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Fair Access to Employment

In 2015 Unlock, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, began challenging the discrimination faced by people with convictions seeking employment. Phase 2 of the project began in 2018. This page summarises the work we’re doing. Latest news on the project is linked to at the bottom of this page and is also available here

Our approach is to support and challenge employers to bring about positive change, building on our track-record of working with Government, employers and others. It also plays to our strengths as an independent charity that advocates for individuals, holds organisations to account and speaks truth to power.  

Outcome 1 – Employers will have significantly fairer and more inclusive policies and practices on recruitment of people with convictions 

To achieve improvements at both an individual employer level and a sector level we will: 


  • Encourage government to Ban the Box across the Civil Service
  • Building on our work with Bristol City Council to help them become the first local authority to ban the boxby encouraging other local authorities to follow suit
  • Provide flexible and tailored support to large employers who are motivated to develop fairer practices 
  • Work with employers to pilot the concept of an ‘employer review’, where we carry out a full audit to get ‘under the bonnet’ of their existing recruitment practice to help embed positive changes.  



  • Work on cases where bad practice has been identified to directly challenge employers and push for changes in their policy and/or practice. 
  • Anonymously publish on the Recruit! website cases where inappropriate employer practice has been successfully challenged to act as good practice examples for other employers to follow.  
  • Publish research on the top 60 national employers and their recruitment practices, identifying progress towards ‘Ban the Box’, engaging with those businesses that still have a box. 
  • Building on a successful pilot in 2017 attending Royal Mail’s AGM, we will identify national employers with approaches towards people with criminal records and attend their AGMs to ask their board/SMT about their approach.  
  • Share the learning of successful casework to raise awareness across relevant sectors and more broadly.

Outcome 2 – The number of unlawful checks being carried out by the DBS will be reduced 

There remains an ongoing problem with employers submitting applications for ineligible checks (standard or enhanced checks for roles that are only eligible for basic checks). This has a significant detrimental impact on individuals. Spent convictions are not disclosed on a basic check but are on standard or enhanced checks. Employers who knowingly submit ineligible checks are committing a criminal offence under the Police Act 1997. Although not all ineligible checks are unlawful, the DBS should have stopped them. An ineligible check has never been legally challenged as a criminal offence. Consequently, there are no repercussions to undertaking ineligible / unlawful checks.  

Although our casework has achieved success, a legal challenge would have a significant impact. We will:  

  • Work with the DBS to push for, and monitor delivery of, a comprehensive review of their process for identifying ineligible checks. 
  • Depending on the outcome of the review, a potential legal challenge against the DBS for continuing to facilitate ineligible checks.  
  • Continue to advocate for individuals affected by ineligible checks
  • Seek a legal challenge against an employer, to demonstrate the risks of processing ineligible checks 

Outcome 3 – Government will give greater attention to improving employment of people with convictions reflected in policy and practice. 

We will use our knowledge and experience to influence government to develop policies and initiatives that seek to increase the employment of people with convictions. 

Working with the Ministry of Justice, Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC 

  • Building on our work on the Ministry of Justice’s employment strategy, we will work with the New Futures Network (aimed at supporting employers to engage with prisons) 
  • We will push for expansion of ‘ban the box’ across the public sector and encourage a statutory footing for it. We will undertake more work to keep this proposal on the agenda of policymakers, including publishing a briefing on how other countries (particularly the US) have used the statutory route. 
  • Press for government to make good on its 2017 Manifesto promise to introduce tax incentives for employers who recruit people with unspent convictions.  


Working with the DBS   

Following the DBS’s introduction of basic checks, our focus will turn to the way in which the service is operated, as well as the DBS’s broader operations and policy drivers coming from the Home Office. We remain committed to work that will protect the rights of people with convictions, including: 

  • Ensuring DBS accept the importance of stakeholder engagement and the real-life experiences of people with convictions who are using the service. 
  • Steering the ongoing development in the way criminal record checks work to minimise their impact on people with old, minor or irrelevant criminal records. 



For more information, visit  

Download the project overview as a PDF.

Our Approach to employers

What we're doing to make a difference

Why is this important?

  • Almost 12 million people in the UK have a criminal record.
  • England and Wales has one of the most punitive disclosure systems in the world
  • Around a quarter of people claiming unemployment benefits having received a criminal record in the last 10 years, and yet 75% of employers discriminate against applicants on the basis of a criminal record.
  • People with old and irrelevant criminal records are often discouraged from applying for jobs.
  • However, employers cannot afford to ignore the diverse talent of people with criminal records.

This page sets out our approach to employers:


Supporting good practice

  1. Promoting ‘fair chance recruitment’ policies, an approach which originates from the United States and which has ‘Ban the Box’ at the heart of changes in the recruitment practice of employers.
  2. Improving the policies and practices of employers by:
    a. Working positively and proactively with larger employers, engaging at senior levels.
    b. Developing a range of practical information and resources for employers to use to help them to recruit people with criminal records.


Challenging unfair/unlawful practice

  1. Identifying employers acting unfairly and/or unlawfully towards people with criminal records.
  2. Focusing specifically on employers that breach the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act by carrying out unlawful criminal record checks and/or unlawfully taking into account spent convictions
  3. Work to amend the policies and practices of these employers.


Seeking long-term change

This work is charitably funded. We are aiming to achieve long-term change in employer attitudes and practices. We are not promoting ‘charged-for’ training or seeking commercial income, nor do we have a vested interest in encouraging greater use of criminal records by employers.

Our long-term aims are that:

  • People with convictions are not discouraged from applying for jobs due to their criminal record.
  • Employers recognise the limited value of criminal records and reduce their reliance on them for recruitment purposes by critically questioning their effectiveness.
  • Employers that continue to use criminal record information improve their policies and practices so that they are fairer and more inclusive towards people with criminal records.


For more information

This is a brief outline of our approach to employers. Contact Rachel Tynan for more details.
Email | Call 07739 069042 | Visit

Send us evidence of bad practice

Highlighting bad recruitment practice

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

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

Bad practice could include:

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

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

What we need from you

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

1. Your name
2. Contact details (email and telephone) and how you’d like us to contact you
3. Details of your experience (please include the name of the employer and of any staff you spoke to, include emails/screenshots etc if possible)
4. What you think should change.

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.

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

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