find out when your conviction will be spent visit www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk to try it out for yourself.

 

Speech by Lord McNally

“I would like to congratulate UNLOCK on achieving what some previously considered impossible. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is a complex but important piece of legislation that can have a significant impact on many people’s lives. It is crucial therefore that it can be understood. The introduction of the UNLOCK criminal disclosure calculator helps to break down these complexities and through this simple tool, individuals will be able to find out what the ROA and their conviction means to them.

The Government understands that the ROA may be difficult to understand for the lay person and that on occasion, incorrect information is given by individuals who are asked about their criminal record history. This could prevent the ROA from achieving one of its aims of improving access to employment for reformed offenders.

When an employer asks a reformed offender if they have any previous convictions, the reformed offender does not generally want to hide his conviction in an attempt to deceive. Through correspondence with offenders, we know that what they actually want is a fair chance at getting a job and to be honest with their future employer. However, through hearing about yours and others experience this is easier said than done.

Because ordinary citizens might find it difficult to apply the ROA to their particular situation, it is not wholly surprising that some reformed offenders are confused about what they can and can’t conceal. This confusion can result in a reformed offender inadvertently misleading an employer about their criminal record.

In some instances, individuals fail to disclose information that they should because they believe their conviction to be spent when it is in fact not. If and when an employer learns of the conviction, not only are they dealing with a previous offender, but in their mind they are dealing with someone who has lied about their past. It is very difficult for that individual to justify why he failed to reveal his conviction.

Alternatively, through fear of this happening, individuals often reveal information when they don’t have to. They don’t realise that a conviction is spent, or aren’t sure, and so tell their employer and can be penalised for their honesty. Once the information is known, it is very hard for the individual to persuade a prospective employer that it is not relevant because the conviction is spent. We all know it would be hard to forget such information, even if it is completely irrelevant.

Neither situation seems fair, but we know, through working with organisations such as UNLOCK, that both do occur.
This unfairness and confusion is, of course, undesirable. The ROA is designed to improve the chances of ex-offenders finding employment; employment reduces the likelihood of someone being an offender. The benefits of assisting offenders into work are therefore plain to see.

One of the obstacles to achieving this has today been broken down. The launch of UNLOCK’s disclosure calculator helps both individuals and employers to understand when a conviction is spent and so helps the ROA achieve an important aim.

No single act will remove all the barriers faced by an ex-offender seeking to reintegrate into society. One, simple step however is to tackle the prejudices that exist around employing ex-offenders, regardless of whether an individual has a spent conviction or not. We are working to improve employers’ and members of the public’s understanding of criminal records, and why most individuals with convictions a long time in their past should be considered equally with those with no convictions. Guidance being developed and provided by UNLOCK and across Government will go some way towards this.

I hope that the hard work of UNLOCK will continue and that through that work, together we can remove some of the unnecessary obstacles faced by offenders who want to lead normal, law abiding lives. Part of that is improving individual’s understanding of the ROA. I am sure you will all agree with me that the launch of this calculator marks a significant step towards achieving that aim.”

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