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Fair Chance Pledge

Unlocking students with criminal records

UCAS no longer asks all applicants to declare unspent criminal convictions and universities have developed their own policies. For regulated courses – for example medicine, education or social work – applicants are still asked to declare criminal records on the UCAS application. Following this change, Unlock wanted to work with universities to encourage a fair approach to students with criminal records

Unlocking students with criminal records

In October 2019 Unlock completed the first part of our work to improve access to higher education for students with criminal records. Three themes emerged from that work:

  1. Take a ‘whole institution approach’: Identify what information is necessary – or not – at different stages in the student lifecycle; bringing decision makers together, as well as looking at support for students
  2. Focus on inclusion: ask ‘how can we safely include’ rather than ‘how can we legitimately exclude’. Applicants with criminal records are a diverse group and fir into traditional widening participation groups. Excluding people because of their past is likely to result in exclusion of under-represented groups
  3. Words matter: Policies of all kinds reflect the values and culture of the university. An inclusive culture begins with inclusive language. 

Fair admissions toolkit

We developed a Fair Admissions Toolkit for higher education institutions

Fair chance pledge

We believe everyone with the potential and ambition to go to university should have the opportunity to do so, regardless of background. People with criminal convictions face obstacles and barriers to accessing university, yet higher education has the power to transform their lives by helping them move forward and make a positive contribution to society. Therefore, as the leaders of our institutions we pledge to give applicants with a criminal record a fair chance by:

  • Asking applicants about criminal records only if – and when – it is necessary
  • Asking targeted and proportionate questions during the admissions process
  • Making our policy transparent and accessible to all applicants
  • If necessary, offering applicants a chance to discuss their case in person before a decision is made
  • Considering flexible adjustments and alternatives for applicants
  • Ensuring staff are trained to make fair and impartial judgements about applicants
  • Supporting students with criminal records to help them achieve academic success
  • Communicating positively about the benefits of a fair admissions process



Learn more about making admissions fair in the Fair Admissions Toolkit

To sign up to the pledge, please contact

Some of the institutions signed up to the pledge


Next steps

We’re now building on the pledge and our fair admissions work. Over the next three years, supported by the Bruno Schroder Trust, Unlock will:

  • Support more universities to offer fair admissions and to build support for students with criminal records on their journey through university
  • Collaborate with universities to include students with criminal records in their access and participation plans
  • Work with the Office for Students and HEPI to gain recognition for students with criminal records as a widening participation group
  • Maintain a database of all universities’ admissions policies to help applicants with criminal records make informed decisions

More information

We supported UCAS to produce good practice resources for universities, including the short film below.

Useful links

  1. Our policy page on university admissions brings together a range of useful publications.
  2. We have practical guidance for university admissions professionals
  3. We have details on the workshops we can run for institutions
  4. If you’d like to keep up to date with this area, sign up to our mailing list for universities.

Take action on bad recruitment practice

Most employers ask about criminal records on application forms, and many carry out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks before making a final offer.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows some criminal records to become ‘spent’ after a crime-free period. This means they are no longer disclosable – for example to employers – enabling people to move on and positively and contribute to society. For jobs working with children and vulnerable adults, spent criminal records must still be disclosed (until they become protected).

Because the law can be complicated and employers are rarely trained in this area, some employers ask questions about spent convictions when they shouldn’t. Sometimes employers are not aware that cautions and spent convictions can become protected, and ask about these too. For example, they may ask “have you ever had a caution or conviction?” We call these misleading questions.

Sometimes employers carry out DBS checks which are not appropriate for the role; these are sometimes known as ‘ineligible checks’. We call them ‘unlawful checks‘; carrying out a DBS check at a higher level than permitted can be a criminal offence and a breach of data protection laws, and leads to people with criminal records being denied jobs unnecessarily.

If you think an employer is asking a misleading question or has carried out an unlawful check, you can challenge it. The template letters below are designed to help you do this:

If you think an employer has asked a misleading question

Download template letter – misleading question (spent convictions)

Use this if: the job is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and the application form asks a question which may lead applicants to disclose convictions which are spent.

