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Will Brexit and Covid improve employment opportunities for people with a criminal record?

If you’ve been watching the news recently you can’t have failed to notice the number of stories talking about the staff shortages across certain sectors.

Although the latest employment figures show that one in 20 people who are looking for work can’t find a job, the number of job vacancies being advertised have hit their highest since the start of the pandemic. In particular, the hospitality industry is struggling to find staff.

This sector has always had a high turnover of staff and even before the pandemic there was a shortage of chefs. For anybody working in hospitality, lockdown and the slow re-opening of bars and restaurants meant that they had to find other kinds of work and having done so many are now reluctant to return to the culture of long, unsociable hours often at minimum wage.

In the early days of the pandemic, supermarkets and other essential stores were able to recruit those who had previously been employed by restaurants and bars but there is now much more competition for these people and it’s likely that the retail sector will be the next to face labour shortages.

Many of these shortages would traditionally have been filled by non-UK workers but approximately 1.3 million foreign nationals have left the country in the last year. Restrictions on travel due to Covid are part of the problem but so too is Brexit and the hostile approach to immigration by the Government.

So what does this mean for people with a criminal record who are finding it difficult to get into employment?

The Institute of Employment Studies say:

“When businesses say ‘We can’t get the staff’, they mean, ‘We can’t get experienced staff'”

However, there are approximately 1.7 million people seeking work who could potentially take up these jobs. This means that the only option to employers will be to consider staff who are less experienced and training them or offer positions to those with experience who may have other factors which have made them unsuitable in the past, for example having an unspent conviction.

The lack of experienced staff means that more than ever, those who may have been refused jobs in the past could stand a much higher chance of landing a position and rapidly climbing the career ladder.

Not only is it possible that more opportunities will become available but the shortage of workers is likely to drive up wages as well as improve working conditions.

In terms of the hospitality sector, don’t assume that the only jobs available will be working in a kitchen or behind a bar, there are many more opportunities available; what about utilising your skills in marketing or management?

For many years Adnams Brewery and Roast Restaurants have been signed up to the Ban the Box campaign and removed the question about criminal records from their application forms. But there are plenty more companies that also have a very positive attitude towards those with a criminal record including Honest Burgers and Greene King.

Tips for getting a job in hospitality?

  • Walk in off the street – This is not an unusual way of getting a job in a restaurant or bar. Some advertise jobs in their window or on boards outside.
  • Show passion and enthusiasm – Bar tending and waitressing are skills that can be taught but passion and enthusiasm can’t.
  • Identify your transferrable skills – Being organised, adaptable and able to work as a team as well as any type of customer service skills will transfer well into the hospitality industry.
  • Use social media – Update your social media profiles and covering letter and regularly search platforms like Twitter and Facebook for job opportunities.
  • Network – It’s sometimes easier to get a job through word of mouth so make sure your friends, family and other contacts know that you’re looking for work.
  • Highlight previous experience – If you’ve worked in the industry (however long ago) tell the employer. Any experience will still prove valuable.

There are some amazing opportunities available and business owners will often consider attitude to work as important as experience. Demonstrating that you have good communication skills and can be flexible might be a good start in landing yourself a new job.

So what are you waiting for? This could be just the start of a whole new career.

By Adam

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
  • Information – We have some practical self-help information on  Information on disclosing criminal records to employers.
  • Discuss – There are some interesting discussions on this issue on our online forum.

Facing possible rejection again – applying to Google to have links to my name removed

Source: Adobe Stock

As far as she’s aware, the fact that there is information online about her criminal record hasn’t had too much of an impact on Lucy. However, since her conviction became spent she has started to feel very strongly that either the articles themselves, or links to them should be removed.

Back in May 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that individuals should be able to request the deletion or removal of personal data published online where there is no compelling reason for it to remain. This has become known as the ‘right to be forgotten’.

I was on holiday in Devon when this news broke and I can remember listening to the radio and thinking of the enormous impact this could have on somebody like me – a person with a criminal record whose name could easily be found online.

Following my release from prison, I’d been lucky enough to get a full time job and, although I’d disclosed my unspent conviction to my manager, I lived in constant fear that a work colleague would ‘google’ me and spill the beans about my past. To the best of my knowledge I don’t think this ever happened but I can never be sure. So, having the opportunity to apply for links to my name to be removed was potentially a massive deal for me.

