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Unspent convictions and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

Discretionary filtering

The filtering system should, principally, be an automatic process that gives clarity and certainty. We have made recommendations on how automatic filtering rules should be amended. However, any automatic rules, without review, will affect people on the margins, which is why a discretionary process to establish a more nuanced approach needs to be built into the system.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) support chief officers having responsibility for applying tests of relevance and proportionality as they do with non-conviction information. Building on the existing quality assurance framework for enhanced checks, the police could assess individual DBS applications and apply a discretionary filtering process, determining whether unfiltered convictions/cautions are relevant to the role (and disclosed) or not relevant (and not disclosed)

The discretionary filtering process should be subject to independent review by the Independent Monitor, receiving appeals from applicants that believe information is no longer relevant and so shouldn’t be disclosed – decisions could apply to future disclosures, or just the current disclosure.

The Home Office would need to undertake an assessment of the costs of introducing a discretionary filtering process, which it has yet to do. The current DBS system is financed by employers – who may pass the cost on to applicants. In addition to the fixed fee charged by the DBS (£23 for standard, £40 for enhanced), employers pay an additional cost if they use the services of an umbrella body, usually between £10 and £25. A small increase in the fixed cost of DBS checks could cover the additional resources of an expanded role for the Independent Monitor.

The DBS filtering rules are just one element of the broader disclosure regime which, in our view, needs fundamental reform – including overhaul of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, including changes to the length of time after which convictions can become spent (for example, enabling sentences of over 4 years in prison to become spent).

Examples of review mechanisms already operating in the UK

  • In September 2015, the Scottish Government introduced a filtering system for old/minor convictions that allows those with a spent conviction for an offence on the ‘rules list’ to apply to have this information removed from their disclosure certificate.
  • In March 2016, the Department for Justice in Northern Ireland introduced an opportunity for independent review. The Independent Reviewer is also the Independent Monitor in England and Wales.

The Independent Monitor could also consider applications to have records ‘sealed’ from disclosure. Sealing processes exist in several jurisdictions and have been advocated by David Lammy in his 2017 review of disproportionality in the criminal justice system.

More information

Read our briefing on discretionary filtering for standard and enhanced DBS checks

Learn more about why this change is necessary

Reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

The problem

Unlock has long campaigned for fundamental changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), which is the principal legislation that governs the disclosure of criminal records to employers, educational institutions, insurers and housing providers.

We believe that the Act is in need of wholesale reform by way of a government review. Changes implemented in 2014 (through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012) focused mainly on reducing rehabilitation periods. However, offences remain ‘unspent’ for too long, sentences of over 4 years in prison can never become spent, and there are fundamental questions over effective the legislation is in a society where information can be found online and employers regularly ask people to disclose spent convictions even if they are not entitled to know about them.

Rehabilitation periods are arbitrary

Rehabilitation periods are determined by sentence, not offence, and sentences of over four years can never become spent. More than 9,000 people every year receive a sentence that can never become spent. There is significant evidence that sentencing is affected by regionand race. This means the ongoing consequences of a criminal record apply unevenly, which is fundamentally unfair.

Where rehabilitation periods do apply, they are not based in evidence. They do not reflect the likelihood of reoffending occurring, or allow personal growth or rehabilitation to be taken into account. The time in which disclosure is required can mean many years of unemployment which are then impossible to explain even once the conviction becomes spent.

We believe legal rehabilitation should be possible for all people who have served their sentence. Convictions that can never become spent are an invisible punishment that will forever shadow the individual, preventing full rehabilitation and meaningful employment even after completing their sentence. People should have the opportunity to have the positive things they have done since leaving prison recognised in law by allowing them to be legally rehabilitated – no-one should face a lifetime of disclosure without the prospect of a review at some point.

Rehabilitation periods are incoherent

Currently, an 8-month prison sentence for ABH becomes spent before a fine and penalty points for speeding. Due to what was intended as a temporary savings provision, motoring convictions that appear on criminal record checks take 5 years to become spent. Other convictions can remain unspent for much longer than their main sentence would indicate because of the way relevant orders (e.g. restraining orders) impact on the spent date.

