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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

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  • 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.

Disclosing a conviction isn’t easy but it might be the best thing you ever do

Archie was seriously considering turning down a fantastic job offer after learning that his conviction would appear on his enhanced DBS certificate. However, advice from his dad gave him the confidence to disclose.


I’d been working for the NHS through an agency for approximately 2 years when I was offered the role on a permanent basis.

However after the initial feeling of euphoria it suddenly dawned on me that I might need to have a criminal record check. The agency had never done one and so I’d never had to disclose my criminal record.

I waited until I received the paperwork from HR and, as I’d expected they wanted to carry out an enhanced DBS check. I knew my conviction was about 6 years old but I had no idea whether it would show up on the DBS certificate. However after asking ‘Mr Google’ it seemed clear that enhanced DBS checks revealed everything and that I would have to disclose my conviction to the employer.

I’d only received a fine but I’d been convicted of urinating in a public place. I appreciate that it was a really stupid thing to do but I guess we all do stupid things when we’re younger. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of but I don’t think I would have been a problem explaining it to a new employer that I didn’t know.

However, the thought of disclosing to somebody I’d known for 2 years just filled me with dread. I had a great relationship with all my colleagues and I was really worried that they’d see me differently or not want to work with me. What if the job offer got revoked once HR had seen my enhanced certificate?

The more I thought about it the bigger the problem became until I’d convinced myself that the only option would be to turn the job down. That weekend I went to have Sunday lunch with my parents and when my dad asked me how my job was going I blurted everything out to him. As a no nonsense Yorkshireman all he could say was:

Get over yourself boy and grow a pair. Just go in there and tell them that when you were younger you were an idiot and did something really stupid.”

Good old dad!!

So on the Monday morning with dad’s voice still ringing in my ears I arranged to go and speak with HR. At that point I was feeling pretty confident but I could tell from the HR manager’s face that it wasn’t going to be quite so straightforward. After my disclosure she thanked me and said:

I’m surprised that this hasn’t come to light before but I’ll not make any decisions until I see your enhanced certificate.”

I walked out of the room feeling dejected and ashamed but, as the day work on, I got my fighting spirit back and was determined that whatever the decision was, I wouldn’t let it lie. I was the best person for the job and I’d fight for it.

I’m pleased to say that when the DBS certificate came back all was fine and I got my new employment contract from the NHS. However, I’m aware that things could have been very different:

  • If I was a new applicant, unknown to HR and the department it’s likely my application would have been rejected in favour of somebody with a clean DBS certificate.
  • If my dad hadn’t given me a good talking to I wouldn’t have gone through with the disclosure, I would have simply turned the job down.

Having decided to pursue a career in the NHS what would I have done if the job offer had been refused?

I received a conviction for urinating up a wall in a side street not realising that I could be seen by a woman and her young daughter. As I said above, I was young and stupid but I could just have easily got into a fight in a pub and been charged with common assault (or worse) or graphited my name in the local park and been convicted of criminal damage. It’s not the case that one offence is worse than the other but they can all be committed by young people who fail to think through the consequences of their actions. But, most of us grow up, most of us wise up. We get married, we have kids of our own. We become respectable, tax paying members of society.

So come on employers, try to see the person standing in front of you now and not the person on the DBS certificate.

And lastly, because I don’t say it often enough. Thanks dad for always keeping me grounded, for giving me a push when I needed it and for your unconditional love and support.

By Archie (name changed to protect identity)

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.

When everyone is included, everyone wins

As part of her job Susie engages with both individuals with a criminal record and employers. She says that there have been some changes in employers attitudes towards those with a criminal record over the past 10 years but more still needs to be done and it’s important therefore to share examples of good practice.

For the last 10 years I have worked for an organisation which supports people with a criminal record back into work. During the course of my work, I regularly engage with employers trying to get them to recognise the benefits of employing somebody with a criminal record.

The world has changed a lot over the last 10 years and many of the employers I work with have a much more diverse workforce than they did 10 years ago. For many years I’ve seen employers such as Timpsons and Greggs recruiting people with criminal records and speaking passionately about it, however employers like these are few and far between.