A few days after the Court of Justice case had been reported on some of the more right wing newspapers were criticising the changes. One said:

Applications have come from corrupt public figures and criminals desperate to hide their past.

Although Google stressed that they would deal with each delisting application on a case by case basis, it quickly became clear that they were unwilling to remove search results relating to unspent convictions. Knowing that it was going to take many years for my conviction to become spent making an application to Google seemed less of an option for me.

As I was married with a family, changing my name also presented more challenges than it overcome and so, I made a conscious decision to try and increase my positive profile on the internet.

Creating a profile on sites like Linkedin gave me an immediate presence online as did commenting on articles written by others. I started submitting my own articles to publications and sites and was surprised when they were published. I later found out that many trade magazines struggle to get people to write articles for free and are open to accepting those written on topical issues.

It wasn’t a quick process but within a year I’d managed to push a lot of the negative newspaper reports to page 3 on Google and, as time went on, removing links to my name became less important.

However, once my conviction became spent it actually bought home to me how wrong it is that the links to my name still exist online. I may be naive in thinking that an employer seeing this might still give me the opportunity to explain myself if they felt I had the skills and experience to do the job. But what about colleagues? I doubt whether they’d confront me over what they’d read but some would undoubtedly believe everything the newspaper had reported.

And so I’ve decided to face rejection again and make an application to Google to have the links to my name removed. I wanted to share this experience with all those that read theRecord and pass on anything I learn from this journey.

I can’t say it’s started too well. Today I’ve tried to pull together a list of URL links for every article appearing in a search on my name (you need to provide these on the online application form). I’m not sure what made me read every article but I did. I find it hard to recognise the woman being described on those pages but I remember so clearly how chaotic and out of control her life was at that time. It’s hard reading this stuff and I’ve certainly shed a tear or two.

I get the feeling that this process might be harder than I imagined but as they say “tomorrow is another day“. Just watch this space.

By Lucy (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

Since the news in 2014 of ‘the right to be forgotten’ Unlock has been actively looking at if and how this is being applied to spent convictions. We would encourage anybody who has been unsuccessful with Google (or other search engines) to refer their case to the Information Commissioners Office as a formal complaint.

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“I didn’t think that my dad was at risk of dying when he was sent to prison” – The impact of coronavirus on people in prison

Source: Adobe Stock

If you’ve got a parent or family member who is over 70 then you’ll no doubt have been concerned to learn that this put’s them at greater risk of contracting coronovirus. But what if they were in prison where they can’t self-isolate and you can’t check that they’re looking after themselves properly; that’s the situation that Janette finds herself in.

Like many people in the UK, I totally support the government’s decision to introduce the lock-down measures as a way of reducing the spread of coronavirus. As I work in a hotel I can’t work from home but I’ve been furloughed and I’m currently getting 80% of my pay so, in may ways I’m one of the lucky ones. Except my life is being affected by coronavirus and I can’t tell anybody.

In 2017 my dad received an 8 year prison sentence. It was a shock to the whole family and I don’t condone what he did but, he’s still my dad. Eight years seemed such a long time for a first offence but little did I realise at that time that he was actually being given a death sentence.

I’ve been visiting dad twice a month since he was convicted, during which time I’ve seen his health deteriorate. The lack of regular exercise, a good nights sleep and a diet that’s short on fresh fruit and vegetables have all taken their toll on the fit 72 year old that entered prison.

I last saw my dad in mid-March. We talked about the news and in particular, coronavirus, and although he tried to put on a brave face, I could tell that he was very worried about the risk of catching the virus. A few days later when I tried to book my next visit, I received an email stating that all visits had been suspended in an attempt to reduce the risk of infection. To start with I foolishly thought that this would be a short term measure but 6 weeks on and I can see no end to it.

When I saw on the news that the government were looking to release upto 4,000 prisoners on an early release scheme, I dared to dream that my dad would be one of them. I reasoned that if he were at home he would be shielding due to his age. However, even though he wasn’t convicted of a sexual or violent offence, he still has another year in prison which means that he doesn’t meet the criteria.

Last weekend I heard that 6 prisoners had been released ‘in error’ and therefore the scheme was being stopped.

In letters I’ve received from my dad he tells me that he’s now locked in his cell for 23 hours a day, there’s no education, no gym, no library and very little hope.

