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Reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act “will make a huge difference to thousands of people, but they don’t go far enough” says Unlock

On Monday 10th March, the UK Government will finally implement reforms to the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The charity Unlock has campaigned for changes for many years.

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, says:

“There are over 9 million people in England & Wales with a criminal record and more than 1.2 million people get convicted at court every single year. For the majority of these people, these changes mean that the length of time they’ll need to disclose their conviction for will be reduced – for example, more than 800,000 people a year receive a fine at court, and the rehabilitation period for this will reduce from 5 years to 1 year.“


“We know from our helpline that there are thousands of people who were convicted many years ago and have lived law-abiding lives ever since, yet they’ve struggled to find stable employment and pay their taxes because of a conviction that was previously never spent. For many of these people, the reforms will reduce the likelihood that they will face prejudice from employers when applying for most jobs. That’s why we’re publishing updated guidance on the changes so that people know where they stand, and we’ve also updated our free online tool,, which helps people work out when their convictions become ‘spent’ under the Act.”


“Nevertheless, the reforms don’t go far enough. For example, because of the way that the Government has responded to concerns raised by the insurance industry, many people with minor motoring offences will still find themselves having to disclose a conviction to employers for 5 years, which is now longer than somebody who receives an 8 month prison sentence. The law will also continue to tell over 7,200 individuals ever year who are sentenced to over 4 years in prison that they can never be legally rehabilitated, no matter what they do to change their ways.”


“The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has also been weakened over the years with an increasing number of exceptions to it. Over 4 million standard and enhanced criminal record checks are carried out every year, and these disclose spent convictions without any real assessment as to whether they’re relevant to the job role. We want to see the Government review this exceptions list, and look more closely at what is disclosed on these checks, so that only relevant spent convictions are disclosed.”


“The Government must also do more to clamp down on employers carrying out ineligible standard or enhanced checks. The changes on the 10th March focus specifically on when convictions become spent, and any employer is entitled to carry out a basic disclosure as part of their recruitment process. However, figures releases to us last week from the Disclosing and Barring Service shows that, between March 2012 and February 2014, the DBS stopped 1,385 applications from employers who were looking to carry out a level of criminal record check that they weren’t entitled to.”


“It is clear to us through the work we do with employers that many recruitment and HR managers do not understand this important area of the law and how this effects their recruitment process. It’s important to recognise that this legislation doesn’t deal with how employers should deal with unspent criminal convictions as part of their recruitment process. Part of our focus is in providing practical support to employers so that they’re able to develop safe and effective recruitment processes which enable them to find the best person for the job and not simply rule people out because they have a criminal conviction.”


Notes to editors
1. Press/media contact: Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, / 07557 676433
2. Unlock is an independent award-winning charity, providing trusted information, advice and support for people with criminal convictions. Our staff and volunteers combine professional training with personal experience to help others overcome the long-term problems that having a conviction can bring. Our knowledge and insight helps us to work with government, employers and others, to change policies and practices to create a fairer and more inclusive society so that people with convictions can move on in their lives. Our website is
3. More information about changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act can be found at
4. Unlock’s updated guidance on the Act will be available here from Monday 10th March 2014


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Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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