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Bad policies and practices by employers

As part of our fair access to employment project, we work with employers to develop fair policies and practices and highlight good practice. We know that employers don’t always follow their own policy, and that sometimes decision making is subjective. We’re gathering evidence of bad practice and challenge this where we can – and we need your help to do this.

We want to hear your experiences of bad practice. In some cases, we will challenge employers directly. In other situations, we press for action to be taken by others including the DBS or the ICO. Where we’ve been successful in achieving changes in practice, we write the example up anonymously and post it on our website for employers to help employers learn where others have gone wrong. Ultimately, we want to see all employers operate fair and inclusive practices towards people with a criminal record.

Bad practice could include:

  • Asking about spent convictions for a job that is covered by the ROA.
  • Blanket policies of not recruiting people with unspent convictions
  • A ban the box employer asking questions on application
  • Carrying out DBS checks for roles not eligible for them
  • Requesting applicants provide a copy of their ‘police record’ (also known as ‘enforced subject access’)
  • Failing to give applicants an opportunity to explain their criminal record
  • Sharing information about criminal records without your consent (for example in references)

Take a look at some of the examples we’ve posted on our website for employers.

What we need from you

If you have experience of bad practice by employers, contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: bad practice’. Please include:

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

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

Find out more about how we handle your data.

Find out more about our work with employers.

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.

Blog – The answer to Oxfam’s safeguarding problems is not enhanced DBS checks

The latest blog by Christopher Stacey (published on the Huffington Post) questions the use of enhanced DBS checks as the answer to Oxfam’s safeguarding problems.

Read it here.

Unlocking the potential of the UK’s ex-offenders

An article published  by Nat West suggests that one  remedy to fill the UK’s skills gap could be to hire more ex-offenders and discusses what is the best way to go about it.

Christopher Stacey contributes to the article, stating “We know from employers that have been proactive in recruiting people with convictions that they make good employees. The first thing we recommend any company does is look at its current policy and approach. ”

You can read the full article , including tips for employers who are considering hiring an ex-offender, here.






Help us to challenge employment discrimination

Work is progressing well to lay the foundations for our project to challenge employment discrimination. We’re now at the stage where we want to start opening out the conversation, to help to shape the project.

This update is the first of what we hope will be an ongoing conversation – with employers, with people with convictions, and with others who have an interest in ensuring that employers have fair and inclusive policies and procedures that support the recruitment of people with convictions.

There’s a number of things we’re working on, and we’re keen to get your input.


  1. Help us develop good practice and resources for employers
  2. Send us evidence of bad practice
  3. How would you like to be treated when applying for work?

Help us develop good practice and resources for employers

One of the key focuses of the project is to support employers in developing good policies and practices. One way we’re going about this by developing a resource centre specifically for employers.

So, we’re going back to basics. We want to make sure that we support employers who choose to consider criminal records by helping them to do so in a way that is fair, inclusive and lawful. However, we also want to challenge the inappropriate use of criminal records and to question the assumption amongst some employers that criminal records checks should always form part of their recruitment process in all circumstances.

To help us do this, we want to know what you think ‘good practice’ looks like.

We’re keen to get the thoughts of a range of people. We’re particularly keen to hear from employers about what you would find useful in helping you in this process. We’re keen to highlight the different ways that employers have tried to make themselves more open and inclusive towards people with convictions. We’re also looking for suggestions of existing resources that you’ve found useful.

We’ve put together a short set of questions, and we’d be grateful if you could spare a few minutes to share your thoughts (you can stay anonymous if you wish).

Complete the online survey here.

Alternatively, you can read the questions here and email your answers and other thoughts on this topic to

Send us evidence of bad practice

Alongside our work to support employers to develop good practice, we’re also on the look-out for evidence of bad practice by employers with regards to the policies and processes that they have in place for job applicants with criminal records.

This could include employers that:

  1. Have a blanket policy of not recruiting anybody with unspent convictions
  2. Carry out DBS checks for roles not eligible for them
  3. Request applicants to provide a copy of their ‘police record’ (also known as ‘enforced subject access’)
  4. Don’t give applicants an opportunity to explain their criminal record

Find out more details here about how to send us examples and evidence of bad practice.

How would you like to be treated when applying for work?