Ten prisoners have died so far but without the ability to self-isolate this will surely increase. I know the general public have little sympathy for men like my dad but he’s an old man now and no risk to anybody. So please, put my dad on tag for 24 hours a day if needed, but let him and people like him stay safe.

By Janette  (name changed to protect identity)

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Teaching is facing a recruitment crisis; how can it be turned around?

Source: Adobe Stock

Several years ago, The Guardian published an article about the crisis in the recruitment of teachers. Since then, things haven’t got much better however as an ex-teacher with a criminal record, I’ve got my own ideas on how to improve the recruitment problem.

Back in 2017, it was reported that a shortfall of trainee teachers was reaching crisis levels, with particular shortages in London and the home counties, and a significant drop over the last decade in the number of women applicants. A number of factors were used to explain this, including the gap between the growth in private sector and public sector salaries. 

It was suggested that the Department of Education could reverse the crisis by considering:

  1. Reducing teachers’ unsustainable workload
  2. Treat the profession with respect
  3. Keep pay rises in line with the private sector
  4. Tackle the perceived ceiling to success
  5. Change and challenge damaging perceptions of teenagers

Here’s a link to the original article if you’d like to read it in full.

I’d like to add a number 6 to the list.

Stop being so risk averse to people with minor criminal convictions”

I’d been a teacher for many years before I received my criminal conviction and my last job was a senior position as part of the school management team. In exchange for the amount of money that the government had invested in my training, I was able to shape the lives of generations of students, helping them succeed academically and helping lay the foundations to the rest of their lives.

Immediately after I received my conviction however, this counted for nothing. Of course teaching is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and guidance states that for teaching roles those who have serious convictions would normally be deemed unsuitable. The definition of a ‘serious offence’ is:

  • Serious drug related offences
  • Robbery/burglary/theft
  • Deception/fraud
  • Murder/manslaughter
  • Rape/Other serious sexual offences
  • GBH/ABH/Other serious acts of violence

My conviction doesn’t fall under any of these categories.

I’m not on any barred list and my conviction is my one and only one. It happened at a difficult time in my life – my parents were both very ill and my relationship with my wife was coming to an end. I should have asked for some professional help at the time but I guess I was too proud.

I can explain the circumstances around my conviction until I’m blue in the face but nobody is prepared to give me a second chance. If you work with kids no conviction it seems is ever acceptable. I hear of teaching students being refused placements because of old convictions for shop-lifting or fights they got in at school. Rather than ‘fight their corner’, a lot of these potentially great teachers decide to follow another career path. Is it any wonder therefore that there’s a shortage of teachers?

Do I think I’m a worse teacher because of my conviction? ‘No’. If truth be told, I’d probably be a better one. Prior to my conviction, I’d lived a fairly privileged existence. I’d always had a nice house, money in the bank, nice holidays – I’d never had any real difficulties in my life. A lot of my students had a much less fortunate home life, some were incredibly chaotic. I had no understanding of what life was like in a household where parents were out of work, money was tight and alcohol helped ‘take the edge off’ the problems. I know what it’s like now and know that I’d have a much greater empathy with those students.

I’m not suggesting that every teacher with a conviction is given a job. Our children and young people have the right to be safe at school and there are no doubt some individuals who may pose a genuine risk to them. However, these people really are in the minority. Most head teachers are clever enough to tell from an open and honest conversation who the real ‘bad pennies’ are but, so worried are they about their own position that it’s easier to put a blanket ban on anybody who has a conviction.

So, in my mind there’s quite a simple way to ease the shortage of teachers – Give heads some credit for making reasoned decisions and allow them to work in a ‘no blame’ environment.

Truly assess the level of risk a person poses, for example is the offence relevant, how long ago was it and how old was the individual when it happened.

There are currently 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record and 1.5 million new convictions each year. How many of these 11 million would love to go into teaching and how many of the 1.5 million are already teachers.

By Lawrence  (name changed to protect identity)

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • For practical information – More information can be found on our information hub site on becoming a teacher
  • To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Has ‘Ban the Box’ turned a job interview into another courtroom?

Many people with an unspent conviction will welcome an organisation removing the box asking about criminal convictions from their application forms. However, Noah feels that for individuals with more complex criminal records, there may be some unintended consequences of doing so unless employers make other changes too.



