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Taxi! New guidance for licensing authorities recommends exclusions for even minor convictions

In July 2020 the Department for Transport published new guidance for statutory taxi and private hire vehicles licensing authorities. This followed a consultation in April 2019 to gather views on the recommendations and draft statutory guidance. Recommendations included that licensees undergo enhanced DBS and barring list checks and minimum exclusion periods by offence category and our response focused on those exclusions.

Passengers getting into a taxi or PHV are placing themselves in the hands of the driver and it’s right that licensing decisions take into account all relevant information. The problem is, the draft guidance didn’t advise taking into account all relevant information. Instead, it proposed a blanket approach based on broad offence categories.  The guidance was based on the Institute of Licensing’s 2018 recommendations which emphasised the need to consider individual circumstances but then went on to propose blanket exclusions based on broad offence categories, along with lengthy exclusion periods.

Unfortunately, the final version of the guidance includes the same offence categories and exclusion periods recommended in 2018. The long exclusion periods are not scaled to the circumstances or gravity of an offence – a person convicted of possession of a firearm will be refused a licence for seven years, the same as a person who over-claimed benefits. An applicant with a conviction for common assault where the victim sustained no injuries would be treated the same as a serious assault in which a victim required surgery and refused a licence for at least 10 years.

Department for Transport has published a summary of responses to the consultation and acknowledged that

The proportionality of some of the baseline exclusion periods was questioned by some respondents, as was the range of offences that would fall under a particular heading.

However, they went on to say that:

The final version provides additional clarity and reinforces that the decision as to whether a person who has convictions should be licensed is and will remain dependent on the individual circumstance of each case.

Licensing authorities are not bound by the guidance but it would be a brave authority that would strike out on its own. Indeed, the president of the Institute of Licensing, James Button, is keen for the guidance to become law. In a comment to the Daily Mirror, he said:

In most authorities, when someone has previous convictions which fall outside that council’s policy, the decision is made by councillors. They can be swayed by sob stories. It has always surprised me why there is acceptance of a level of criminality among a significant minority of the taxi trade.

We can’t be sure what Mr Button would consider ‘a sob story’ but the proposed exclusions would mean a woman with childhood convictions for soliciting, as a result of child sexual exploitation would be treated the same as a man with a recent conviction for rape, and prevented from ever obtaining a licence. That same woman, if she had convictions for possession of a weapon or affray, would be refused a licence for a minimum of 7 to 10 years after the conviction, regardless of the circumstances. One such woman, Sammy Woodhouse, bravely waived her right to anonymity and spoke out on behalf of others still having to disclose criminal records acquired as a result of their abuse. Ironically, the guidance also recommends that drivers are trained in safeguarding and spotting signs of criminal or sexual exploitation.

In principle, a national framework can help with consistency – and let applicants know what to expect. We support clear guidelines to assist licensing authorities. This guidance, if taken up by local authorities, means law abiding people with convictions are likely to be unnecessarily excluded from the trade for years, or indefinitely. That has a ripple effect, reinforcing the idea that everyone with a conviction is a danger to the public. Thankfully this is not true – there 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record – about 1 in 6 of the population. Most want to move on positively with their lives, and they deserve a fair chance to do that.

Written by Rachel Tynan, Policy and practice lead at Unlock

Welcome to our new website

Summary
What’s changed?
Where does this new site fit in?
What do you think?
New links…we need your help

Summary

This week we launched our new website; if you haven’t already seen it, please take a look at unlock.devchd.com.

When we first set out on developing the new site in mid-2013, we carried out a survey to learn more about how people used the site site and how they think it could be improved.

Since then, we launched a dedicated Information Hub in November 2013, and we’ve now added to this with a new core-website.

We’re now looking for your feedback – please complete our short survey here.

 

What’s changed?

We’ve spent a lot of time sorting out some of the issues we were having with old our site, given it was nearly 10 years old. Some of the key changes;

  • The navigation on the site has been improved
  • The content on the site has been completely reviewed and updated
  • The way our news and updates work should make it a lot easier to find relevant news
  • We’ve removed the use of ‘google adverts’
  • Some people were finding that their anti-virus software was preventing them from accessing our site. This should now be resolved.