This disappoints me immensely as I know that many of the individuals I work with are people that in the past have made mistakes or wrong decisions; they’re not habitual offenders, they just want to put the past behind them and move on.

However I’ve recently worked with an employer who has taken such a sensible approach to recruitment that I felt it was important to share it. Not only with the other employers I engage with who might be reviewing their recruitment practices and policies but, also people who are currently looking for work in the hope that this will make them feel a lot more positive about the future.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of the individuals criminal record or name the employer involved. All I’ll say is that I’ve been working with this particular young man for a while (I’ll call him Jason) and he has a criminal record that he no longer needs to disclose to an employer. However, due to the huge amount of media interest in his case (the offence was a serious one) details of it can easily be found online if anybody ‘googles’ him.

Recently, Jason was invited to attend an interview, working shifts for a small distribution company. The company were based very close to where his offence took place and there was every possibility that Jason would come into contact with people who knew about his past.

He was concerned that if he were offered the job, the employer could find out about his criminal record (either from the internet, or someone else) and so, against my advice, at the end of the interview he chose to disclose.

He made it clear to the employer that he didn’t need to do so but he wanted to be completely up front and honest and wanted the employer to be aware of all the circumstances before making a decision. The employer thanked him for his honesty and said he’d be in touch.

When Jason told me what he’d done there was a part of me that really admired his honesty but I couldn’t help thinking that he’d probably blown his chances with the employer. I’d worked with them for a while and although they’d recruited others with a criminal record, these had generally been for quite low level offences. To my surprise, Jason was invited in for a further discussion.

The employer made it clear to Jason that they believed his offence to be a serious one especially as it had been against a vulnerable person. They explained that some of his shifts may involve him working unsupervised with just one other person which gave them some cause for concern. However, they felt that measures could be put in place which would mitigate any risk and Jason was offered a full time position with them.

I’m not sure that Jason realises quite how big a deal this was for the employer. Although he didn’t need to disclose once he had, most employers would have found it difficult to forget what they’d heard. But not this company. They were looking for reasons to employ him, not reasons to reject him.

I know the employer has no regrets about giving Jason a job and to date, nobody has bought his criminal record to their attention (not that it would matter now if they did). The employer knew that Jason was the right person for the job but were happy to share their concerns about the potential risk he may pose. Understanding these risks allowed measures to be put in place to protect both parties.

Anyone reading this who has a criminal record will no doubt applaud the recruitment policies of this particular employer but other employers take note – diversity promotes a better and more inviting working environment. So don’t just think of diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education and natural origin – think criminal record too.

By Susie (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

Although Unlock’s golden rule is “only disclose if you’re asked”, there are lots of reasons why people choose to disclose even when they’re not asked or don’t need to. Like Jason, the main reason is because of information which can be found by an employer online. If you’re on licence or serving a community order, disclosing to an employer may be a condition of probation and if you know that an employer is going to carry out a formal criminal record check then you may want to disclose before an employer has sight of your DBS certificate.

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.


I was one decision away from a different life: Challenging an employer secured me a voluntary role

Akil felt compelled to share his experience of applying for a voluntary role with the NHS and hopes this reassures others that all is not lost just because you have a criminal record.


Between the ages of 17 and 18 I led a fairly turbulent lifestyle which resulted in several convictions including common assault, criminal damage and robbery. That was 18 years ago.

I have lived in fear of these all my life and how they would affect me. I never went near any jobs that needed DBS checks even though I didn’t know what the checks would show.

However I have worked continually since I was 18 and have lived a mainly positive life with no further involvement with the police or the criminal justice system. I am now married with a daughter and I work for a large public sector organisation.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started I wanted to do something to help and so signed up to be an NHS Community Responder. No criminal record check was required to be a basic responder which involved picking up medications and delivering them to those who were isolated or shielding.

I’d been volunteering as a basic responder for a little while when applications opened for Community Responders Plus and Patient Transport Volunteers. As I was really interested in expanding my volunteering experience I started to consider whether this was something I should apply for.