There is no legal protection for spent convictions

There is insufficient focus on or recourse against employers who breach the law. Unlock is aware of spent convictions being asked about and taken into account by employers without adequate legal remedy available. Employers request ineligible standard and enhanced checks with little fear of sanction. People with convictions and cautions are not adequately informed of the implications of the sentence given to them at court. Neither are they given clear information about their rights with regards to employers asking for information on their offending history. Information remains online long after convictions are spent, which is a real and increasing problem. Unlock is aware of employers finding out about spent convictions via internet searches and discriminating on this basis.

Changes we are calling for

1. Reduced rehabilitation periods: The rehabilitation periods proposed by Breaking the Circle in 2002 (accepted by government in 2003) were based on evidence of re-offending and resulted in recommendations of 1 year for community sentences and 2 years for prison sentences. The table below sets out the current disclosure periods, as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, alongside proposed changes to these as reflected in Lord Ramsbotham’s Criminal Records Bill.

2. All convictions becoming spent at some point: Determinate prison sentences over four years should have a rehabilitation period and indeterminate sentences should be subject to a review process to enable them to become spent. The government’s response to Breaking the Circle was to propose that the rehabilitation period for sentences of over 4 years as an adult should be 4 years from the end of the sentence, and Unlock supports this.

3. Rehabilitation periods beginning on return to the community: Currently rehabilitation periods begin at the end of the sentence, however Unlock believes the period of time spent in the community without recourse to criminality is the better indicator of change. This would provide an incentive for people to engage with reducing re-offending initiatives. Recall to prison would result in the disclosure period being ‘reset’, strengthening the incentive to desist from crime.

4. Anomalies in rehabilitation periods removed: As above, changes introduced in 2014 by LASPO 2012 have resulted in anomalies in rehabilitation periods. For instance, motoring offences have a five-year rehabilitation period, prison sentences of up to six months have a one-year rehabilitation period. There are also significant anomalies around relevant orders.

5. Introduce a tribunal process: Consideration should be given to how a criminal records tribunal, administered by members of the judiciary, could offer people the opportunity to achieve rehabilitated status through a process of evidence submission. This would include those with indeterminate sentences (such as IPPs) and those who have yet to reach the time-limit required by law for their conviction to become automatically spent.

It is time the government committed to fundamental reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, ensuring that more people benefit, sooner, and that the legislation effectively protects against discrimination.

What we’re doing

We are supporting Lord Ramsbotham’s Private Members’ Bill.

We are building on the original campaign that we had to reform the ROA.

The #FairChecks movement pushes for reform of criminal record checks – sign up and support us.

Latest news

See the bottom of this page for our latest posts about this issue.

You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #roareform.

Useful links, resources and publications

Briefing – Reform of the criminal records disclosure regime (March 2019)

Our original campaign – what we achieved

‘Debt to society’ or ‘moral mortgage’? Criminal records and the unintended consequences of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Andrew Henley, 2016)

For more information

  1. Practical self-help information  – We have guidance on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act on our information site
  2. Personal experiences – We have posts relating to reform of the ROA on our online magazine, theRecord
  3. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum

Impact of Covid-19 on people with criminal records


This page brings together the difficulties faced by people with criminal records (PWCRs) as a result of Covid-19 and social distancing measures. We’ll keep this page under review as we learn more about the issues people are facing.

We ran a survey from May to June 2020 to find out how people were being affected. Read the findings here.

We will use this evidence to call for solutions. We included survey findings, along with evidence gathered from our helpline, in our briefing to the Justice Select Committee. Read the briefing here.

For practical advice please see our information page on Covid-19

Enforcement of lockdown rules varies by region

It’s not unusual to see regional variations in punishment and this is no different for Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for lockdown breaches. For example North Yorkshire police were 26 times more likely (per head of population) to issue FPNs than police in Staffordshire, while police in Dorset were 4 times more likely to issue FPNs than police in Hampshire.

