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Top 10 things to know about criminal records

A summary of the key things people with convictions should know about criminal records.

Introduction to the ‘Top 10’

This page provides a short summary of the key things people with convictions should know about criminal records. Links to additional information can be found under each of the sections.

1 – Understand your criminal record

Although convictions and cautions stay on the Police National Computer (PNC) until you reach 100 years of age (they are not deleted before then), they don’t always have to be disclosed. Many people don’t know the details of their record and it’s important to get this right before disclosing to employers. Usually, this means applying for a copy of your police record (it’s free of charge and is known as a ‘Subject Access Request’).

Visit Police records – Subject access request – Unlock for details of how to apply and what will be disclosed.

2 – Work out if or when your record becomes ‘spent’

For most jobs (and insurance) you don’t need o disclose your criminal record once it’s ‘spent’. This is because of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Most convictions will become spent at some point. Our disclosure calculator tool can help work this out. Once your conviction is spent it won’t be disclosed on a basic DBS check.

Some jobs involve standard or enhanced DBS checks. For these, you’ll normally need to disclose spent convictions and cautions as well, unless they are eligible to be filtered by the DBS.

3 – If an employer asks, know if you need to tell them

You only have to disclose your record to an employer if they ask you. Many employers ask at some point and if your convictions are unspent, you legally need to disclose them. If they ask you and you don’t disclose, they could later revoke the job offer or you could be dismissed. You could even face a further conviction.

Visit Disclosing criminal records to employers – Unlock for guidance on whether you need to disclose when applying for employment or voluntary.

There are 3 main levels of criminal record check and which one is done by the employer depends on the job role. Make sure you know what level of check an employer is doing and only disclose what you legally need to. Spent convictions are not disclosed on basic checks. Filtered cautions/convictions are not disclosed on standard or enhanced checks.

Visit Criminal record checks for employment (basic, standard and enhanced DBS checks) – Unlock for a summary of the different types of criminal record checks.

4 – Prepare to disclose when you’re applying for jobs

If an employer wants to know about criminal records, they will normally ask you to disclose in a certain way; this might be at interview or after they’ve made a conditional offer. Some employers ask on their application forms. Where possible, we suggest that you disclose your record face-to-face; this tends to be most effective. Prepare a self-disclosure statement; this should help. Address any concerns you think they may have but stay positive and don’t concentrate solely on the negatives of a conviction.

The ‘Ban the Box’ campaign encourages employers not to ask about criminal records on application forms but instead leave it until later in the process.

Visit Disclosing criminal records to employers – Unlock for guidance on how and when to disclose.

5 – There are lots of good employers out there

Many organisations employ people with convictions. Proactive employers often sign up to initiatives such as the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFFRR) and Ban the Box. ‘Good’ employers will deal with criminal records on a case-by-case basis. We regularly hear from people working in a wide-range of careers; from construction, restaurants and hotels, to solicitors, accounts and the NHS.

Visit Looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering – Unlock for further information on employers with positive (and negative) attitudes and how different employment sectors deal with the disclosure of a criminal record.

6 – You’ll need insurance for a car or self-employment

Most mainstream insurers discriminate against people with unspent convictions, even if the convictions are not relevant. There are some insurers that only take into account motoring convictions and we have a list of these if you’ve not got motoring convictions. If you’re looking to be self-employed or want house insurance, you’ll find mainstream insurers simply won’t give you a quote. There are several insurance brokers however who should be able to assist you.

Visit Insurance, banking and other financial issues – Unlock for lists of insurers and brokers.

7 – Holidays abroad depend on the country

If you’re on licence you will normally need to get permission to travel outside the UK, but this is often given. Otherwise, there’s rarely anything stopping you travelling abroad. Travelling to specific countries like America and Australia will usually require you to apply for a visa due to their specific processes.

Visit Travelling abroad – Unlock for details of travelling to specific countries and their arrangements.

8 – Colleges and universities are not a bar

Colleges and universities will often ask you to disclose your criminal record as part of the application process, and especially for areas like nursing and teaching. It depends on what course you’re going for as to what you’ll need to disclose, and they should have a clear process that sets out how they will deal with your disclosure.

Visit Applying to university – Unlock for further information on university applications.

9 – Deal with details reported online

Some people struggle because their case was reported in the media and/or is available online. This is often referred to as the ‘google effect’ and means that employers can find out about your criminal record from the internet. If this is a problem for you, you might want to consider changing your name.

Once your conviction is spent, you can apply to the website and search engine (e.g. Google) to request that the search results are removed.

Visit The ‘google effect’, internet search results and the right to be forgotten – Unlock for details of applying to Google to have links removed.

10 – Don’t let your record put you off!

It’s important not to let any of this put you off from doing whatever it is you want to do. There are lots of areas of life which can potentially be affected by your criminal record – becoming a trustee of a charity, going on game shows, claiming victim compensation. The key is to make sure that you know where you stand and be confident in explaining the circumstances. Often those that do well are the ones that haven’t let their criminal record get the better of them.

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