There’s still work to do – it’s not completely finished just yet, but we were keen to make it live as soon as it was possible to publish it – so things will continue to change behind the scenes.

 

Where does this new site fit in?

This new core website now sits at the heart of the sites that we have. As a quick summary, we have:

  1. unlock.devchd.com – This is our main/core website, where we explain more about Unlock as a charity, who is involved, the support that we provide, our current areas of focus, and latest news/developments
  2. unlock.devchd.com/information-and-advice/ – This is our information hub, which we maintain as the country’s most comprehensive source of online self-help information on a wide range of issues that criminal convictions can affect
  3. forum.unlock.org.uk – This is an online peer-to-peer forum enabling people with convictions to support one another
  4. www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk – This is a tool that enables you to work out when your convictions become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  5. unlock.devchd.com/community – This is an online magazine for and by people with convictions

 

What do you think?

Now that we’ve launched our new core website, we want to know what you think about the new site, as well as how you think our sites could be improved.

We’d be really grateful if you could spare a few minutes to complete our short online survey – this will help us find out what you think to the new site, as well as your thoughts on our other sites. It’s anonymous – none of your personal details are shared with us, so you can be completely honest!

Click here to take part in the survey.

Thank you in advance to those who complete the survey.

 

New links – we need your help!

The links that used to go to our old site will no longer work (for example, our old homepage used to be unlock.devchd.com/main.aspx and this no longer works).

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be targeting websites and organisations that still have links to our old site, and asking them to update their links to our new site.

If you know of anybody that links to our site, we’ve provided a list below of some of the most popular parts of our old site, and where they can now be found on the new site. It would be great if you could share this around, or let us know of any out of date links that are being used elsewhere by emailing us at admin@unlock.org.uk:

We would usually recommend you use unlock.devchd.com when linking to our site, as deeper links are subject to change in the future.

 

Unlock complaint leads to ruling that the Disclosure and Barring Service breached the Data Protection Act

We’re pleased to report that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has today issued a press release which sets out their ruling that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has breached the Data Protection Action after failing to stop collecting information about criminal conviction data that was no longer required because of a filtering regime that was introduced in May 2013.

The DBS hadn’t updated their application forms, and so although the ‘filtering’ process meant that certain cautions and convictions are no longer disclosed on standard and enhanced checks, the DBS were still asking whether applicants had “ever been convicted of a criminal offence or received a caution…” as part of their application form. The result of this was that employers were finding out information which they weren’t entitled to know about.

We made the original complaint to the ICO in September 2013, after our helpline had received a number of calls about this problem. In particular, we highlighted two cases where individuals had disclosed information they no longer needed to disclose, but had subsequently had their offers of employment withdrawn. The two cases are explained in more detail below.

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, said; “We’re pleased to see that the DBS has responded to this issue by updating their application form and improving their guidance to applicants. It is important that people with convictions are able to understand what they do and don’t have to disclose during the recruitment process, and the DBS have an important part to play to make this clear and easy to understand.”

“It remains difficult for people to find out whether a caution or conviction that they have is eligible for filtering, and we would like to see the DBS respond to this issue by introducing a system which allows individuals to obtain a copy of their DBS certificate before they start applying for jobs or volunteer work, so that they can be confident that they’re disclosing the appropriate level of information. We would also like to encourage employers that are entitled to carry out standard and enhanced checks to make sure that they look at their own recruitment processes and make sure that they are only asking about cautions and convictions that would not be filtered by the DBS”.

Brief details of the cases that formed part of our complaint to the ICO

Case One
An individual ticked ‘Yes’ to the question because the question hadn’t changed, and they didn’t see the accompanying guidance. To them, it was clear what question they were being asked, and so despite their conviction being one that would be filtered, they ticked ‘Yes’ which meant, because they handed the form back to the employer to submit, they had disclosed they had a conviction to the employer. The employer asked further questions about this, and decided to withdraw the job offer.

Case Two
An individual ticked ‘Yes’ to this question because they were not sure whether their conviction would be filtered. As there was no other means of definitively finding out whether it would be filtered or not, they erred on the side of caution and ticked ‘Yes’, believing that, if it would be filtered, it wouldn’t matter what they put. It turned out that their conviction was due to be filtered, but because they had ticked yes, their employer got to find out when they handed the form back, and subsequently decided to withdraw the job offer.