For anybody that doesn’t know, ‘Ban the Box’ is an initiative that encourages businesses to stop asking ‘Do you have any criminal convictions?’ and including a tick box on their application forms. This box makes it far too easy for employers to immediately bin job applicants that have a criminal record, even if minor or long ago. Ban the Box means each applicant can be evaluated as an individual, on merit, rather than immediately dismissed as an ex-offender. For many, this works well. Those who have convictions from the distant past may find them easier to explain in a job interview than on a form, and can explain the circumstances. However,for others, Ban the Box can make a job interview feel like a courtroom.

For someone with a clear, linear narrative, Ban the Box can work really well. For example:

There was a time in my youth where I ran with the wrong crowd and got into some trouble. I did some time in prison for burglary. It was a stupid thing to do and I’ve long since moved on from it.”

You can see how an employer will view this disclosure – it’s an offence from a long time ago, the individual made some mistakes, learned from them and has had a ‘clean’ record since then.

How about:

I’ve been in and out of prison over the last eight years, mainly for crimes associated with a drug habit. I’ve been clean for six months, thanks to a drug rehab programme. I’ve completely turned my life around.”

An employer in this situation will need to make an assessment of the person’s recovery and their criminal record, and decide whether a ‘career criminal’ with a previous drug problem will make a positive contribution to their business or whether they will damage their brand. However the criminal behaviour is clearly linked to a behaviour that the person is now being treated for. This can reassure an employer.

Those with a more complicated history can present a more difficult situation for an employer to judge. Some offences are relatively minor and may result in a fine or community order but are nonetheless socially unacceptable, for example racially aggravated harassment or animal cruelty. These behaviours can be difficult to explain, even if they were a long time ago. Those convicted of murder, or sexual or terrorism offences can struggle to create a relatable narrative around their offence.

This often means that ex-offenders with difficult histories are faced with the humiliation of attending job interviews where their offences are examined and judged, only to be rejected at a later date. Some employers have banned the box but still operate blanket bans on some conviction types. Some larger employers leave decisions to local managers and this can result in conflicting decisions between sites. Sometimes interviewers are not the ones making a decision – a person might be recommended for the job having disclosed their criminal record, only to be rejected by HR at a later stage.

At least in the courtroom, the accused has legal representation and the rule of law guides any decision taken by a judge. In a job interview, an employer will make a decision based on their personal interpretation of the applicant’s narrative. Therefore, the unintended consequence of Ban the Box is sentencing ex-offenders with difficult conviction histories to a lifetime of job interview humiliation.

By Noah (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Employment can dramatically reduce re-offending rates and contribute to a safer society, yet – over 5 years since the launch of the Ban the Box – three-quarters of employers continue to ask about criminal records at application stage.

We think it’s difficult to justify collecting this data at such an early stage, and encourage the government to find ways to put Ban the Box on a statutory footing. However, that’s not the end of the story. As Noah describes, those with an unspent conviction will usually be asked to disclose at some stage – usually at interview. We don’t have reliable data on whether applicants with convictions are more likely to succeed if disclosing in interview, but asking later in the process allows an applicant to be judged on merit first.

Disclosing in interview can be daunting, particularly for those who don’t have a clear, linear explanation for their conviction/s. There are a few things employers can do to manage the process better.

  1. Be upfront – If you operate a blanket ban on conviction types, let applicants know this before they apply. Nobody wants to get their hopes up, send off a CV and plan their disclosure only to be told ‘sorry, we don’t take XXX’.
  2. Focus on what’s relevant – Employers should consider whether asking about criminal records is necessary and if so, what convictions are relevant to the role. Some employers do this well: we know of a financial services company that asks only about theft, fraud or other finance related convictions. Another has a blanket ban on offences against children but don’t ask about any other offences. This is a positive step, but employers who take this approach must have a clear policy and follow it. A DBS check will reveal convictions of any category. If you decide only financial convictions are relevant, you must ensure you ignore other conviction types when making decisions.
  3. Only ask the preferred candidate/s – Once a person has been selected on merit, there is no question that they are the best person for the job. Asking about criminal records at offer stage means employers can be really clear about what is driving their decision. Sometimes this will mean the preferred candidate will be rejected because their criminal record really does make them unsuitable for the role. More often, it will mean that a skilled and qualified candidate is considered holistically and fairly, and employers won’t miss out on someone who has a past, but also has potential.