For example: a marketing role with a form that asks ‘do you have any cautions or criminal convictions?’

Download template letter – misleading question (protected convictions)

Use this if: the job is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and the application form asks a question which may lead applicants to disclose convictions which are ‘protected’ (sometimes called filtered).

For example: a teaching role with a form that asks ‘do you have any cautions or criminal convictions?’

If you think an employer has carried out an unlawful check

Download template letter – job offer withdrawn because of ineligible check (spent conviction)

Use this if: you have applied for a role covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and had an offer of employment withdrawn, following a DBS check which disclosed a spent conviction.

For example: you applied for a job as a shop assistant, and the company unlawfully carried out an enhanced DBS check.

Download template letter – ineligible check

Use this if: a job application form suggests that a check will be carried out for a role that does not require it.

For example: an office assistant role at a business, asking for a standard or enhanced DBS check

Support our policy work

We rely on evidence and individual experiences to support our work challenging bad practice, and pushing for policy change. Find out how you can help us to drive change:

If you need help

Contact our helpline if you need to speak to an advisor about your criminal record, or if you need help to challenge an employer.

Settled status

In 2019, we began a project to help secure the rights of EU nationals to settled status in the UK by ensuring that a criminal record does not unfairly exclude them. This project currently runs until the end of October 2021.


October 2020 – Settled status: what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record (Online information), one-page summary (PDF) and a news post about the new resources.

September 2019 – New policy briefing – EU nationals, settled status and criminal records

You can also sign up to our mailing list to receive updates by email.

What we’ve done so far

The situation on criminality remains complicated and unclear, and there is potential for problems to arise closer to the deadline date for applications in June 2021.

The first phase of this project included work to scope out the extent of the problems relating to settled status and criminal records. The result of this was a detailed briefing in September 2019 which highlighted 11 areas of concern and made 18 recommendations.


  • Had clarification that spent convictions do not need to be declared by applicants for settled status
  • Had positive feedback from NGOs that Unlock’s involvement and lead on the criminality issue had been important
  • Raised the profile of the issues around criminality both within the Home Office and across NGOs
  • Begun to make the scheme more transparent by building understanding that we plan to incorporate into information for individuals and organisations.
  • Researched and published information for individuals and those supporting them. See Settled status: what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record

We share the view held by many other organisations that there remains a gap around criminality. We have had positive feedback that Unlock’s role has been valuable and remains important, potentially more critical closer to the deadline for applications. We believe it is crucial that Unlock continues to be part of the work being done by other organisations and the Home Office, ensuring that the issues around criminality continue to be considered.

What we plan to do

We plan to:

  1. Continue engagement with the Home Office and NGO’s
  2. Take part in opportunities to increase understanding across the wider migration sector
  3. Work with other charities supporting EU nationals to disseminate information
  4. Encourage individuals and stakeholders to raise issues around criminality with Unlock
  5. Identify any recurring or systemic issues that require policy engagement
  6. Iteratively update the information based on issues that arise
  7. Support others that have a particular focus on people in prison.


#FairChecks movement

Our outdated criminal records regime is holding hundreds of thousands of people back from participating fully in society. Even a minor criminal history can produce lifelong barriers to employment, volunteering, housing and even travelling abroad, many years after people have moved on from their past. The system needs to change.

The #FairChecks movement is calling for the government to launch a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records to reduce the length of time a record is revealed. We are looking for reform in the following areas:

  1. Reducing the length of time a person’s conviction is revealed on basic checks.
  2. Making a more proportionate and flexible system to what is revealed on standard and enhanced checks that protects the public without unduly harming people’s opportunity to get on in life.
  3. A distinct approach to records acquired in childhood and a more nuanced approach to those acquired in early adulthood.
  4. The introduction of review mechanisms so that no one has to face a lifetime being held back by their past without the prospect of review at some point.

