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New research finds thousands of people every year struggle because of youth criminal records from decades ago

Unlock, the country’s leading charity for people with convictions, has today published research on the impact of criminal records acquired in childhood and early adulthood.

New data in the report, A life sentence for young people, shows that hundreds of thousands of people are being affected every year, and often many decades later, because of mistakes they made when they were children or young adults. In the last 5 years alone, over 2.25 million youth criminal records were disclosed on standard/enhanced checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) that were over 15 years old.

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

“This report shines a spotlight on the sheer number of very old and minor criminal records being routinely and unnecessarily disclosed on standard and enhanced DBS checks, raising serious questions about the effectiveness of the criminal record disclosure regime and in particular the DBS filtering process.


“From employment, volunteering and studying at university, to travelling abroad and buying home insurance, this report shows how a criminal record represents a significant barrier to thousands of people, even decades later. In the last 5 years, nearly 1 million youth criminal records on standard/enhanced checks were over 30 years old. This shows that the regime is in desperate need for reform.


“That’s why we’ve today launched a CrowdJustice appeal. Money raised will help cover Unlock’s legal costs for intervening in a landmark Supreme Court case next month. We will make sure that the court understands the importance of the issue, the failings of the current system, and how it could be changed for the better.”


The report was featured today by the Guardian.


Key findings in the report

In the last 5 years alone on standard/enhanced DBS checks:

  1. Nearly 850,000 people have been affected by the disclosure of a youth criminal record on a standard/enhanced check.
  2. Over 3.5 million youth criminal records have been disclosed
  3. Over three-quarters of youth criminal records disclosed (almost 2.75 million) were over 10 years old.
  4. Over 2.25 million youth criminal records disclosed were over 15 years old.
  5. Nearly 1 million youth criminal records disclosed were over 30 years old.


CrowdJustice appeal

Today’s report coincides with the charity launching a crowdfunding appeal to help raise money to pay for the charity’s legal costs in intervening a landmark Supreme Court case next month.

In June, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the Government which is arguing that their current approach to disclosing old and minor criminal record on standard and enhanced DBS checks, often decades later, is fair. Unlock disagrees. In fact, a criminal record that someone gets in their youth can, in effect, be a life sentence of stigma and discrimination.

This is the first time in its 18-year history that Unlock has intervened in a legal case. 

Update: We are pleased that we reached our crowdfunding targetThank you for your support. 



  1. Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.
  2. There are over 11 million people in the UK that have a criminal record.
  3. Unlock’s website is
  4. High-resolution images for media use are available from Unlock’s Flickr account.
  5. The report is available to download at A summary of the report can be downloaded here.
  6. Unlock has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to intervene in the case. We want to put forward strong arguments on behalf of everyone who is unfairly affected by the criminal records disclosure regime because of its blunt rules which result in, for example, indefinite disclosure in all cases where someone was convicted of more than one offence, no matter how old or minor those offences were. Intervening will help us to make sure that the Supreme Court understands the importance of the issue, the failings of the current system, and how it could be changed for the better. So we’re raising money now to pay for the legal costs that will help us to do this.


Case studies

Under the current system for jobs involving standard or enhanced DBS checks, Michael & Anita’s criminal record will be disclosed for the rest of their lives

Michael (not his real name)

When he was 17, Michael was convicted of theft of a coat from a market stall. He was fined £30. Ten months later, 23 days after turning 18, he was convicted of stealing a motor cycle and driving without insurance. He was fined £50 and sentenced to 24 hours at an attendance centre. That was 36 years ago; he’s come a long way since then. He’s now in his fifties. However, Michael’s long-forgotten past has come back to haunt him and he’s concerned about his work as a finance director. He could lose his job and a career that he’s worked hard for.

Anita (not her real name)

When she was 11, she was playing with a lighter in the girls’ bathroom at school and set a toilet roll alight causing around £100 of damage. She was arrested for Arson and told that the reprimand she was given would come off her record when she turned 19. Then after months of being bullied in secondary school, she was involved in a fight. She and the other pupil were both arrested for Actual Bodily Harm. She was encouraged by the police to accept a reprimand rather than challenge it in court and was told it would come off her record in five years. Now nearly in her thirties, she’s a qualified English teacher. However, not only was her record not removed like she was told it would be, but her two reprimands come up on enhanced DBS checks and will do under the current DBS rules for the rest of her life. The hopelessness of trying to find work has led her to working abroad and to bouts of depression and anxiety.


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