Alongside our survey of employers, we’re also keen to hear from people with convictions about how they’d like to be treated when applying for work.

In particular, we’d like to know what you think is a ‘fair’ way of dealing with criminal records as part of the recruitment process.

To do this we’ve put together a short survey for people with convictions.

You can complete the survey online survey here (you can stay anonymous if you wish).

Alternatively, you can read the questions here and email your answers to


Interesting in keeping updated about this work?

You can subscribe to receive these types of updates by email by signing up to our email updates and choosing to receive ‘News on our work challenging employment discrimination’.

Employers – New criminal offence; make sure you check your recruitment processes!

Tomorrow, the 10th March 2015, a new criminal offence of ‘enforced subject access’ comes into force, which employers and organisations need to be aware of.

This news has implications on the recruitment processes of employers and organisations. In particular, it has an impact on those that ask individuals to obtain a copy of their police record, for example as part of the recruitment process.

To help to understand the practical implications of this news, and what employers should do, we’ve produced a simple guidance leaflet which explains this in more detail.

We have also produced guidance for individuals with convictions. A link to this, and more background information, can be found in our main news piece.

If you have any questions about this as an employer, you can contact us for advice.

Dealing with criminal convictions – embedding a positive process of disclosure

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, Unlock comments on the issues discussed in a recent Ban the Box webinar.

Quite rightly, the Ban the Box campaign is focused on a specific issue, that being the tick-box that appears on many job application forms,  frightening the life out of somebody who has a criminal record.

Many people with convictions see “the box” and immediately de-select themselves out of the job opportunity, usually because their experiences to date have been ones of rejection whenever they’ve ticked that dreaded box. The obvious result to employers is that you’re missing out on a huge pool of talent, which is why this issue is so important.

But ‘banning the box’ is only one part of the puzzle. What this simple concept allows organisations to do is have a much considered recruitment process that firstly focuses on finding the best person for the job, while also recognising that, as an organisation, you might still need to look at criminal convictions once you have a preferred candidate.

This is something that I know from experience.  Having worked with employers for many years, I know that some employers can see the benefit of this issue in principle, but when you begin to try and ‘implement’ this, it’s then that it can feel like it’s getting more complicated. What do we do if somebody discloses a conviction? Are we allowed to employ them? Who do we have to tell?

These are all genuine questions that you have to think about, and often this means looking in the round as to what your policy and process are.  If you don’t have either of these, you’ll need to seriously consider getting them.

It’s all about building on the principle of ‘banning the box’ and establishing something that works for your organisation. Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all model. As we heard from Interserve in the a recent Ban the Box webinar, they have developed a policy and process that’s unique to them. We have developed a policy at Unlock which we think sends the kind of message that we want to applicants to hear.

However, no matter how good your policy, if this isn’t embedded within your organisation, it probably won’t work. Policies are only as good as the people that use them. Senior managers, HR colleagues and recruiting managers in particular need to feel equipped to make positive decisions about employing somebody with a conviction. That’s one reason why we provide support to employers, because lots of recruiters have myths about criminal records.  They don’t understand what they can and can’t ask for, and don’t understand how to deal on an individual case-by-case basis with people with have convictions.

Ultimately, ‘banning the box’ could easily be meaningless to an organisation, even if they’ve signed up to it. It’s perfectly possible (and a genuine risk for the campaign) for the ‘banning of the box’ to end up simply delaying the rejection of applicants with convictions. In many organisations, this requires a cultural shift away from seeing convictions as a ‘negative’ part of the process, and rather looking at how you can deal with them in a positive, informed way. ‘Banning the box’ is a simple but effective first step on a journey which enables employers to see beyond the label of ‘criminal record’ and see the person for the fantastic employee that they could potentially become.

This blog was originally published on the 10th June 2014 at . The direct link [accessed 13th June 2014] is


Webinar for Employers – The Legal Stuff

Today we delivered a webinar in partnership with Business in the Community, titled ‘Ban the Ban – the legal stuff’ where we briefly covered the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Read more about the webinar and download a copy of the slides.

‘How to employ with conviction’ – An Unlock Webcast for EFFRR (the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending)

Today we delivered a training session to the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFFRR), covering a range of common questions that employers have when they are looking to recruit people with convictions. 

Download a factsheet that was produced after the session.

Find out more information about our support for employers here.

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12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

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