I quickly discovered that the role required an enhanced DBS and barred list check something I would have previously avoided. However, I completed and submitted the application form and waited to see what would happen.

It was a nerve wracking wait and when my enhanced certificate arrived I saw that other than my conviction for robbery, everything else had been filtered. I then received an email from the NHS volunteer team stating that they were aware that a conviction appeared on my DBS certificate but not the details of it. They asked me to provide a copy of the certificate and also confirmed that it would be necessary for them to carry out a risk assessment which would be done by telephone.

I spent several hours preparing for my interview, putting together a disclosure statement that outlined the circumstances surrounding my convictions, the impact and how I felt about them now. It was truthful and I felt it demonstrated how I’d matured and changed my life for the better.

I used the statement to answer the interviewers questions and although she was polite and understanding and agreed that I was a different person now, she told me that it was her manager who had to make the final decision. Not long after I received the “Thanks, but no thanks” email.

I felt that I needed to know more; I wanted to know how they had arrived at their decision and so I applied for a subject access request so that I could see the risk assessment for myself.

Within 24 hours I received a telephone call from the volunteer manager apologising profusely and saying that she wholly disagreed with the decision made not to approve me for the volunteering role. She said that she would be reversing the decision with immediate effect as it was clear that I posed no danger and that balance had not been applied to the risk assessment. I am pleased to say that I am now a Community Responder Plus volunteer.

My experience has highlighted a couple of things to me:

  • Firstly, people still judge and have pre-conceptions of those with criminal convictions, but
  • If you fight for what you want and appeal, the outcome can be very different.

This situation has been a game-changer for me. I now know what is going to appear on my DBS certificate and I can prepare for that. My attitude to applying for jobs which require a standard or enhanced DBS check has completely changed and I now feel a lot more comfortable and confident in discussing my conviction openly and without shame.

By Akil (name changed to protect identity)

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Nothing is achieved by criminalising young people. Lets work together to support, educate and listen to them

There’s been a huge amount of media coverage recently about violent crime amongst children and young people in the UK. However, it seems that the Government’s answer to this is to give more power to the police to surveil, stop and search and punish young people. Based on his own experience, Rhys questions whether criminalising young people is the answer.

I was diagnosed with emotional behavioural difficulties (EBD) when I was in year 2 of primary school and I subsequently transitioned into a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school. The school was for children like me who found mainstream education challenging. Due to the nature of the school, staff were trained in restraint which was used to control certain behaviours.

When I was 14 years old I was in a maths lesson at school when I got into an altercation with another boy over a Pokemon card. This altercation became physical and staff intervened to apply restraints to both myself and the other child. As I was in crisis at this time and surprised by the sudden physical contact with another person, I swung my arm and accidently whacked my teacher on her forearm. This caused a small red mark that in all honesty was barely visible and, I was later told, had disappeared completely the following day.

At the time of this incident a new head teacher had just joined the school. He made the decision to contact the police as a member of staff had been physically struck. I had a really good relationship with the staff member concerned and they were reluctant for the police to become involved but, the Head made the executive decision to involve them.

I was charged with assault. My mum was fined £30 and I had to attend meetings with probation over a certain number of weeks.

This assault was not premeditated, it was a total accident which occurred during a time I was in a crisis situation, in a setting that was supposed to have professionals trained to deal with said situation. If this had been intentional I would be able to accept the offence but I wasn’t even looking at the teacher at the time, I was focused on the other child I was arguing with.

Upon leaving school with my GCSE’s, I trained in children’s care, learning and development. It took 3 meetings before I was accepted on the course as I had an assault conviction on my DBS certificate.

After receiving my qualifications, I was successful in my application for a full-time teaching assistant role. Since then I’ve been working in education and was promoted to a management role in the second school I worked in. However, every role I’ve applied for always starts with embarrassment. I have a great interview and go through all of my experience and then have to disclose at the end that I have a conviction for assault from when I was in school as a 14-year old child.

Although it has never impacted on any application I have made (I have always been the successful candidate in all but one position I have been interview for), it does put a downer on my initial first days of any new job.