Useful links

Honesty was the best policy when dealing with my probation officers

Since his conviction, Len has been subject to supervision by probation. So far, his experiences have been quite positive and his probation officers have proved to be a great source of help to him; Len believes this is, in part, due to his willingness to be open and honest with them.



My offence carries the worst stigma out of most of them because it’s a sexual offence; not contact related but for downloading illegal content which is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common offence these days.

I’m coming up to 3 years sober from drugs, alcohol and porn and it’s safe to say that I’m a law abiding citizen and have learned a very hard lesson from my mistakes. My views will be more closely related to those who have a sexual offence and subject to notification requirements.

I’ve learnt several things when dealing with probation but rule number one is definitely ….. DON’T MESS WITH THEM.

You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people so it’s best to be brutally honest at all times. The two probation officers I’ve had are well meaning, decent people whose interest is in seeing me progress whilst keeping me accountable for my actions. Their primary role is prevention of crime but they’ve also got a vested interest in encouraging positive developments in your life. Most want you to succeed, but a lot of that is down to you and how willing you are to help them help you.

Even before I attended my first probation meeting, I’d sat down and wrote a long essay about how I got into my situation. This helped to keep things consistent and has been really useful when my probation officer has changed.

It’s likely that you’ll learn new things that you didn’t know or realise when you initially wrote your story. However being honest will help probation identify and discuss with you any suitable courses of action, i.e. are drugs a problem? or do you have problems socialising, is there any unresolved trauma in your life that needs to be dealt with etc.

I’d always recommend that you keep probation up to date with things that are going on in your life or any time constraints you have, for example if your appointment is at 5pm and you’re at work and can’t get there on time, then tell them as soon as possible so your appointment can be rearranged. Officers can be flexible but they’ll appreciate you giving them plenty of notice. If you fail to attend but don’t tell them until the following day, that wouldn’t go down well and unless you have a really good, genuine reason it could go down as as breach. Being hospitalised is a genuine reason for not physically being able to attend and can be checked out. However, going on a bender and not turning up because you’re hungover isn’t.

Probation staff aren’t trained psychologists or experts in criminal law, you may end up educating them on a few things but they’ll twig if you’re being obstructive, defensive or trying to change the subject all the time so always be open and upfront.

Make sure you tell them about any successes you have or anything you’ve done which is constructive, even if it’s as mundane as painting your ceiling or going out for a long walk.

If you’re worried about something tell them. This could be a problem you’re facing or difficulties in dealing with people, threats you might receive or harassment etc. If they don’t know they can’t help. If it is something very serious they have a duty to report it, such as your life being in danger.

If there’s something you’re unsure about, like whether or not to apply for a particular job, ask them about it. It’s always a good idea to get a bit of common sense guidance before you go ahead and do something.

Maybe I’ve been lucky with the probation officers I’ve had but from the start my intention was to forge a good relationship with them. By being upfront and honest I’m sure I never gave them any cause for concern which could have been the reason why they’re so decent to me.

By Len (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Len seems to have a good relationship with his probation officer and this is something we would always encourage. If you’re truthful and sincere, probation are more likely to view you as low risk which ultimately helps when making any type of request to them, for example working in certain jobs, travelling abroad etc.

There are times however when officers fail to do something they should do, make unjustified decisions or take inappropriate action. If this happens then it may be that the only option open to you would be to make a formal complaint.

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have some practical information on probation
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum.

‘Without a voice’ by Michelle Nicholson: A review

Michelle Nicholson is the founder and director of Key Changes -Unlocking Women’s Potential. We’re delighted to have been asked to review Michelle’s book, ‘Without a voice’, a brave and candid account of the events that led up to her conviction for murder.






Michelle was  just 22 years old when she was convicted of the murder of her father. As a single parent, rejected as a child by her schizophrenic mother she was desperate for love and happiness. This search for affection led her to become involved with a man she believed to be good and kind and someone who would give her and her daughter a better life. However, not long after meeting him, she ended up in the dock beside him at Sheffield Crown Court accused of the most horrific crime.

Michelle never denied being at the scene of the crime but stated that she had no idea that her father was going to be killed and was adamant that she played no part in his death. However, her voice went unheard and she was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 15 years.

From the minute she was taken into custody, Michelle protested her innocence and when she sat her parole board 14 years later, she told them the exact same story.