We want a disclosure system that is fair and gives people a genuine chance of moving on and contributing fully to society.

We are calling for the government to reform the disclosure of criminal records – so minor and very old crimes do not appear on on standard and enhanced criminal records checks and so that those who have turned their lives around are not forced to reveal their convictions long after they have served their sentence.

We are calling on the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to launch to a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. Given the importance of understanding the experiences of those with criminal records (and other points of view) we believe the review should be an open policy making process as recommended by the Cabinet Office. This means engaging with a broad range of experts and people with experience (more information about open policy making is on the government’s website).

How can you help create the change?

Use the #FairChecks site to get the support of your local MP.
Because it is the government that has to make changes to the law, we need the support of MPs. You can help by getting the support of your local MP. The first step is to use the #FairChecks website to send them a letter letting them know that a fair criminal records system is important to you.

This is just the start of the journey towards a fairer criminal records system.
We’re creating a movement so that we can go further together. Tick the box when you submit your letter to stay updated by email about the #FairChecks movement and how you can support the next stage.

Encourage your friends and family to support it.
You can also share your submission with friends and family and encourage them to write to their own MPs.

Share it on social media.
Please tweet a link to the site using the hashtag #FairChecks, share it on Facebook and LinkedIn and highlight it with your networks, directing people to the website

Support it as an organisation.
Alongside encouraging individuals to use #FairChecks to write to their MP, we are keen for organisations to be part of this too. We want to encourage organisations to show their public support for #FairChecks through Twitter, other social media and blogs, and please do get in touch with us if your organisation is interested in showing its support in other ways.


Government response

Hundreds of people have already written to their MPs through the #FairChecks site. The government has sent its initial response to many MP’s that have written to the government on behalf of their constituents. As you can read below, we believe the government’s response doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

Thank you for your letter of 27 January to the Home Secretary on behalf of a number of your constituents regarding the criminal records disclosure regime and your constituent’s call for a broad review of the disclosure of criminal records. I am replying as the Minister for Safeguarding with responsibility for the Government’s policy on criminal records disclosure. As disclosure is a devolved matter, my response addresses the regime as it applies in England and Wales.

The Government takes the safeguarding of children and vulnerable groups very seriously. The disclosure regime protects children and vulnerable adults through the disclosure of relevant criminal records by helping employers to make informed recruitment decisions in roles working with those groups. The Supreme Court has considered aspects of the disclosure regime with regards to spent convictions.

Once a conviction or caution is considered to be spent, it is usually not necessary for an individual to declare it to prospective employers when applying for a job, and it would not be disclosed on a basic criminal record certificate. However, where an individual is seeking to work in roles that require a high level of public trust or involve special risks and sensitivities, such as working closely with children or vulnerable adults, an employer may request that they obtain either a standard or enhanced criminal record certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). These certificates include details of spent and unspent cautions and convictions recorded on the Police National Computer, subject to statutory disclosure rules. The roles and activities that are eligible for standard and enhanced criminal record checks are set out in legislation.

The Supreme Court considered aspects of the disclosure regime relating to the disclosure of spent convictions, including several of the circumstances set out in your letter. Its judgement in the case of P and others broadly upheld the existing framework but found two aspects of the disclosure regime to be incompatible with the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These were the requirements for disclosure: 1) of reprimands and warnings issued to people below the age of 18; and 2) where an individual has more than on spent conviction, irrespective of offence type or time passed – known as the ‘multiple conviction rule’.

It is important to note there are other disclosure rules that are not affected by the Supreme Court judgement. These other rules ensure, for example, that a conviction relating to a specified serious offence (typically a violent or sexual offence) will be disclosed and that a conviction which has resulted in a custodial sentence will be disclosed. Details of the disclosure rules, and those offences which will always be disclosed, are available from DBS at: https://www.government/collections/dbsfiltering-guidance.