Disproportionate numbers of black and Asian people fined and/or arrested for breaching lockdown rules

Recently published analysis shows that police forces are  up to six times more likely to issue FPNs to people of black, Asian or minority ethnicity than to white people. This may be partly explained by FPNs issued to non-residents – for example people travelling away from the city or visiting local beauty spots.

This doesn’t explain the uneven impact in London, where black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be issued FPNs for breaching lockdown rules. London’s population is made up 59% white groups, 12% black groups and 18% Asian groups. 46% of FPNs were issued to white people, 26% to black people and 23% to Asian people.

Black people were also disproportionately more likely to be arrested for breaches making up 31% of arrests compared with 38% for white people.

Lockdown breaches charged incorrectly

The first CPS review of cases brought under the Coronavirus Act found that all 44 had been incorrectly charged. 12 of the cases brought under Health Protection Regulations had also been charged incorrectly. The most recent review found a further 25 cases that had been charged incorrectly.

Court delays mean children are left with adult criminal records

In November 2019 the Guardian reported that court delays meant hundreds of children were being convicted and sentenced as adults. Children aged 10-17 would normally have their cases heard in the youth court which is better equipped to meet the needs of young defendants. By February 2020 delays in the youth court had already reached record levels. Since mid-March courts have suspended non-urgent hearings and most children will find their case has stalled. This is likely to increase the number of children who are convicted and sentenced as adults.

Sentencing in the youth justice system is primarily about rehabilitation and there are options that are not available for adults. Children who appear before the court after their 18th birthday will no longer have these options available to them. They will be sentenced as adults and their conviction will take twice as long to become spent. For example, a child who received a fine would have to declare it for 6 months. A child who, as a result of court delays, was convicted and sentenced as an adult, would have to declare the same fine for 12 months. This can create significant disadvantage for young adults who are applying for college or university, for car insurance or their first job.

The Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC) have published a report on delays, time limits and video link hearings for children.


The Ministry of Justice  and Youth Justice Board to monitor delays in the youth court and investigate ways  to ensure children whose cases are delayed are not saddled with an adult criminal record.

Finding a new job when unemployment is higher

The lockdown restrictions will have a disproportionate effect on people in temporary jobs and on zero-hours contracts. Many will now find themselves out of work. With fewer businesses predicted to be hiring in the next few months, PWCRs could find themselves overlooked.

Finding a new job is more difficult for PWCRs. About 75% of large employers ask about criminal records on application forms. 75% of PWCRs say they would avoid applying for a job where they were asked about criminal records on application. Generally, people don’t believe they’ll be treated fairly – and with good reason. 50% of employers say they would reject an applicant who declared a criminal record.

Food producers, supermarkets and other essential services are boosting their workforce. Applicants with a spent conviction won’t need to disclose it for these jobs. However, they may find the employer uses open source information – online news, or social media posts – to find out about their criminal record. Recruiters will usually ask about unspent convictions and sometimes have blanket bans on applicants with unspent convictions.

Employers who proactively recruit PWCRs report positive experiences, citing loyalty and reliability. Others recognise employment as key to reducing reoffending. People who can support themselves and their families are contributing to society and the economy. Without employment opportunities, people are forced to rely on the state. 1 in 3 Job Seekers’ Allowance claimants in 2010 had a criminal record. The cost of reoffending is £18bn a year.

As we look to an uncertain economic future, we can’t afford not to include law abiding people with criminal records. Government will need to consider how to support fair recruitment for people with criminal records at a time when unemployment is likely to be higher than in recent years.

Changing motivations for employers

Companies actively recruiting PWCRs do so for many reasons:

The sudden loss of so many jobs means more people will be looking for work and some businesses may no longer have difficulty attracting applicants. This could lead to discrimination against PWCRs. On the other hand, skills shortages and retention difficulties are more complex than simply the number of applicants. The care sector has carried significant vacancies for the last few years. Thousands of agriculture jobs were filled by EU nationals who have either left or may be affected by the planned new immigration rules. Jobs in these sectors are not automatically more attractive to people who find themselves recently redundant from the airline or hospitality industries.