When I was arrested I thought the police would find evidence to prove that I was innocent. When they charged me, the most crushing thing was, how could anyone think that I could do a thing like that? I was absolutely devastated because I had lost my father then the double blow, they think I’ve done it. Before it happened I was just a single parent in a fairly poor community, just going to college and thinking about creating my own business and getting a better life for me and my daughter – then it all suddenly changed to everyone thinking that I’ve done this terrible crime. When the jury came back with the guilty verdict I was in complete and utter shock. I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t take it in. That shock continued for years”.

The book follows Michelle’s journey throughout her time in prison where she quickly realised how many women needed help rather than punishment through to her release and securing a job as a caseworker and going on to study for a degree in Social Science.

The book is searingly honest and Michelle doesn’t hold back when describing the details of her upbringing and the death of her father. At times, it’s an upsetting and difficult read especially when Michelle describes the social stigma facing already disadvantaged groups.

‘Without a voice’ exposes the complexities of the criminal justice system and the dramatic ongoing impact it can have on an individual’s life. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in criminal justice who wants to hear about the human side of the system.

Despite running a successful charity, twenty four years on, Michelle is still fighting to clear her name.

Reviewed by Debbie


‘Without a voice’ is available from Amazon in both paperback and e-reader versions.

I am being punished for something I haven’t done – Insurance problems for family members

It was my first time in a court. My husband, Mark was on trial. It was his first offence. He was pleading guilty. We didn’t know how things would go.

We had been told to prepare ourselves for a prison sentence. We were not told how to do that. We had no idea what that would mean in practice. I felt sick to the stomach.

As I sat in the public gallery, I was so stressed that I could see the barristers talking but couldn’t take in what they said. It was as if I was in a different world. Then, it was the judge’s turn to speak. The sentencing statement went on for ages but the only bits that registered with me were the words ‘suspended’ and ‘that will be the end of it’. What aching relief!

Over the first month, a new normal of serving a suspended sentence emerged, including Mark’s weekly visits to the probation officer and getting used to restrictions on travel.

Every day since that day in court, I’d been counting off the weeks, longing for the time my husband’s sentence would be served. I thought that all he had to do was keep his nose clean for a few months longer, which shouldn’t be difficult and the judge’s words would come true – ‘that will be the end of it’. How wrong I was?

I was looking through some papers and noticed our household insurance policy was up for renewal. We’d been with this particular company for three years and had never had to make a claim, so I thought renewing the policy would be a formality.

Then something made me look at the small print. That’s not something I usually do. I noticed something about ‘if your circumstances have changed’. I then saw the bit that said “You must tell us if you or any person usually living with you has any unspent criminal convictions”.

Obviously, we didn’t want any mishaps so Mark rang the insurance company. He told them that he was serving a suspended sentence and told them what it was for. They said they’d get in touch within 72 hours.

Two days later, we received an email from them saying: ‘Your insurance will be cancelled in seven days’. They also said they’d be charging a cancellation fee. The cheek! They didn’t say why the policy was being cancelled, so Mark rang them again. The woman at the end of the phone explained that it was ‘company policy’. Why it was ‘company policy’ she didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t say. We thought we’d have to pay more in premiums, but we didn’t expect to be refused.

As we’d always had a joint policy, Mark asked if we could insure our house in my name. The insurance company said that it would make no difference. Because of his conviction, they considered Mark an uninsurable risk, and I was guilty by association.

A couple of hours after the phone call, the company emailed us with an online customer satisfaction survey to complete. Totally crass!

The whole thing is so unfair. I have done nothing wrong. I had nothing to do with Mark’s offence, and I am being punished. That is not justice.

We needed to get the house and the contents insured in a hurry, so we immediately started searching on the internet for ‘ex-offenders insurance’. We came across a Guardian article that had a list of companies that are prepared to insure ex-offenders and their families. Mark rang one, told them the details and got the cover we needed. It is more than four times the annual premium we were paying with our previous insurers, but at least we’re covered.

Another problem is that this will go on for years. Although his suspended sentence is counted in months, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act counts Mark as having an ‘unspent’ conviction for ten years. He is obliged to disclose unspent convictions or any insurance will be invalid.