During my career I have worked with some of Manchester’s most challenging young people. I have been physically assaulted, spat and sworn at, received homophobic and racist abuse yet, I have never criminalised a young person for their behaviours. Whether this is right or wrong is open to debate but in my opinion, criminalising a young person who is attending a provision because they struggle with their behaviour can only be detrimental. I’ve experienced this first hand at the age of 14 and it has followed me throughout my life.

I am now 30 years old and just about to qualify as a social worker but in order to get on the course I again had to disclose my conviction and attend a separate meeting before I was signed off as ‘safe’. The same thing happened before I was able to attend any of my work placements.

The sad thing is, this will show forever on my enhanced DBS certificate – it will never go away. I will still be disclosing that I whacked my teacher on the arm when I was 14 when I’m 60 years old!

I believe a review is urgently required into what information is disclosed on an enhanced DBS certificate. Cases should be looked at on an individual basis so that only convictions which are relevant and appropriate are disclosed. Does it really benefit anyone that I have to tell every new employer about an incident which took place when I was a young child?

By Rhys (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

The most recent changes to the filtering rules introduced in November 2020 means that youth cautions will now be filtered immediately from standard and enhanced DBS certificates. However, for those individuals who received a conviction before they were 18, this will appear on their standard/enhanced DBS certificate for at least 5.5 years possibly forever if the offence they were convicted of is non-filterable. This is one of the reasons why Unlock believes that a more nuanced approach needs to be taken to the disclosure of convictions and a discretionary filtering system introduced.

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Fresh starts are over-rated – all I want is a stable job with the same employer

Being a hard worker with some impressive skills, it’s natural that Steve’s employers would want him to work on prestigious government contracts. However, with a conviction from 25 years ago, passing security vetting has been almost impossible for him.

I was convicted of common assault almost 25 years ago after a domestic incident with my then wife.

Very briefly, during the course of an argument my ex she hit me several times with a metal bar that she’d found in my indoor tool box. In self-defence, I struck out and my hand hit her on the side of her head, knocking her over and causing her to fall against our coffee table. Shocked at what had occurred, I grabbed my coat and left.

I stayed at my brother’s house that night and the next morning at the factory where I worked the police turned up and I was arrested. I had sustained from the previous night a fractured thumb, a bad cut to my ear, a deep scratch on my neck and bruising to my upper arm and shoulder blade. I was in pain.

My wife had accused me of beating her and knocking her out. She also alleged that I frequently beat my 6 year old son and was regularly drunk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I hardly ever drank at home and never went out to the pub drinking. I worshipped my wife and son and I’d never laid a finger on either of them ever. She’d told the police that I’d been having an affair (completely untrue) which was what had provoked the argument and ‘beating’.

Later that week, my wife contacted me asking whether we could meet up to discuss a way forward. The police had told me not to have any contact with her prior to going to court and so I refused. She started yelling down the phone being really abusive and my brother who could hear everything, suggested that I just go and see what she wanted. I met her outside a shop in full public view as protection for both of us.  

It was only then that I found out from her that she was on antidepressants, which had led to some irrational mood swings. She told me that in the 9 years we’d been married, she’d had 2 affairs and was in debt to some bloke that lived in our village. She went on to say that all her friends were single, going out and having a good time and she felt left out.

I was totally clueless about any of this (although I later found out that most of it was common knowledge in our village). I felt sick, devastated and ashamed. I considered killing myself but instead went to my brother’s house, sitting up half the night talking about my marriage and situation – thankfully, he’s a really good listener.

At court a month later I was convicted of common assault, fined £1500 and given 40 weeks community service. I was told that I couldn’t see my son unless there was somebody else present.

After the court hearing I was ostracised by many people in the village who wanted nothing to do with me. They were all of the opinion that my wife was the innocent victim and I was nothing more than a thug. I couldn’t live like that and decided to turn my back on it all.

I moved 400 miles away but continued to pay most of my salary on maintenance to support my wife and child.