Employers should look to include people with criminal records in their business. Not because it’s socially responsible (though it is). Not because it helps make communities safer (though it does) but because recruiting reliable and loyal workers is essential to rebuilding the British economy.

DBS checks

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) are providing two new services to support the response to Covid-19. The first is standard and enhanced checks free of charge for eligible roles. The second is fast-track checks of the barring lists within 24 hours. Prospective employers will receive confirmation that the applicant is not on the barred list and an enhanced certificate will be provided in time. These checks can be requested for voluntary or paid roles provided they are eligible.

These models create possible problems for applicants with criminal records. Free of charge checks may lead some employers to carry out higher level checks for ineligible roles, meaning people with cautions or spent convictions are at risk of being unfairly excluded from employment.

Fast-track barring checks could lead to problems later on where employers become aware of criminal records when the full check comes through. We’d like to think that an employee’s performance to date would be taken into account but employers tend to be risk averse. While most people with criminal records are not barred, we regularly see people with old and minor cautions and convictions rejected by health and social care employers.

The DBS’s approach raises questions about the existing ‘barring AND disclosure’ model. If a person is barred from regulated activity, a decision has been taken by the DBS that they are unsuitable for this work. If they are not barred, the person’s criminal record is shared with the employer to make a second decision around suitability.

The changes could signal an opportunity to rethink this approach, drawing on international comparisons. For example Spain uses the barring test as the only test of suitability for regulated roles, where employers need only seek confirmation that an applicant is not barred.

The DBS have responded quickly to the needs of some sectors and introduced these changes. It’s disappointing that they have not moved as quickly to bring the filtering rules in line with the law.

Applying for university this year

Although UCAS no longer collect criminal records information for all courses, some universities do. Courses leading to regulated professions – including medicine and teaching – require applicants to disclose criminal records that are not yet protected.  We strongly encourage universities to carry out disclosure discussions in person. This gives applicants the chance to explain the circumstances and decision makers can ask questions and discuss concerns. While social distancing measures remain, we suggest the use of video conferencing facilities to enable applicants to take a full part in the assessment. This could remain an option in future for applicants who cannot attend in person.

Applying to university in the future

Universities face uncertainty in domestic and international admissions. This could be an opportunity for them to consider recognising students with criminal records as a widening participation group.


Prison leavers without a confirmed address will find it harder to source housing support due to office closures and remote provision of services.

People in approved premises and those in bail accommodation may find it harder to move on while social distancing restrictions remain in place. They will be isolated from friends and family and will be unable to access support services beyond those provided in-house. The lack of certainty may create or exacerbate anxiety and worry about the future and make a difficult transition even harder.

People on probation/licence

Calls to our helpline have identified some inconsistencies in the way that probation are currently delivering their services. This causes concern for individuals who are trying to adhere to their licence conditions and reporting requirements and avoid a potential recall to prison.

The inconsistency is, in part, due to the fact that 21 privately owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) work alongside the National Probation Service (NPS) to supervise people on licence or on community sentences. There has been no centralised guidance for people under CRC supervision. HMPPS have published a brief information sheet for those under NPS supervision.

People under supervision may be socially isolated as a result of social distancing measures and difficulties accessing support services.

People on the sex offenders register

There is a lack of consistency in arrangements across the country for dealing with visits to those on the register. At least one force has suspended all visits indefinitely, whilst others continue their visits unless an individual shows symptoms of Covid-19.

Police forces are under pressure and facing their own difficulties with staffing, but clear and accessible information to those who have reporting requirements will save effort in the long run. Provision of information should take into account restrictions on internet use – online information will be unavailable for many.


Disregarding of records and pardoning gay and bi men convicted under outdated laws


Are you looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record? Get in touch – see below.

Also, you can see more news on this page, or sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email


The problem

The government introduced a statutory pardon for men with historic convictions for consensual gay sex offences. The pardon only applies to men who have successfully applied to the Home Office to have their conviction disregarded.