When he raised the issue with his probation officer, they said that he was lucky: most of their clients don’t own property to insure. In a way, maybe we are. We cannot afford not to insure our house. We certainly couldn’t afford to lose everything. We will find the money for the higher premiums. But it does seem that society imposes additional punishment on an offender in the name of rehabilitation.

The worst of it is, nobody knows about it until it is too late. The judge didn’t tell Mark this would happen. His probation officer didn’t tell him this would happen. It’s in none of the literature we got from the court.

If I had just gone ahead and renewed the policy without reading it thoroughly, we’d have carried on blithely thinking that we were covered when, in fact, we weren’t. If the house had then been destroyed by fire, we would have been ruined. We would have been homeless. We’d have lost everything.

People should know that a direct result of getting a criminal record – even a fine for a public order offence at a demo – is that the insurance industry regards them and their innocent family as an insurance risk and that many companies will not insure them.

On the day Mark received his verdict in court, I was so relieved and thankful to hear the judge say ‘suspended’. But they were so wrong when they said that serving the sentence would be the end of the matter. For me, and the many innocent family members like me, it feels like it will never end.

By Jane Roe (name changed to protect identity)

This post originally appeared in the The War Cry magazine (copyright of The Salvation Army) and is reproduced with permission and thanks.

Please note: Jane refers to her husband’s conviction taking 10 years to become ‘spent’. It’s unclear exactly what length of suspended sentence he received, but since the rules changed in 2014, that period should have reduced significantly because of changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on insurance for people with convictions on our Information Hub.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to insurance from people with convictions on our online forum
  • Policy work – Read about the work Unlock is doing on ensuring fair treatment by insurance companies.

From prisoner to Case Manager – Karen’s story

The article below was originally published on the Prisoners Education Trust website and we thought it would be of interest to people with convictions who are considering employment options available to them. Thanks to PET for giving up permission to re-post here. 


In 2012, Karen received an 18-month prison sentence. She spent four and a half months in custody, only to re-enter prison the day after she was released to mentor female prisoners. She now works as a case manager and also specialist employment broker in a prison in the south of England.  Here’s her story.

Before my case went to trial, everyone assured me that I wouldn’t be sent to prison. I was a single mother without a criminal record, being tried for a non-violent offence – I was told there was very little chance I would receive a custodial sentence. So when I was sentenced to 18 months in jail I hadn’t prepared myself at all. I’d left my daughter, who was eight, in Kent with a friend, just assuming that I’d be back that day – but obviously I wasn’t.

My sister had a break down when I told her – nothing like this had ever happened in my family. One day I was an independent person with a career and a child, the next moment it all fell apart – it was a complete nightmare.

Of course, my main worry was for my daughter. I hadn’t had the chance to explain to her what had happened, or to arrange who she would stay with. I spent a few days not knowing what would happen until eventually I was able to make a phone call and found out that she’d be able to stay with my brother. I was so relieved that she was in safe hands and would be able to go to school.

What turned everything around for me was beginning to act as a peer worker to other female prisoners. I helped with resettlement, training and education, and used my background in housing recruitment to develop relationships with local employers and get the women involved in voluntary work. I got so much from helping to empower women. A lot had never worked, were uneducated and lacked self-confidence. I met many who had come from abusive relationships and had been forced to work as prostitutes or sell drugs. For some, coming to prison was the first time they didn’t have men controlling them and were able to really think about what they wanted to do with their lives. Teaching someone to read and write is very empowering, and securing an interview or even a job made a huge difference to women, and gave them hope for their future after release.

Although it has now been recognised that there is a direct link between poor education and offending and better provision has been made in the prisons, I still get the feeling that it is very much about targets and ‘box ticking’. We need a much more bespoke service, where the individual needs of women are identified and met. Women need to be empowered; many have come from abusive relationships and they need the tools to have the courage and confidence to rebuild their lives, for themselves and their children. Not every woman wants to learn how to become a beautician or a hairdresser! There also needs to be a much broader, more relevant range of courses offered in female establishments, such as the distance-learning qualifications offered by Prisoners’ Education Trust. Education should be linked to skill shortages, such as plumbing and driving large goods vehicles.

Prisons need to recognise that we live in a world where women are as capable as men, in all areas of work and have the same desire and right to learn a skill that will facilitate a real chance of sustainable employment.