For the first 5 years I struggled to get work but somehow managed to survive. Once my conviction was spent it became easier and I found myself a decent job with a good salary. Things were going well until the company I was working for won a contract to work on UK and US air bases. All contract staff had to be security checked and as my conviction was spent and 12 years old, I didn’t think I needed to disclose it. Not long after, I was called into the office and told that I’d failed the security checks and that the company couldn’t keep me on. I was offered the sack or redundancy.

I was a good craftsman who always worked hard so it was disappointing to be unemployed again.   I eventually found another job but came up against similar issues when I needed to work in certain parts of hospitals and schools. I couldn’t face the embarrassment of explaining my conviction so I’d  leave before I had to have any DBS checks done.  

21 years on from my conviction and I’ve been working for the same employer for 5 years now. However two weeks ago I was told that we’d just been awarded a new contract and I’ll have to attend  government buildings. I was given a security checking form to fill out and despite staring at it and half completing it, I knew I just couldn’t go through the rejection again and so I handed in my notice.

I didn’t tell my employer the real reason I was leaving and I know they are really annoyed with me because I’ve had a lot of money invested in me doing training courses.

I’ve started applying for other jobs but I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to get a reference from my last employer and I know I can’t get security clearance all because of my old conviction.  My savings have already stated to dwindle and I reckon I may have to try to move out of the area now for another fresh start.

By Steve (name changed to protect identity)

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I’m following a different path but looking forward to the journey – accepted to study at university

A criminal record may necessitate a change to some of the plans we’ve made for the future but as Lachlan discovered, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.


I don’t think I’m a bad person but I’ve definitely made some bad choices. Unfortunately, it was one of these that led to a conviction for assault and a 12 month suspended prison sentence. I acted without thinking and will always regret what I did but I can’t change that now.

At the time of my conviction I’d just finished my A levels and was considering what I wanted to do next – gap year, university, work? However, it quickly became apparent that thanks to my conviction I had far less choice than I’d had before.

Travelling to Australia (which had been top of my gap year destinations) wasn’t possible as I’d received a 12 month sentence, even though I’d never stepped foot inside a prison. I assumed that other countries would be the same, although I know now that probably wasn’t the case.

I’d wanted to study for a social work degree and already knew that due to the work placements the university would do an enhanced DBS check. I did loads of research online about the impact of my conviction and although I couldn’t find a definitive answer, I got the impression that most universities would reject my application.

My world had been turned upside down. One minute so much choice and the next – no choice and seemingly no future. I lost interest in the things I’d once enjoyed, had less energy, lost my appetite and just felt generally worthless.

Getting a job looked like the only thing I could do and so I started to job hunt online. I couldn’t believe how many companies asked about unspent convictions and the thought of having to disclose mine to a stranger filled me with dread; I just couldn’t do it. And so another door slammed shut in my face.

Worried family and friends convinced me to go and see my GP who prescribed me anti-depressants. I didn’t want to turn to chemicals to make me feel better and so I started to ‘self-care’ – yoga, walking and the occasional exercise class. As time passed I found I was having more good days than bad and on one of the good ones it suddenly struck me, my conviction would impact on my life but how much was up to me.

A criminal record and no work experience wasn’t going to land me the best job and so it felt that university might be the way forward. With all thought of social work gone, I discovered courses I’d never have considered before and eventually plumped for a degree in digital forensics and cyber security.

As I had been convicted of a violent offence and my conviction was unspent, I had to disclose it to the university. Even though disclosure was necessary, that didn’t make it any easier and there were several times as I wrote my disclosure letter that I almost threw in the towel. I started to worry about what people would think of me, would they gossip about my conviction, would I be ostracised, would I be ‘watched’ just in case I broke the law again? However mad these thoughts might sound, they were so real to me at the time.

In the end I wrote two disclosure letters; one quite brief and another which gave a lot more background around the circumstances leading up to the conviction. I emailed the university the brief version taking the view that I could use the longer one when I attended the panel hearing. Writing the disclosure statement proved to be quite a cathartic experience, it freed me from the burden of having to hide a part of myself and freed me from the shame I felt about my criminal record.