We are concerned about the accessibility of the disregard scheme and the appeal process, which does not appear to be meeting its intended aim of allowing the men in this situation get convictions removed from their records. The number of men who have applied under the scheme since it was introduced in 2012 is extremely low: according to information obtained by the Public Law Project (PLP) under the Freedom of Information Act, as at 7 June 2016 there had only been 320 applications, 83 of which have been successful. None of the unsuccessful applicants has exercised their right of appeal to the High Court.

We have concerns about the application process. Chris Bryant MP summed up the problem in his contribution to the Second Reading of Sexual Offences (Pardons) Bill in October 2016:

There is a real problem about trying to force people to go through another process. For someone now in their 70s or 80s, the conviction might have been like a brand on them for their entire life. It might have caused terrible problems in their family life. It might have meant that they were never able to do the job that they wanted to do, such as a teacher not being able to go back to teaching. Friends and relatives might have shunned them. It might have made them feel terribly ashamed. Why on earth would they want to write to the Home Secretary, asking, “Please may I be pardoned?” Why on earth would they want to go through that process all over again? Why on earth would they want someone to analyse whether they were guilty of something way back when?

We are also concerned that not all repealed gay sex offences have been included under the disregard scheme. For example, at the moment men convicted or cautioned for an offence under section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (solicitation by men), cannot have their crime deleted because it was missed off the list of offences that could be disregarded in 2012. The government has acknowledged that it was used in a discriminatory way against gay men. Section 32 was used as recently as the 1990s to arrest men for simply trying to chat up another man in a public place, often in stings by plain-clothes police officers outside gay pubs. It was repealed in 2003 along with the gross indecency, buggery and other laws used against gay and bi men.

Clearly, people unjustly convicted or cautioned in this way should be able to delete that unfair conviction. The offence is categorised as a sex offence, and so a conviction or caution for this offence can be disclosed on a DBS check to employers indefinitely.


The government committed in its manifesto to issue a pardon to everyone convicted under old offences like gross indecency, often used to target gay and bi men.

The Turing Bill sought a blanket pardon for all gay and bi men – living or deceased – in recognition of this injustice; the government’s response did not. It instead offered only an automatic posthumous pardon, leaving out thousands of gay and bi men who are still living. We agree with Stonewall that a pardon should be automatic for all those affected, including the 15,000 men still alive. This would exclude anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16, but would go some way to righting a significant wrong for many thousands of people.

Our position

The incredibly low numbers of people applying for their (now decriminalised) consensual gay sex convictions to be disregarded are sadly not surprising. The fact that people have to apply is a clear barrier to accessing justice. It causes people understandable anguish when faced with a Home Office form which forces them to show why their application should be granted for something that they might have felt branded and ashamed of for much of their life. It was therefore inevitable that few people would apply and the result is that the policy does not appear to be meeting its intended aim of allowing the men in this situation to get the convictions removed from their records. The disregard and pardoning schemes could easily be done proactively by the Home Office, and this would show the government to be committed to righting the wrongs of the past.

We believe the UK government should issue a general pardon to all gay and bi men who were prosecuted under these unjust laws.

This is a clear opportunity for the government to unequivocally make amends for the actions of past governments who instituted these laws. It is time for the government to apologise to all those affected, those convicted, and their loved ones.

The Police and Crime Act 2017, referred to at the time as ‘Turnings Law”, had the impact of posthumously pardoning thousands of gay and bisexual men. However, although it applies to those still alive, a pardon only applies to those who have successfully applied through the Home Office disregard process to have historic offences removed, and we know that the numbers of people that apply through this process is very low and the application process itself often acts as an unnecessary obstacle.

What we’re doing

We are supporting the work other organisations that are looking to challenge the accessibility of the disregard scheme and the appeal process.

Are you looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record?