The Government is considering the details of this judgement carefully and the action necessary to address the judgement while ensuring employers continue to be supported in taking informed decisions to protect children and vulnerable adults. Any changes in the legislation would be subject to the usual cross-Government agreement and Parliamentary processes.

Whilst safeguarding vulnerable groups remain paramount, this Government also believes firmly in giving ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society the chance to prove they can work hard and become responsible members of our communities. We recognise the crucial role employment can play in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, helping them desist from offending and live crime-free lives, and are committed to improving access to employment for those ex-offenders who have turned their lives around.

Employers should recruit fairly and not discriminate against applicants on the basis of disclosures on criminal record certificates. Employers should consider any criminal record alongside the applicant’s skills, qualifications and abilities, as well as other materials which reflect the applicant’s conduct such as references. Employers should also discuss the content of certificates with applicants, considering factors such as the person’s age at the time of the offence, how long ago the offence took place, and the relevance of the offence to the application or post in question.

The Government has led by example in this area. In 2016, we introduced Ban the Box across the Civil Service and we are currently rolling out the successful Going Forward into Employment (GFIE) pilot, which matches prison leavers with Civil Service roles on release, nationwide.

I hope this explains the Government’s current position on the disclosure regime.

Changes to charity rules

This is our landing page for all things related to changes to charity rules that came into force in 2018 that affect people with criminal records and what roles they can be involved in. These have come about because of the implementation of section 9 of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016.

On this page you will find:

  • latest news
  • useful resources
  • timescales for the changes

Latest news

February 2020 – Unlock raises concerns as Charity Commission grants just six criminal conviction waivers

May 2019Appointing a trustee with a criminal record: reflections of a successful applicant and charity

September 2018Guidance for charities on changes to the rules on recruiting trustees and senior managers with criminal records

1st August 2018 – New charity rules that impact on people with convictions come into force today

1st February 2018New guidance and tools published to help charities and individuals deal with changes to charity rules and criminal records

You can also read older news posts on this website, our information site for individuals and our website for employers.


Useful resources

Timescales for the changes

  • January 2018 – Charity Commission publishes guidance on disqualification rules
  • 1st February 2018 – ‘Advance waiver’ opens. Any individual that applies for a waiver before 1st August 2018 is protected from impact of changes on 1st August until a decision has been made on their application (including any appeal). Unlock publishes guidance for charities and individuals.
  • February to July 2018 – Charities should follow the steps in our guidance for charities. Individuals should apply for a waiver if they will be disqualified by 1st August 2018.
  • 1st August 2018 – New rules in force. Rules apply to all existing and new trustees and senior manager positions. Our updated guidance for charities and individuals published.

Unlocking Experience


Unlocking Experience is a project that supported our overarching work to influence policy around criminal records and disclosure, and introduced a new approach to it.

One of our strategic objectives is to promote a more just and equal society where people with convictions can move on positively in their lives. Through our support work we hear the voices of people living with convictions and the problems that they are facing.

We have a powerful track record of influencing policy. This project enabled us to build a clearer policy strategy and action plan based on a body of evidence, including investigating, highlighting and seeking solutions to structural barriers where young people, women and BAME people with convictions are encountering additional disadvantage as a result of their criminal record.

Throughout this project we collated and analysed data, primarily drawing on data from our helpline and other support work to identify recurring, systemic and structural issues that could be resolved through changes in policy.

The project produced evidence – drawn directly from the experience of people with convictions, including those who can look back on their conviction(s) with a clearer hindsight and perspective. This evidence directed future advocacy work for Unlock and suggest policy directions for the wider criminal justice and social inclusion agendas.

It ensured that our policy work is well-informed and evidence-based. It enabled us to articulate our position on key issues more clearly, establishing a solid foundation for our work in ‘speaking truth to power’.


The project involved:

  1. Collecting evidence by engaging with people through our helpline, forum, social media, surveys and calls for evidence.
  2. Analysing the policy landscape and identifying opportunities to influence and engage with key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Disclosure and Barring Service, Department for Work and Pensions, as well as responding to relevant government reviews and enquiries.
  3. Disseminating the impact of our casework where there is a policy and/or ‘good practice’ dimension.