On the day of the panel hearing, I was nervous but felt as prepared as I could be. The panel asked me a few questions verifying what I’d put in my original disclosure but didn’t ask anything more. I was asked to step out of the room and 10 minutes or so later I was called back in and my place on the course was confirmed.

By Lachlan (name changed to protect identity)

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Despite my criminal record, I am a good Samaritan

It’s important that any organisation working with the young or vulnerable carry out proper risk assessments and, as George’s story shows, formal criminal record checks and assessments don’t automatically lead to you being refused a voluntary role.


Just over two years ago I was convicted of an offence which means that I still have an unspent conviction.

My arrest and conviction was just what I needed to make me take a long hard look at the life I was leading. I knew what I was doing was wrong and during that period of my life, I’d pushed away the people that were important to me, making me feel more isolated than ever.

Although I needed an arrest to break my cycle of offending, it was nonetheless terrifying going through the criminal justice system, facing up to the crimes I’d committed and not know what would happen when I went to court. I was lucky that whilst I was going through this, I was able to reconnect with my family and some of my friends who gave me a tremendous amount of support – I don’t know how I would have got through it without them.

Finding myself in a much better place I decided about a year ago that I’d like to do some voluntary work to help others going through difficult times. I’d never contacted the Samaritans myself but I’d always been a bit in awe of an organisation who set out to ensure that there was always somebody there for anyone who needed a safe place to talk. And so, I found myself looking at the Samaritans website and finding out how I could go about becoming a listening volunteer.

I completed the application form and handed it into my local Samaritans branch and I was very quickly invited to attend an interview. Although there hadn’t been any questions on the application form about criminal records, I was fairly sure that I’d be asked about them at the interview but I wasn’t. There was a part of me that wanted to say something but I decided to just ‘go with the flow’ and tell them when I was asked.

I felt my interview had gone well and I was delighted to hear that I’d been successful and was invited to start my formal training. I was told that a pack of information would be sent to me setting out details of the training programme and telling me what I needed to bring to the first session. When I received this a couple of days later, reality hit.

I was told that although there’d be an introduction session where we’d introduce ourselves to each other, the main aim of the morning would be to do admin and form filling including completing the paperwork for our enhanced DBS checks!! I knew instantly that I needed to disclose my conviction before I got this far – I couldn’t bear the thought of meeting new people and getting excited and motivated by the role only to be turned down once they’d seen my DBS. So with some trepidation, I arranged to go and meet with the manager of my local branch.

The first thing I did as I sat down with her (Jean) was to apologise for not having had this conversation sooner. I was so nervous that my palms were sweating like mad but my mouth was so dry I could barely speak. Jean offered me a glass of water and told me to take my time. At the end of my disclosure she said:

Well that wasn’t too bad was it?

She went on to explain that there were no blanket bans on any offences for listening volunteers and that all criminal records were assessed on a case by case basis. She asked me about any restrictions/conditions I had and thanked me for being so upfront and honest. She encouraged me to go along to the first session, fill in my DBS form and meet the others.

I really enjoyed my training although at times it could be mentally draining and the more I did the more I realised how devastated I’d be if I was rejected as a result of my DBS check.

When the certificate came back, I was invited to another meeting to discuss its contents before being told that the Samaritans had no problem with me being a listening volunteer.

I’m sure there are people out there that will be alarmed to hear that somebody with a criminal record has been accepted as a volunteer. Let me reassure you – I don’t pose any risk to anybody I work with or listen to and I’m sure that the rigorous training I’ve been put through by the Samaritans would have highlighted any concerns they had. Many of the people I listen to are so desperate that they are considering ending their lives – if you were that person wouldn’t you just want someone to listen to you, would it matter that they’d made a mistake themselves in the past.

By George  (name changed to protect identity)

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“Acceptance was the answer to my problems” – Getting into university with an unspent conviction

Source: Adobe Stock

Despite education being widely recognised as a key factor in successful rehabilitation, having to disclose a conviction will often mean that people with convictions are discouraged from applying. But, refusal from one university didn’t stop Henry from following his dream to study for a Masters.

I’m so pleased to be writing this and able to say that I’ve just been accepted at university to study for a Masters despite having an unspent conviction.