As my sentence was coming to an end and I was preparing to be released on licence, the regional head of employment, skills and learning asked if I would consider returning to the prison after my release to continue to mentor the women. This had never happened before in the history of the prison – when I told the other women they thought I was joking! When I first arrived back – the day after I was released – no one knew what to do with me, and initially I had to work off-site. But three years later I’m still working at the same prison – I’m a case manager commissioned by Women in Prison; also specialist employment broker commissioned by CXK, a charity which supports children, young people, adults and families. I’ve got my own keys and am a full member of staff, but I stay emotionally very close to the women, and I think this makes a huge difference when working with them.

I believe very strongly that a woman’s experience or prison life is very different and, in many ways much more complex than a man’s. We are in many ways stripped of what makes us female; away from our children and families.

The most painful thing for most women in prison is being unable to protect their children. As a mother myself, being separated from my daughter was agonising and made the sentence much harder to bear. There has to be other ways of sentencing female offenders; the current system (run primarily, I have to say, by men) is cruel and barbaric. How many women who are imprisoned actually pose a risk to society? We need to be better at looking at different ways of punishing women within the community. We also need to recognise that people don’t simply wake up one day thinking ‘I think I’ll commit a crime’, it’s linked to circumstances – abuse; domestic violence; poverty. We need to become better at supporting women and allowing them to make clear choices. A few months’ prison sentence doesn’t do anything apart from separate a woman from her children and put her at risk of losing her home and source of income.

That said; I believe everything happens for a reason. As a result of going to prison I’m stronger and I’m doing work that I’m really passionate about. Eventually, I was able to sit my daughter down and explain everything. I think it’s made our relationship stronger. She’s dealt with it very well, and she’s very proud of the work I’m doing empowering other women.

By Karen


This content originated from: Prisoners Education Trust website
Available at (last accessed May 2016)

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Why do employers use criminal records? And why don’t they make their policy clearer?

I’ve just seen Unlock’s project aimed at employers. This looks at making the system fairer for people with convictions who are going through the recruitment process.

I think this is a great idea. When I was looking for work, it was so frustrating applying for jobs, having to tick the ‘yes’ box and then getting no reply. I didn’t know if this was because of my conviction or because the employer just felt that I didn’t fit the criteria for that role. However, I always had my suspicions that it was due to me ticking the ‘yes’ box on the criminal record question.

Well this led me to thinking –

Why do employers use criminal records? And why don’t they make their policy clearer?

Is it to assist them in sifting out applications.  If you tick the ‘yes’ box, is your application filed under “bin”. If this is the case, surely this must be an abuse of the system and should be stopped? However, getting an employer to admit to this would be difficult. It would be almost impossible to prove that they do this, because they will just say “You did not fit the role requirements” or “Your application was good, but I’m afraid other applicants fitted the role requirements more closely”.

Isn’t the idea of having a criminal record question for an employer to be aware that you have a conviction, and then if you are suitable for the role, your convictions can then be considered, ideally face to face? Sadly, many employers will look at your conviction on paper and make a judgement on the person you are based on that alone.

Sometimes I did get interviews, following Unlock’s advice to put “will discuss at interview” on the section of the application form asking about criminal records. However, there were two occasions when I raised it again at interview, the interviewer stopped the interview and said “We don’t employ people with unspent convictions”. That was it, interview over. If they’d put that in their application pack, I wouldn’t have applied for the job. I wouldn’t have wasted time in travelling to the interview when I knew there was no chance of success.  I wouldn’t have wasted the company’s time, they could have concentrated on the applications of the people they did consider to be eligible for the role.

I believe that employers should be open and honest in their recruitment especially when they ask the question about criminal records. It would be helpful if, in that section, they had a link to their policy regarding employing people with convictions. Then you could read it and see if it’s worth you applying based on your offence or the sentence you received. Ideally, their exclusions would be quite narrow, and instead look at each case on their merits. But if an employer simply doesn’t employ people with unspent convictions, then put that in the recruitment pack. As far as I know, it is not an unlawful statement. Employers should be open and honest about their need to know about a person’s criminal record. If they are ashamed of their recruitment policy, then they should change it.

I have now got a job after approximately 200 applications. How many of those I never had a chance of getting because of my convictions, I will never know. I suspect the majority of them. If they had been more upfront regarding their recruitment policy on employing people with convictions, then I suspect, I wouldn’t have applied for most of them, saving me many hours of my life.

By Robert (name changed to protect identity)


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