This project also involved analysing specific additional issues that may have a particular impact on groups with criminal records – such as those associated with youth, gender and ethnicity.

We brought new evidence for structural and practical change to policymakers, helping them be better informed and equipped to develop more effective policies and services.

An important factor in this project was the involvement of a wider range of voices, not only those that have been to prison. Unlock works with a range for people with criminal records; people with custodial and non-custodial sentences and those who find that the full negative impact of having a conviction, of any sort, may not fully emerge until long after that conviction.

Links to reports

  1. A life sentence for young people – A report into the impact of criminal records acquired in childhood and early adulthood (May 2018)
  2. Double discrimination? The impact of criminal records on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (July 2019)
  3. ‘Angels or witches’ The impact of criminal records on women (March 2021)

Find out more

We posted updated to this work under the news category Unlocking Experience

Unlocking Insurance

This work was part of a specific project that ran up until 2012. We’ve taken forward outstanding issues as part of our policy work on insurance.


A summary of the project

Unlock has worked to raise the profile of financial exclusion amongst people with convictions and their families.

Since supporting the establishment of the first specialist broker, Unlock has helped thousands of individuals and families.  By working with industry to encourage new entrants to the market, building links with specialist brokers, Unlock has been a key driver in establishing a fairer and more competitive market.  Unlock refers its clients to these brokers, in order that they can benefit from a competitive quote and ultimately keep their homes, transport and businesses.

Insurance was one of the very first issues tackled by Unlock. While great progress has undoubtedly been made, much more needs to be done. The problems can only be solved on a large scale with the involvement of many stakeholders.  The insurance industry, government agencies, charities and the media all have a part to play in ensuring that both insurers and consumers are well informed and behave responsibly.


The challenge

People with unspent convictions (and their families) are often excluded from mainstream insurance, including home, motor and commercial. This creates barriers to stable accommodation, employment and entrepreneurship. Insurers can use the law to avoid claims on policies where someone has an undeclared conviction. There are some 10.5 million people with criminal records in the UK, many of whom will have been sold policies under which insurers would not have to pay out.


Our response in the final year of this project (2012)

Unlock has sought to ensure people with convictions and their families can access insurance on fair terms. In order to achieve this objective we have: –

  • Continued to develop our list of non-discriminatory insurance providers and provided the list for free both online and in hard copy to people with convictions and professionals supporting them
  • Provided an online forum for people with convictions to find answers to questions about obtaining insurance
  • Worked with Age UK, Consumer Focus, the Trading Standards Institute and Which? to campaign for a change in law to protect people from buying invalid insurance
  • Published a joint position statement on the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill with other leading charities (see above)
  • Published an updated briefing paper for committee members of Parliament


Our results in 2012

After several years of activity by Unlock, 2012 finally saw the passing of two critical pieces of legislation which will make significant improvements for people with convictions in relation to insurance.

Last year Unlock lobbied the Government to protect consumers with convictions. The Government responded positively and promised to legislate as quickly as possible.

In May 2011 the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill received its first reading. By 8th March 2012, the Act had received Royal Assent.  The Act implements the Law Commissions’ 2009 Report on Consumer Insurance Law which recommended replacing the consumer’s duty to volunteer information with a duty to answer the insurer’s questions honestly and reasonably.

The reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act achieved through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will also have an important impact. The periods during which people need to disclose convictions will reduce significantly. For example, the disclosure period for a fine will reduce from 5 years to 1 year.


Next steps post-2012

Unlock has now achieved both the development of industry best practice and the legislative change which was sought.

We will continue to monitor and report on the implementation of relevant legislation and the following of best practice.

We will continue to maintain and disseminate a list of insurance providers that can provide insurance to people with convictions.

This work was part of a specific project that ran up until 2012. We’ve taken forward outstanding issues as part of our policy work on insurance.


