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Almost three-quarters of national companies continue to ask about criminal records at job application stage, new research shows

Unlock has today published new research that shows the vast majority of national companies continuing to have criminal record declarations as a core part of their initial job application forms.

Marking the 5-year anniversary of the Ban the Box campaign, the findings reveal the extent to which national employers have failed to recognise the negative consequences of criminal record tick-boxes on application forms.


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

“We’re proud to have co-founded the Ban the Box campaign and it’s really positive that over 110 companies – including Barclays, Boots, the Civil Service, and Virgin Trains – have signed up so far, but this new research shows that it remains the case that asking about criminal records at application stage is the default approach for almost three-quarters of national, big name companies. It’s also worrying that around 1 in 5 of them are asking for information they are not legally entitled to.


“These findings are unsurprising – employers are asking about criminal records at application stage as a way of deselecting applicants. We know this approach has a chilling effect on talented applicants with a criminal record, many of whom never apply because they think they don’t stand a chance. In fact, evidence from employers who do recruit people with criminal records shows that they make reliable, hardworking and loyal employees. Employers who are open about their inclusive recruitment practices report a positive impact on their reputation.


“Yet the numbers of employers removing criminal record questions from their application forms is not increasing fast enough. Earlier this month Unlock published new guidance for employers which showed that collecting criminal records data at the job application stage is unlikely to be compliant with the GDPR and data protection legislation. Government, business and charities need to seriously consider how to accelerate the changes in employer behaviour that Ban the Box encourages. Unless significant progress is made, increasingly it seems that the only way to make sure employers remove the tick-box is by looking to put Ban the Box on a statutory footing.”


Responding to the findings, Jessica Rose, Ban the Box campaign manager at Business in the Community, said:

“Unlock’s work to unearth the recruitment practices of some of the country’s biggest private sector employers paints a stark picture of confusion and inconsistency when it comes to managing risk around criminal convictions. This results in people being unfairly excluded from work and many more believing that no one is willing to give them a chance. Employers need to grasp the nettle and implement Ban the Box, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it will benefit their businesses and their communities.


“Some of the employers cited in this report already work with Business in the Community and other charities to support individuals into employment. This should give them the positive evidence they need to make the business case for changing their mainstream practices. We want to work with these businesses, alongside Unlock, to support them to put robust, fair and inclusive practices into place.”


We surveyed 80 large, national employers across eight sectors – supermarkets, retail, hotels, food and drink, construction, car manufacturing, utilities and communications and found that:

  1. 77 out of 80 employers had online application forms.
  2. Of those 77, 54 employers (70%) asked about criminal records on their application form.
  3. 80% of employers who asked about criminal records provided no guidance to applicants.
  4. 22% of employers asked about criminal records in a way that was either potentially unlawful or misleading. 
  5. Collecting criminal records data at application stage is unlikely to be compliant with data protection legislation.
  6. None of the employers surveyed provided information to applicants on why they collect criminal records data, or for how long it will be retained. Under the GDPR, employers who fail to provide this information are likely to be in breach of the law.
  7. None of the construction companies and only around half the car manufacturers in our survey asked about criminal records at application stage.


The findings of this report show that there is still a long way to go in encouraging employers to stop asking about criminal records on application forms. In the conclusion we explore the broader implications of this report, but to achieve a fundamental shift in recruitment practice and seeing Ban the Box as business-as-usual, we believe there are steps that both government and employers should take. That is why we make a number of recommendations to both government and employers, which can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the report.



  1. Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.
  2. There are over 11 million people in the UK that have a criminal record.
  3. The report can be downloaded here. A summary of the report can be downloaded here. The full list of employers we surveyed, along with the questions they ask, can be found in the Annex.
  4. The report has been produced as part of Unlock’s Fair Access to Employment project, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
  5. Unlock runs the website Recruit! – providing advice and support for employers on recruiting people with convictions and dealing with criminal records fairly. Employers looking for further advice about this guidance can contact
  6. For employers that want to sign up as a Ban the Box employer, please see


Civil service to “ban the box” to help rehabilitate people with convictions

This week David Cameron unveiled a raft of prison reform measures.  One of these will be  to scrap the declaration of criminal convictions in the initial application stage for civil service jobs.

Responding to this announcement, Unlock’s  Christopher Stacey said:

“We welcome David Camerons’ commitment to the Ban the Box campaign and in changing the recruitment practice of the Civil Service towards people with convictions.


The Civil Service represents a significant employer and this news is a welcome boost to the employment prospects of the millions of people with a criminal record.


There’s no reason why any role should be closed off to banning the box and we look forward to ensuring that the Civil Service implement the Prime Ministers’ commitment alongside a number of other measures to make it a fairer and more inclusive employer towards people with convictions.


