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5. Writing or reviewing your policy

Designing a policy for applicants and students with criminal records is the best way to ensure your approach is consistent, fair and protective of any challenges.


The following is a guide for how best to develop a fair and comprehensive policy for applicants and students with criminal records. Every policy will vary, based on the individual needs and approach of each institution.

This policy should describe a provider’s approach to applicants and students with criminal records. A well-written policy of this kind will reduce institutional risk, by ensuring that practice is consistent and well thought-out. A policy that is publicly available and accessibly written also ensures that applicants can make an informed decision about the institution they choose.

Whether they are identified or not, there are students within every institution with criminal records. If there is no policy in place to guide staff, applicants and students, how can anyone know how to approach criminal records?


An effective policy will mean that:

  • Prospective applicants and students will know what is expected of them in terms of what information they will be asked to disclose, and how they will be treated
  • Your institution can get the information it needs (and no more) to make a fair and proportionate decision, when it needs it.
  • Data is managed legally, carefully and consistently
  • Staff have a source of guidance, if they are unsure how to respond to a disclosure of a criminal record from a student or colleague
  • Everyone knows where to go to inform their response to any challenges that arise. This could be an issue with a student’s behaviour, or could be a challenge relating to media coverage. Preparing for potential risk before it arises will be more effective than a reactive approach.


Constructing a Policy


Clear and accessible

  • Your policy should be easily located on your website – applicants shouldn’t have to request it. A good idea is to have a page on your site specifically relating to applicants with criminal records, which includes links to all relevant policies.
  • It should be written clearly and avoid jargon.
  • Ideally, a policy will be short and to-the-point. If your policy is fairly substantial, consider making a bullet point summary at the beginning detailing its key points and its objective.

Welcoming and positive

  • Make it known that you welcome applications from people with a criminal record. Be clear that your approach considers both the unique needs and positive attributes of applicants with criminal records.

Explains the purpose of the policy

  • Which areas of the applicant or student journey does this policy apply to?
  • Your approach for access to accommodation, or for students being employed by the institution, may differ from your policy for admissions. Direct readers to other relevant policies and be clear about what each policy covers/ does not cover.

Directs applicants to sources of specialist information on criminal records

Explains your approach

  • Give an overview of how you approach applicants and students with criminal records. Generally, what is your approach? Are you asking all applicants to declare an unspent criminal record? Do you only ask about restrictions? Explain where the process varies (eg between regulated and non regulated courses).

Non-regulated courses

Explain the process for applicants to non-regulated courses – be as specific as possible.

  •  What information do you ask for?
  • Why are you requesting this information? To offer support to the applicant? To undertake a risk assessment? To decide if restrictions will impede access? (if support, provide examples)
  • When will you request this information and how? (an email following application, after enrolment? Will an applicant be invited to chat over the phone? Make a written statement?)
  • Which staff will be involved? What confidentiality measures will you take?
  • How will a decision be made after a disclosure?
  • Is there anything applicants should prepare/ any information they should gather before discussing this with you? If you know that you are looking for certain kinds of details to inform your decision making, tell applicants what these are.

Regulated Courses

Explain the process for applicants to regulated courses – be as specific as possible.

  • What information do you ask for? Direct applicants to guidance on filtering. Explain why you are entitled to ask about unspent convictions (ie if the course involves or leads to regulated activity).
  • Does the approach vary depending on the specific course? If so, how can applicants find information regarding each course?
  • Does the regulating body for the relevant profession also have guidance? Can you direct applicants to that?
  • When will you request this information and how? Is an email automatically generated based on a declaration via UCAS? Do you arrange a phone call?
  • Which staff will be involved? What confidentiality measures will you take?
  • How will a decision be made after a disclosure?
  • Do you have specific guidance available on convictions panels or other assessment measures? What happens in these? Who will be involved? What should applicants prepare? Direct applicants to guidance if you have it (find our suggestions here), or explain the process in depth in this policy.

Explains how applicants’ data will be protected

Are there any other points during the course where an applicant may need to discuss this information again (for example, when registering for placements).

How will data be deleted if an applicant is unsuccessful, or leaves the course? Are there mechanisms for deletion if an applicant’s criminal record becomes spent or filtered during study?


Explain any relevant appeals processes. Link to appeals templates or guidance.

Explain where applicants can seek help

Is there a staff member to whom the applicant can direct questions? If so, how will these queries be treated? (prospective applicants may not feel confident asking questions about how their criminal record may affect their application, if asking a question is revealing in itself)

Direct readers to sources of additional information and support Unlock / NACRO / Longford Trust.

Regular reviews

Provide dates of latest and next review.

Other relevant policies:

The above framework is mostly about access; ensuring applicants and prospective applicants know what to expect from your approach. There are other policies you may consider reviewing, expanding or creating to cover other aspects of the student/ applicant experience. For example:

Digital /social media policy

Does your social media policy cover information about criminal records discovered online?

Accommodation Policy

If you have decided that it is proportionate to request criminal record information for access to your institution’s accommodation, does your accommodation policy explain this process? Have you provided clear guidance to those who wish to join your accommodation?

Privacy notices that cover criminal records data beyond admissions

Have you considered protection of criminal records data for instances after admissions? How is a student’s criminal record data protected when accessing other services, do you have policies in place where you process this data for reasons other than admissions?

DBS policy

If you’re submitting requests for DBS checks, is your policy compliant, clear and up to date with the DBS code of practice?

Student recruitment policy

What might you need to consider if a student with a criminal record applies to be employed by your institution? How will you protect their privacy across these different departments?

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