Insurance and convictions – The issue

Of the 10 million+ people in the UK with a criminal record around 99% are in the community. At a number equal to one quarter of the UK’s working population, these citizens; men, women, parents, grandparents, children, employees and employers, constitute a significant part of UK life.

However, under the current policies and practices of the UK’s mainstream insurers, people with unspent convictions, and those that live with them, are essentially barred from securing even basic insurance. This can have serious emotional, social and economic consequences for the individual, their family and society as a whole.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) or ‘ROA’ sets a time period, based on the sentence given, during which past convictions must be declared to employers or insurers. These ‘rehabilitation periods’ are many times longer than the actual sentence given and in some cases last forever. Until this period passes, the conviction is defined in law as unspent and the individual will face exclusion.

Such consumers are damned if they disclose and damned if they don’t. Insurers consider unspent convictions as material facts. Under the blanket exclusion policy, the mainstream insurers will simply refuse to offer or cancel any cover for people with unspent convictions or a policyholder living in the same home.

Many people with convictions are not aware of the requirement to disclose unspent convictions. This is largely due to a lack of awareness, or even interest, regarding the ROA and its application to insurance law amongst many organisations both within criminal justice and the insurance industry. The onus is always on the insured, so if full disclosure is not made, consumers can pay premiums over long periods in the belief that they are covered, when in fact their policies are void.

Without buildings insurance, mortgages become unavailable or rescinded and families lose their homes. Without motor insurance, personal transport is lost, preventing access to many jobs and impeding family life. Without access to commercial insurance small businesses are unable to trade and self-employment opportunities disappear. These consequences are negative for the UK as a whole.


Overall impact of our work

Industry Impact

In 2008 Unlock created and published a major report entitled UNLOCKing Insurance: Issues and Evidence. Section one of the report set out to clearly establish the problem as it is experienced by people with convictions and their families. It explained how current industry practice involved a blanket exclusion of people with convictions. It also provided many case studies illustrating both the desperate need to ‘unlock insurance’ and the positive impact of the support provided by Unlock

Section two reported on new research by Unlock into the growing use of the internet for purchasing insurance and how this brought new dangers for people with convictions. The report identified best and worst practice amongst insurers and offered a set of recommendations. This research was Insurance Age’s lead story in the news section. The outcome was that the FSA required aggregators to review Issues and Evidence. We are also aware that at least one has been visited by the FSA to question current practices under the Treating Customers Fairly principles. That aggregator then made contact with brokers on Unlock’s list of specialists. The establishment of such relationships will have a hugely positive impact for people with convictions, since around three quarters of consumers visit these sites when renewing insurance.

In 2007, a successful partnership with the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) produced a widely reported joint press release. This challenged the industry to develop a more flexible approach to people with previous convictions, for the benefit of customers, industry and society as a whole. In 2008 Unlock aimed to build on this success by influencing the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which directly represents insurance companies. The ABI had been tasked by the Financial Inclusion Taskforce with establishing a working group to improve access to home contents insurance for the financially excluded. Unlock identified this as an opportunity, met with the ABI and were asked to produce a short paper for assessment by the group. Our Report for the ABI Working Party on Access to Insurance impacted by convincing the group to accept the exclusion of people with convictions onto their agenda, on behalf of the insurance industry.

Unlock was invited to attend the FSA Money Guidance Pathfinder Conference in 2008. One key outcome of this was gaining the interest of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), the world’s largest professional body for insurance and financial services. As a result, Unlock was asked write a ‘Think Piece’ for publication by the CII. Through this series of invited expert papers, the CII aim to promote debate and fresh thinking in the financial services sector. Time served: unlocking insurance to help reintegrate people with convictions into society reached the CII’s Think Piece readership of senior insurance industry leaders, impacting industry at the highest levels.

Government Impact

One of the reasons why this issue is so challenging is that it relates to a wide range of Government policies and therefore requires a genuinely joined up approach by Government departments. The challenges of achieving this are well known.