We work closely with employers to encourage them to recruit people with convictions and deal with criminal records fairly. We look forward to working with Government, alongside BITC and others, to encourage more employers to take this proactive approach in removing the barriers people with convictions face when looking for work.”

Our quote was featured in an article in Civil Service World.


Notes to editors

  • Press/media
  • Unlock is an independent, award-winning charity for people with convictions which exists for two simple reasons. Firstly, we assist people to move on positively with their lives by empowering them with information, advice and support to overcome the stigma of their previous convictions. Secondly, we seek to promote a fairer and more inclusive society by challenging discriminatory practices and promoting socially just alternatives.
  • Our website is
  • David Camerons’ full speech can be read here.
  • More information about Ban the Box here.

New project – Fair Access to Employment

We are delighted to report that Unlock has been awarded a three-year grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation that will enable us to deliver a programme of work that will challenge the discrimination faced by people with convictions in getting employment.

This marks the beginning of a significant area of work for Unlock, enabling us to focus on addressing a number of key issues that combine to unfairly exclude so many people from moving on in their lives.

Building on our track-record of working with Government, employers and other sectors, our approach will aim to ‘support and challenge’. It will also play to Unlock’s strengths as an independent advocacy charity in holding organisations to account and speaking truth to power.

Commenting on the news, Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, said “We know from people with convictions that finding and keeping employment is the biggest problem they face as a result of having a criminal record – often many years after they were convicted. This project will enable us to actively challeng some of the unfair treatment that people with convictions face, as well as supporting employers and others involved in recruitment processes, to make sure that people with convictions are treated fairly.”

“Our focus will be to make sure that employers understand that the people we’re encouraging them to open their doors to are those that could be potentially fantastic employees, yet at the moment they’re missing out on these people because of the policies and practices that they have in place. We’ll also be doing a lot of work to improve and challenge processes used by employers to carry out criminal record checks, such as the Disclosure & Barring Service and Disclosure Scotland.”

More details about the project are available at

Sign up to receive project updates here (selecting to receive ‘news on our Project – Fair Access to Employment’)



Notes to editors

  1. Press/media 
  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. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities throughout the UK both now and in the future. They do this by funding the charitable work of organisations with the ideas and ability to achieve positive change. The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK. They make grants of £30 – £35 million annually towards a wide range of work within the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change. They also operate a £26 million Finance Fund which invests in organisations that aim to deliver both a financial return and a social benefit. Their website is

One year into the Ban the Box campaign; pioneering employers change their practice, but more must follow their lead

Business in the Community’s Ban the Box campaign, which Unlock actively supports, has reached its one year anniversary. It was launched in October 2013 in response to widespread and costly discrimination against people with convictions who are seeking work.

So far 24 employers, with a combined UK workforce of over 200,000, have committed to support the campaign. They assess jobseekers on their skills and abilities first, taking criminal convictions into account later in the recruitment process. This gives candidates equal opportunity to get to interview based on their competency for a role rather than excluding them because of an unrelated conviction. And employers benefit from a wider pool of diverse talent and contribute towards reducing the estimated £11 billion annual cost of re-offending.

But when 1 in 5 unemployed jobseekers has a criminal conviction, much more must be done to ensure that a tick box approach is not blocking them from work. Ban the Box isn’t about positive discrimination, or removing disclosure altogether. It is the first step that all responsible employers can take to level the playing field for people with convictions whilst still protecting themselves from risk.

“In the last year, we’ve seen real benefits to individuals who are simply trying to do the right thing by getting a job and becoming taxpayers. The employers who have signed up give people with convictions the confidence to apply” said Christopher Stacey, Co-Director of Unlock. “People with convictions simply want a fair chance to provide they’re the best person for the job, and that’s what Ban the Box is all about. And the end result is that employers have the best possible opportunity to recruit the best people. But people with convictions continue to face widespread blanket attitudes by many employers. That’s why, in the year ahead, we’ll be doing to more to encourage employers to support this campaign. We’ll also be doing more to work alongside employers to help them to develop and implement positive recruitment practices.”

“Business has a huge opportunity and responsibility to make the workplace more accessible to ex-offenders that simply want to contribute their skills to society” said Catherine Sermon, Employment Director, Business in the Community. “24 pioneering firms have banned the box and ask about convictions later in the recruitment process – sending the message that they value applicants’ skills and potential over past mistakes. If just 5% of UK private sector employers followed their lead, over a million roles would be more accessible to ex-offenders. Now is the time to dramatically improve the life chances for the huge numbers of people with convictions and make fair consideration of criminal convictions the norm.”