-END-

Notes to editors

  1. Press/media
  2. More information relating to the filtering process is available here.

Raising awareness in prisons of changes to the ROA

We’re continuing our efforts to raise awareness of the changes to the ROA, but this time we’ve been focusing on prisons.

Firstly, we wrote a news piece for the March 2014 edition of Inside Time. A copy of the news piece is below.

We’ve also recorded a piece for the Prison Radio Associations’ ‘Outside In’ programme, which is done in partnership with Radio 4 and recorded by former prisoners. A copy of the audio will be available here shortly.

insidetimeroa

Raising awareness of the changes to the ROA

In the last couple of days, we’ve been very busy. We’ve been working hard to raise awareness of the changes to the ROA.

Yesterday (10th March) we appeared on BBC Breakfast.

We also took part in a number of regional radio discussions, including BBC London, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Leeds, BBC Coventry, BBC West Midlands, BBC Merseyside and BBC Kent.

We also worked with ITN News to provide them with a case study of somebody who’s convictions became spent as of yesterday. This was briefly featured in their lunchtime news programme.

More broadly, we wrote an article for Open Democracy (The right of offenders to get back on track) and an article for Criminal Law and Justice Weekly (Changing laws on disclosure)

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, www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk, 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.”

END

Notes to editors
1. Press/media contact: Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, christopher.stacey@unlock.org.uk / 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 unlock.devchd.com.
3. More information about changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act can be found at unlock.devchd.com/information-and-advice//changestotheroa
4. Unlock’s updated guidance on the Act will be available here from Monday 10th March 2014

Unlock welcomes the implementation of reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director at Unlock, said “We are pleased that the Government has announced today that the long-overdue reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 will come into force on the 10th March 2014. For far too long, people who have served their sentence and changed their ways have been prevented from moving on in their lives. As a result of these changes, many people with convictions who have in the past have been languishing on benefits will now be able to go out and get work and contribute positively to society”.

“Since the law was passed in 2012, our helpline has been receiving calls on a daily basis from people who have been putting their lives and careers on hold, waiting for the changes to come in. It’s clear to us that these changes will make a huge difference to thousands of people whose convictions will now be spent under these changes, giving them a fresh start when applying for many jobs, education courses and insurance services.”

“However, we must not forget that these changes are far from perfect. It will remain the case that anybody who receives a prison sentence of over 4 years will have to continue to disclose their convictions for the rest of their lives whenever they are asked, and this remains a huge stumbling block for many people who are trying to change their lives for the better. If the Government wants to truly transform our criminal justice system, it must recognise that access to stable employment is the most important factor in people desisting from crime, and having a criminal record disclosure system that continues to punish people for the rest of their lives is not in anybody’s interest”.

-END-

Press/media

People with convictions as trustees – Consultation response by Unlock

Following our recent news about the proposed changes by the Charity Commission, we’ve now submitted our response

As a charity that exists to support the efforts of people with convictions in moving on positively with their lives, and as an organisation which itself has sought to recruit trustees who themselves have convictions, we are concerned about the potential impact of these proposals, as well as being concerned about how the current system operates.

There is a common theme that runs throughout our response – our aim is to ensure that the processes of the Charity Commission work in a way which allows charities the freedom to recruit people as trustees who have unspent convictions, where the charity believes that the individual can fulfil their obligations as a trustee and the charity can show it has taken reasonable steps to protect the interests of the charity.

In addition to drawing on our own experience as an organisation, and the individuals that we’ve worked with, we sought to raise awareness of this consultation amongst organisations that we know keen to have people with convictions involved at a management level within their organisations. In particular, we have worked with Clinks, which is a charity that supports voluntary organisations that work with offenders and their families.

As well as encouraging responses from other organisations, we have included in our response anonymous extracts from the responses that we received, in order to raise awareness of the concerns of other organisations.

Download our response here.

 

Webinar for Employers – The Legal Stuff

Today we delivered a webinar in partnership with Business in the Community, titled ‘Ban the Ban – the legal stuff’ where we briefly covered the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Read more about the webinar and download a copy of the slides.

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