The key Government agency for Unlock has been the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). NOMS is a delivery agency of the Ministry of Justice and runs both prisons and probation services. Offender Management is split into several ‘pathways to reducing re-offending’ including Finance, Benefit and Debt (FBD). Unlock has been at the heart of developments in the FBD pathway since its inception. Unlock has raised the issue at Ministerial level with Angela Eagle, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Justice. The impact of our work is demonstrated by the recognition of access to insurance being recognised at a strategic level as relevant to reducing re-offending, both at the regional and national levels. This in turn influences the delivery of interventions throughout prisons and probation.

Achieving ground level impact within the criminal justice cannot be achieved purely through strategic policy change. The infrastructure has been in a state of constant flux for several years and is not effective at translating policy into practice. The UNLOCKing Financial Capability (UFC) project impacted on 33 prisons, 77 staff and thousands of prisoners indirectly. Staff and peer supporters received tailored, tried and tested capacity building training and materials which allowed them to deliver training to their clients. This included information on the impact of criminal convictions on insurance. Unlock received specific data from a sample of nine prisons. In 2008 around 800 prisoners benefitted within these 9 establishments.  In a snapshot report covering 5 prisons over 3 months, the average gain in confidence on insurance issues was from 2.5 to 8.4 on a 10 point scale.

Unlock has an established relationship with the financial inclusion team at the Financial Service Authority (FSA). This has allowed us to influence industry by ensuring the regulator is fully informed. Our impact has been clearly evidenced by the FSA’s actions towards the aggregators, highlighted in the previous section.

Unlock worked with the DWP’s Now Let’s Talk Money campaign whose website offered an opportunity to extend our reach to a wider audience. This made our insurance information leaflets available to thousands of intermediaries working with people suffering financial exclusion right across the country. UNLOCK will also work through the new Financial Inclusion Champion for home insurance, once they have been appointed.

Unlock lobbied Ian Pearson MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and secured meetings with both the Head of Financial Inclusion and the Financial Stability & Risk Team for January 2009. Agreement was reached that the issue should progress via the FSA but that the lack of information provision to consumers could potentially represent a market failure. In this case the Treasury could become involved directly.

Unlock identified the Law Commission’s consultation paper on disclosure as an opportunity and made a submission highlighting the relevance of the ROA. The Law Commission agreed to include the issue of convictions in its draft bill, which ultimately led to reform of consumer insurance law.

Voluntary & Community Sector Impact

In 2008 New Philanthropy Capital conducted research into the impact of charities on financial exclusion.  The resulting report Short changed highlighted both the impact of Unlock’s strategic work and the practical support to access insurance products. However, with five staff, Unlockremains a small charity. Therefore effective partnerships are a key element of achieving this scale impact.

In addition to the prison-based training, the UNLOCKing Financial Capability (UFC) project has now impacted on 51 staff, in 9 community-based charities from Portsmouth to Blyth in Northumberland. These charities are now able to more effectively support beneficiaries by raising awareness of the issue and solutions.

The 426 Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales provide face-to-face, telephone and online advice in over 3,200 locations, including courts and around 40 prisons. In April 2009 Unlock worked with CAB on a seminar Closing the Finance Gap – Offender Rehabilitation and Financial Inclusion, attended by senior civil servants and politicians. In November 2009 Unlock ran an insurance workshop at the CAB Money Advice Conference, which was attended by CAB money advisors from across the country. Unlock also supported Vale of Glamorgan CAB and Portsmouth CAB on NOMS/FSA funded financial capability pilots for offenders, by sharing the UFC resource.

Nacro provides education, training and resettlement services for offenders. It has an annual budget of £60 million and around 1300 staff. Nacro was funded by NOMS to develop a training programme aimed at prisoners in support of the ‘Finance, Benefit & Debt’ pathway. Unlock assisted Nacro in the development of Managing money: Building essential skills through the inclusion of the ‘Guide’ and ‘Broker List’ documents within the training guide and handbook.  Nacro trained 50 staff and covered 21% of the prisons in 2008.