You can find out more information about Unlock’s support for employers here.

Visit for more information about Ban the Box. Follow the campaign at #BantheBoxUK

Dealing with criminal convictions – embedding a positive process of disclosure

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, Unlock comments on the issues discussed in a recent Ban the Box webinar.

Quite rightly, the Ban the Box campaign is focused on a specific issue, that being the tick-box that appears on many job application forms,  frightening the life out of somebody who has a criminal record.

Many people with convictions see “the box” and immediately de-select themselves out of the job opportunity, usually because their experiences to date have been ones of rejection whenever they’ve ticked that dreaded box. The obvious result to employers is that you’re missing out on a huge pool of talent, which is why this issue is so important.

But ‘banning the box’ is only one part of the puzzle. What this simple concept allows organisations to do is have a much considered recruitment process that firstly focuses on finding the best person for the job, while also recognising that, as an organisation, you might still need to look at criminal convictions once you have a preferred candidate.

This is something that I know from experience.  Having worked with employers for many years, I know that some employers can see the benefit of this issue in principle, but when you begin to try and ‘implement’ this, it’s then that it can feel like it’s getting more complicated. What do we do if somebody discloses a conviction? Are we allowed to employ them? Who do we have to tell?

These are all genuine questions that you have to think about, and often this means looking in the round as to what your policy and process are.  If you don’t have either of these, you’ll need to seriously consider getting them.

It’s all about building on the principle of ‘banning the box’ and establishing something that works for your organisation. Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all model. As we heard from Interserve in the a recent Ban the Box webinar, they have developed a policy and process that’s unique to them. We have developed a policy at Unlock which we think sends the kind of message that we want to applicants to hear.

However, no matter how good your policy, if this isn’t embedded within your organisation, it probably won’t work. Policies are only as good as the people that use them. Senior managers, HR colleagues and recruiting managers in particular need to feel equipped to make positive decisions about employing somebody with a conviction. That’s one reason why we provide support to employers, because lots of recruiters have myths about criminal records.  They don’t understand what they can and can’t ask for, and don’t understand how to deal on an individual case-by-case basis with people with have convictions.

Ultimately, ‘banning the box’ could easily be meaningless to an organisation, even if they’ve signed up to it. It’s perfectly possible (and a genuine risk for the campaign) for the ‘banning of the box’ to end up simply delaying the rejection of applicants with convictions. In many organisations, this requires a cultural shift away from seeing convictions as a ‘negative’ part of the process, and rather looking at how you can deal with them in a positive, informed way. ‘Banning the box’ is a simple but effective first step on a journey which enables employers to see beyond the label of ‘criminal record’ and see the person for the fantastic employee that they could potentially become.

This blog was originally published on the 10th June 2014 at . The direct link [accessed 13th June 2014] is


Unlock endorses ‘Ban the box’

Unlock has today lent its support and endorsement to the ‘ban the box’ campaign, which is being led by Business in the Community. The aim of the campaign is to increase the opportunity for people with convictions to compete for jobs.

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, said “We believe that that, by banning the box, employers are better able to consider convictions at a more appropriate stage in the recruitment process, and at the same time are able to give people with convictions a better opportunity to compete for jobs. Far too often we hear from people who are unable to get past the application part of a recruitment process simply because they have to tick ‘yes’ to the questions about convictions. For employers, the end goal has to be to try and find the best person for the job, and with over 9 million people in the UK with a criminal record, banning the box about convictions is one simple step towards this goal.”

“Critically, we believe that it’s important for this campaign to be led by the business community itself, and that’s why we are wholeheartedly behind BITC in their efforts to take this campaign forward. Behind the scenes, we are able to provide confidential advice, support and training to employers on how they can best put the principles of this campaign into practice in their company, using our knowledge and experience of working with both individuals who have convictions as well as employers who are actively looking to improve their recruitment policies and practices.” 

“In so far as our own recruitment process, Unlock has banned the box for both paid and voluntary opportunities. We have a specific policy on the disclosure of convictions, where we explain to applicants that we do not ask about convictions at application stage. We provide individuals who are invited to interview with a self-disclosure form, which we ask them to complete and bring with them to their interview. At the end of the interview, we have a separate discussion where we ask questions about the information they have disclosed on this form, and we make it clear that this will only be considered once we have made a decision about whether they are the right person for the job.” 

More information about Ban the Box from BITC is available from and #BantheBoxUK

Ban the Box Interactive Video

Did you skip? Watch the film again to see the story a different way.

Support for the Ban the Box campaign

As part of our support for Ban the Box, we spoke on Radio 5 Live about the campaign.

You can listen to the interview below.

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