If you’re looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record, but you believe the current process acts as a barrier – for example, you’re embarrassed to have to apply – please email the details (in confidence) to

Latest news

September 2019Alan Turing law: Gay, unjustly convicted – and now denied a pardon

February 2017 – ‘Turings Law’ takes effect to posthumously pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men

July 2017 – Blog – EastEnders, DBS checks and decriminalised offences

December 2016Amnesty for gay men convicted under outdated laws extended to Northern Ireland

November 2016 – George Montague, the 93-year-old activist, handed a petition into 10 Downing Street calling for an apology from the Government to the estimated 65,000 gay and bi men who, like him, were hounded and convicted under old discriminatory sexual offences laws.

October 2016Scotland to pardon gay men convicted under outdated laws – Holyrood’s justice secretary, Michael Matheson, told the chamber that the parliament would bring forward a Scottish “Turing law” to automatically pardon gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer criminal.

October 2016Prisons Minister scuppers plans to given automatic pardons – Plans for a law in England and Wales to automatically pardon men convicted under obsolete laws relating to gross indecency with other men were scuppered by the Conservative justice minister, Sam Gyimah, after he spoke so long that the Bill ran out of time. Gyimah’s behaviour attracted cross-party condemnation after the private member’s bill, put forward by John Nicolson of the SNP, failed to pass to its next stage in the Commons. Nicolson’s bill would have given an automatic pardon to men convicted under the obsolete laws relating to gross indecency with other men. It would go further than an amendment to the policing and crime bill proposed by the government, which only pardons the thousands of men who are already dead, while the living will have to apply to the Home Office to get their convictions ‘disregarded’ before being pardoned. Ministers had earlier that week announced that that about 40,000 dead people will be pardoned, three years after a posthumous pardon was issued to the second world war codebreaker Alan Turing for the offence of gross indecency. But out of the 65,000 men convicted under the abolished laws, about 15,000 are still alive and will have to go through an administrative process in order to obtain a pardon.

View more news posts here


For more information

  1. Practical self-help information  – We have guidance on removing historical convictions and cautions for consensual gay sex from criminal records on our information site
  2. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum

Support into employment

The problem

People with convictions in the community, and those leaving prison, do not get adequate support to help them turn their lives around and overcome the negative barriers associated with having a criminal record.

We set out more details of the problems as we see them in our submission to the Work and Pensions inquiry in 2016.  

What needs to change

Government, prisons, probation providers and others need to improve the support for individuals with a criminal record to help them secure meaningful employment. This means:

Government stating clearly who has ultimately responsibility for helping prison leavers into work

Everyone being released from prison should understand their criminal record and the impact this will have. This includes understanding the impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and being confident in if, what, when and how to disclose to employers

Everyone whose role it is to provide advice and support on employment issues should have the knowledge, skills and confidence to advise on issues relating to criminal records.

Work coaches in prisons and Jobcentres should have training in disclosure of convictions and helping people with criminal records into employment

Prisons should develop strong links with employers, including local businesses, and offer opportunities with real employers

Probation should be required to track the outcomes of the people they help, including whether they have helped them into work.

For those prison leavers who cannot work, benefit claims should be made in prison and paid on day one of release.

What we’re doing

We are working with the government to take forward the recommendations made by the Work and Pensions Committee in their inquiry into support for offenders.

We provide a range of training workshops and courses to practitioners on criminal record and disclosure issues.

Latest news

The latest on this issue can be found at the top of this page. You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #SupportforPWCRs (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).

University and college admissions

UCAS have removed the requirement for all students to declare whether they have unspent criminal convictions. Universities have their own approach and some continue to ask at a later stage, some no longer ask at all, and some ask applicants about any restrictions that may affect their studies.

Applicants for courses leading directly to regulated professions – medicine, teaching, or social work, among others  – will be asked on their UCAS application to declare all criminal records unless they are protected/filtered. Universities should provide information on whether a course will require a disclosure and enhanced DBS check.

See our searchable database of all current policies.


Research from the US found no evidence that admitting people with criminal convictions led to a higher rate of crime on campus.

“There is no evidence that screening for criminal histories increases campus safety, nor is there any evidence suggesting that students with criminal records commit crimes on campus in any way or rate that differs from students without criminal records.”