Although I was applying to study on a distance learning basis, the university asked that I disclose any convictions for any relevant offences. These were defined as:

Those convictions for offences against the person, whether of a violent or sexual nature, and convictions involving unlawfully supplying controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking.”

Unfortunately, my offence was considered relevant. I’d previously been turned down for a similar course at a bricks-and-mortar university which would have involved spending one day each week on the university campus. The rejection letter I’d received had pulled no punches either which gave me a really bad feeling when applying the second time.

I felt that no matter what I said, my application would be refused.

I spent a long time putting a disclosure letter and personal statement together. I stuck to the facts about my offence and conviction but made sure that I showcased everything I’d done since then. I provided evidence of all the courses that I’d completed and mentioned that I’d participated in various therapeutic communities. This appeared to be the key to my success.

I had been asked whether the university could contact my supervising officer. My probation officer’s heavy case-load meant that responding to queries from the university wasn’t high on her list of priorities and I had to work hard to get her to deal with it sooner rather than later. However, the report she wrote was extremely favourable and, taken into consideration with the other information supplied, I was offered a place on the course.

The nature of my conviction is very stigmatising and the prospect of having to reveal it was daunting. For the most part, the people I dealt with were respectful and did all they could do to support my application and I’m really grateful to them for that. The Masters is a great opportunity for me to move on with my life and I can’t wait to really get stuck into my studies.

By Henry  (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

Although Henry was asked to disclose his conviction, remember that universities should only be asking for this information if the course you are studying will lead to an occupation which is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, for example nursing or teaching etc.

Although it can be difficult to challenge questions like this, it’s important that you only disclose what you legally need to.

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I’ve been fortunate that my stupidity hasn’t been held against me

On paper Keith’s conviction for arson sounds terrible but, the key to his success has been his ability to disclose it openly and honestly to any college/university or employer that asks.


I left home at the age of 16 and for the next two years stayed with one of my best mates and his family.

By the time I was 18 I was holding down a job and had managed to rent my own home. I had some good mates and every now and again, I did what every 18 years old does, I met up with friends, had a few too many drinks and got drunk. However, for me, the consequences were far more serious.

On the day in question, I’d been to the pub and then invited several friends back to mine for a barbeque. Just as we were about to light it, the rain started and, probably due to the influence of drink, I decided it would be a good idea to move the barbeque close to the back door. Unfortunately this led to the kitchen door catching alight.

One of my friends called the fire service but we’d actually managed to put the fire out before they arrived. However, my landlord reported the incident to the police and I was convicted of arson and received a community order. In my opinion, ‘arson’ sounds a whole lot worse than what happened that day – 30 years ago.

Five years after I was convicted, I applied to run a summer play scheme for children from the ages of 5 – 11 years of age; I’m pleased to say that my application was successful.

For the past 10 years I’ve been doing voluntary community work on a local housing estate and at the same time I also studied with the Open University and gained a degree in mathematics and astronomy.

Last summer I applied to do teacher training. I already had a DBS certificate for my voluntary role and I’d signed up for the DBS Update Service so it was relatively easy for the teacher training college to see my DBS certificate. I nervously handed over the hard copy of the certificate and disclosed my conviction only to be told that I needed to meet with the Safeguarding Officer.

I was really anxious about the meeting but again, I disclosed the conviction and explained the circumstances surrounding it. The Safeguarding Officer told me

When someone applies for the course with a conviction, we look at two things. One is the offence, the circumstances and would it make the person a danger to children and adults. The other is would the offence stop that person from gaining employment as a teacher. In both of these, the answer is no – so welcome onboard.”

I’m now three months away from qualifying as a teacher and my life has completely changed. I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time and I’m looking forward to the next stage.

I don’t cherish the feeling that I’ll always have to declare my conviction and I know that I may not get some teaching positions because of it. My crime was not malicious or nasty, it was a naïve 18 year old being stupid and foolish. It’s part of my past which I’m not proud of but accept that it happened and have now shown society what I’m capable of, and where I want to go.

By Keith  (name changed to protect identity)

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