Revolving Doors, which is concerned with mental health and the criminal justice system, embarked on research into the Cycle of Financial Crisis, Crime and Mental Illness. Unlock contributed to the research by being on the steering group and ensuring that the researchers were aware of the issue of insurance. The results from this research will be published in 2009.

As a member of Transact, the national forum for financial inclusion, Unlock is able to extend its reach to over 1000 organisations and individuals dedicated to financial inclusion. . For example, when ‘Issues & Evidence’ was published, a press release entitled ‘Millions of home insurance policies may be void’ was sent via the Transact Newsletter.

The ultimate impact of Unlock’s work via other charities is impossible to quantify. However, building partnerships with other organisations clearly supports Unlock’s ability to impact on both policy and practical delivery.


Useful links

This work was part of a specific project that ran up until 2012. We’ve taken forward outstanding issues as part of our policy work on insurance.




Time is Money

Unlock knows only too well that financial exclusion has a profoundly negative effect on people with convictions and their families. However, evidence of the nature, scale and extent of the barriers faced by people with a criminal record was required.


The challenges people face in seeking to re-establish their financial lives after a prison sentence are little understood by legislators or those responsible for policy in the private and public sectors. There was a gap in the literature regarding this issue and new evidence was required to tip the balance to reform in key areas such as insurance, bank accounts and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

As an upshot of this, Unlock conducted a research project, in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust, to gain evidence of the issues that we know from our everyday work are faced by people with convictions. The research set out to enhance understanding of the scale and nature of financial exclusion amongst individuals and families affected by a criminal conviction throughout the stages of the criminal justice system and in later life. The project also set out to utilise this enhanced understanding to influence a broad range of commercial and government policy and practice.

Time is Money: financial responsibility after prison was published in late 2010. This report greatly enhanced understanding of the effects of criminal convictions on financial exclusion and also set out practical, achievable recommendations that would make significant improvements.

Since publication, Unlock has met with policy makers in both government and industry, including Lord McNally (Justice Minister and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords), HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Financial Services Authority.

Results of this work include the agreement to fast track a crucial piece of insurance law through the House of Lords which had previously sat dormant, and the FSA writing to NOMS to highlight the need for people in prison to be able to access their external bank accounts.



Time is Money: financial responsibility after prison (Unlock & PRT, October 2010)



Time is Money launch – Read about the media work that we did as part of the launch of the report

Article in CII – The role of the financial services industry in reducing reoffending (CII, April 2011)

Unlocking Credit Unions

creditunionsPeople with convictions and their families face significant difficulties in accessing basic financial services which imped reintegration. Time is Money (Unlock: 2010) concluded that socially focused, not-for-profit credit unions are in a unique position to support people with these issues. In addition to products offered by banks, they provide affordable loans, money advice, access to PayPoint facilities and even access to easy payment and affordable electrical goods. Further, their approach is favourable to people reintegrating into the community. Their wide experience of the needs of low-income individuals assists the financially excluded to build financial stability and security. As a result of our banking project, Unlock identified a number of credit unions working with prisons and others interested in developing links. However, there is no sharing of best practice and no strategic approach to supporting these developments. The ultimate aim is to enable people who are serving, or have served, a prison or community sentence and their families, to access community financial services through the development of partnerships between credit unions and justice agencies in England & Wales.

In order to explore whether credit union membership could provide a bridge to community reintegration, particularly for those leaving prison, Unlock initiated a research project in partnership with the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). The project conducted participative, action-oriented research into the benefits, barriers and options for the strategic expansion of credit union financial services. It highlighted 13 credit unions working in partnership with 21 local prisons providing savings accounts to people in prison with some offering a current account on release.

Unlock’s research report was launched at an event chaired by Damian Hinds MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions at its meeting on 16 January 2013 at the Palace of Westminster.

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