  1. Asking applicants about convictions has a ‘chilling effect’, deterring applicants
  2. Attrition rates are a greater barrier to admission than rejections based on criminal conviction
  3. Criminal history screening policies have a disparate impact on African American applicants

The study recommended that universities stop asking about and considering criminal history information in admissions.

The case for change

People with criminal records are largely drawn from the groups least likely to progress to university. Evidence shows that some groups are disproportionately criminalised: people from low income households and people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, those from some racialised communities and care experienced people. Along with mature students and first-in-family, these groups are under-represented at university. Despite education being widely recognised as a key factor in successful rehabilitation, benefiting people with convictions, their families, communities and the institution itself, admissions policies present serious psychological and practical challenges to access.

Higher education is a route to improving life chances. Almost half the prison population left school with no qualifications, 42% were permanently excluded and nearly a quarter (compared with 2% of the general population) have spent time in the care system as children. University applicants who have spent time in prison have already overcome huge educational, practical and psychological obstacles to even be in a position to apply.

People with criminal records are discouraged from applying. UCAS has removed the tick-box on its application form requiring every applicant to disclose “relevant unspent convictions”. However, most universities continue to ask during admissions. This discourages people with a criminal record from applying.

Universities have complex and differing policies and procedures. Good practice is often not followed. Some universities have a poor track record of treating individuals fairly.

What we’re doing

We are calling on all universities to sign up to our Fair Admissions Pledge.

We are taking forward this work through our Unlocking students with criminal records programme.

Useful links, resources and publications

Developing a fair approach to applicants with criminal records – A toolkit for higher education providers (October 2019)

Understanding applicants with criminal records – Briefing for universities and colleges (September 2018)

Criminal convictions good practice for HE providers (UCAS, with support from Unlock, September 2018)

University admissions and criminal records: Lessons learned and next steps (June 2018)

From the US

Beyond the Box (US Department of Education, 2016)

Boxed out: Criminal history screening and college application attrition (Centre for Community Alternatives, 2015)

The use of criminal history records in college admissions: Reconsidered (Centre for Community Alternatives, 2010)

Case studies

Case of Adam – A criminal record preventing the award of a PhD

Case of Isabel – Refused permission to study at University with no right of appeal

Case of Georgie – I was rejected from university because of my record, now I’m campaigning for fair treatment

Case of Charlotte – A lack of understanding of the filtering rules meant I was almost refused a place at university

Case of Saeed – A criminal record stopped an A-grade student studying medicine at university

Case of Lynn – Refused a place to study as the college had no policy for dealing with people with convictions

For more information

  1. See our guidance on applying to university
  2. Visit our section for universities
  3. See posts relating to university and college admissions
  4. Share your views and experiences on our online forum


Accessing social housing


Court makes it clear – spent convictions shouldn’t be taken into account for housing applications

For more latest news, you can:

  1. click here for a full list of news posts
  2. sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email
  3. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #housingconvictions

The problem

Under the Localism Act 2011, local authorities and social housing providers have some discretion to exclude people on the grounds of “unacceptable behaviour”. As we cover on our information site, we’ve seen examples of local authorities filtering out people with convictions.

We want to understand more about if, and how, criminal records are having an impact on peoples’ ability to get, or indeed keep, social housing.


Under the old rules, councils would not have been allowed to make a rule which would apply to all people with convictions, or to anyone convicted of a particular type of crime. Past decisions showed that each application had to be considered individually.

The government’s guidance on the new regime states the following (with emphasis added), “Housing authorities should avoid setting criteria which disqualify groups of people whose members are likely to be accorded reasonable preference for social housing…. However, authorities may wish to adopt criteria which would disqualify individuals who satisfy the reasonable preference requirements…for example, if applicants are disqualified on a ground of anti-social behaviour.

When deciding what classes of people do not qualify for an allocation, authorities should consider the implications of excluding all members of such groups. ”

On the surface, therefore, the requirement that each case be assessed individually seems to have been significantly watered down by the Localism Act 2011. Since that came into force, we’ve seen anecdotal examples of local authorities who have refused people who have any unspent conviction, regardless of nature or seriousness.

Has your criminal record made it difficult to access social housing?

The Localism Act 2011 gave local authorities and social housing providers some discretion to exclude people on the grounds of “unacceptable behaviour”. We’ve seen examples of local authorities excluding people with convictions for a range of offences.

As part of our work on housing policy, we want to understand more about if, and how, criminal records are having an impact on peoples’ ability to get, or indeed keep, social housing.
We’re gathering information and experiences to help us to better understand how a criminal record affects people when applying for social housing.

  • Has your housing situation been affected by a criminal record?
  • Have you been refused a tenancy or been evicted as a result of a criminal record?
  • Have you come across any blanket policies being used by local authorities or housing associations?

What we need from you

If you have been excluded from housing due to your criminal record, contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: housing’. Please include:

  • Your name
  • Contact details (email and telephone) and how you’d like us to contact you
  • Details of your criminal record
  • Details of your experience (please include the name of the housing provider 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.

Case studies

Court makes it clear – spent convictions shouldn’t be taken into account for housing applications

Andy – Having an application for social housing refused on the basis of spent convictions

Latest news

See the bottom of this page for our latest posts about this issue.

You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #housingconvictions (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).

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Pushing for improvements to how the Disclosure & Barring Service works


Has an employer wrongly checked your official criminal record? Find out more.

For more latest news, you can:

  1. see the posts at the bottom of this page
  2. click here for a full list of news posts
  3. sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email
  4. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #wayDBSworks


The problem

The DBS doesn’t properly challenge employers who unlawfully access information about individuals, nor is the DBS responsive to the needs of people with convictions in the design and delivery of its services.


What we think needs to change

We believe that criminal record checking processes should operate more fairly for people with convictions, and be tightened so that employers are unable to carry out ineligible checks.

We are working on this issue as part of our fair access to employment project.


What we’re doing

As part of our fair access to employment project we are:

  • Pushing for individuals to be able to get a copy of their DBS check before applying for jobs, and for the DBS to introduce a basic disclosure service
  • Working with the DBS to ensure they advise people with convictions accurately, and consider them as a key stakeholder when making changes that have a specific impact on them
  • Monitoring the volume and type of checks carried out by the DBS, and publishing data to show trends and highlight issues that adversely affect people with convictions
  • Pushing for the introduction of a freely available online eligibility tool for both employers and individuals which determines what level of check that can be carried out
  • Pushing for the DBS to be proactive in preventing ineligible checks and for them to take against against employers blatantly applying for ineligible checks


Latest news

See the bottom of this page for our latest posts about this issue.

You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #wayDBSworks (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).

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For more information

  1. Practical self-help information  – We have guidance on the Disclosure and Barring Service on our information site
  2. Personal experiences – We have posts relating to the way the DBS works on our online magazine, theRecord
  3. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum


Learning from overseas


In recent years, the UK criminal records disclosure system has been subject to intense scrutiny. A series of piecemeal reforms in response to high-profile events has resulted in a confusing and complicated process which, in many ways, undermines rehabilitation policies and places additional obstacles in the way of people with convictions in moving on positively with their lives.

Other countries have developed their systems in different ways, responding to different priorities. We believe it’s important to learn the lessons from other countries.


Learning from Europe – Winston Churchill Fellowship

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship in 2014.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is UK’s national memorial to Sir Winston, and each year the Trust awards Travelling Fellowship grants to UK citizens in a range of fields to enable Churchill Fellows to carry out research projects overseas. These projects are designed to exchange ideas and best practice, and build greater understanding between peoples and different cultures, in order that professions and communities in the UK can benefit from these shared experiences.

The output of the project that Christopher delivered was a report which made recommendations to the UK.

Download the report here (published April 2015).

For more information about the Fellowship, click here.


Learning from overseas

Building on the Winston Churchill Fellowship, we will continue to look at ways to learn from, and influence practice, overseas. Latest news can be found at the bottom of this page.


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