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Rejected by employers but could my conviction also stop me from becoming a mother?

In the risk averse world in which we now live, it can seem like every organisation wants to know whether we have a criminal record and if so, the details of it. Melissa was surprised to find herself having to disclose information about her conviction to a fertility clinic.


Almost a year ago I decided that I wanted to start a family. With joy, excitement and lots of nerves all bundled up, I contacted a fertility clinic who posted a series of forms to me. Innocuously tucked in between the forms asking about my medical background and my consent for treatment was a ‘Welfare of the Child’ form with the earth-shattering question:

Have you ever been convicted of harming a child?”

Now let me rewind and tell you a little about the conviction I’d received 5 years previously. I had a sexual relationship with someone over the age of consent, yet within an institution in which I had a position of authority. The story received a significant amount of press attention and public opinion was clearly divided on the topic. I will never defend my actions and the choices I made at the time of my offence. They were completely unacceptable both personally and professionally.

However, the question that I now needed to answer was, did it constitute ‘harming a child?’

For me, there was no question. The individual involved was not a ‘child’ and there was no element of coercion or harm in my conviction.

The media (and therefore public opinion), on the other hand, might disagree with that conclusion. What was I to do?

  1. Tick the “no” box and leave it at that; unrealistically hoping that no-one at the clinic ever came across my name in the press and that if they did they agreed with me that it didn’t involve ‘harming a child’.
  2. Tick the “yes” box and state that I had ‘harmed a child’ – an option I wasn’t prepared to even consider, on principle.
  3. Tick neither “yes” nor “no” but provide them with full disclosure.

After much deliberation, canvassing the opinion of my family and friends, long-term therapist and GP (who, incidentally, all agreed that it was not a conviction related to ‘harming a child), I made the decision to go with option 3.

I wrote a very carefully worded letter of disclosure, asked a close friend to provide a character reference, asked my therapist to provide a letter with her professional opinion and my GP to provide a letter confirming he had no cause to be concerned for the welfare of any child I may have. Armed with these documents I went back to the clinic and handed in my form.

As I had anticipated, a pre-defined procedure kicked in immediately. I was asked to come back to the clinic in a week’s time to meet with their in-house counsellor for an interview.

The nerves I experienced during that week are hard to describe, the sick feeling in my stomach was constant, as was the desperate fear that the dreadful decision I’d made 5 years earlier could stop me from having the chance to become a mother. I was terrified.

The morning of the interview came, and I arrived at the clinic shaking. I had come prepared to defend my position and, if necessary, formally appeal if the decision didn’t go my way. I had experienced 5 years of disappointment at the way in which employers and institutions could sometimes respond to convictions in an entirely blanket way, without any consideration for the circumstances of the individual case and I was ready to fight for my rights.

What a relief when, within the first 30 seconds of walking into the interview, my faith in humanity’s ability to apply common sense to a situation was restored.

The counsellor assured me that they did not consider me to be at risk of ‘harming a child’. She thanked me for providing them with such a comprehensive range of supporting documents at the outset and emphasised how much easier that complete disclosure had made their decision.

I was more relieved than I could possibly say. They had made a decision based on facts and the opinions of experts as opposed to having a gut reaction to the perceived risks around people with convictions.

I’m so grateful to them for approaching my situation without prejudice and with common sense.

Now let the next stage of my life begin!

By Melissa (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

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


No pain, no gain – Don’t let your embarrassment about the past stop you from disclosing to a new employer

Having received two convictions for common assault, Stuart always worried that potential employers would see him as a violent thug rather than an individual just caught up in a disagreement over a restaurant bill. However, when a fantastic job offer came along, he had to put his fears to one side and disclose.

Almost 15 years ago I was convicted of two counts of common assault following an altercation with a couple of waiters in a restaurant whilst I was having dinner with friends. At the end of the meal there was a bit of a disagreement over the bill; we thought we’d been charged too much. A couple of the waiters started to become quite aggressive and despite only trying to defend myself, I was arrested, charged and received a fine.

I’m the least violent person you’re ever likely to come across – I’ve always taken great pride in the fact that I can talk my way out of a situation rather than turn to violence. Although I’ve heard people say “It’s only a conviction for common assault, don’t worry about it”, I do.  As far as I’m concerned it portrays me as somebody I’m not and I’ve always struggled to disclose it to an employer.

For several years after my conviction, I stayed in a job that I really hated; I was too worried about telling a new employer about my conviction so I just put up with it. Once my conviction was spent, I began applying for jobs which only required basic criminal record checks and managed to secure a role in customer services. I’ve loved the job and the people I work with but I suppose there comes a time when you start to feel as though you’re not being challenged enough and start to consider moving on.

The push to move jobs came about when I read something in the newspaper stating that the Civil Service were going to be removing the question on their application form which asked about criminal records. As my conviction was spent this didn’t really affect me too much but, out of curiosity, I went online and saw a customer service job advertised with HM Revenue and Customs. It sounded perfect and, full of enthusiasm, I completed the application form.

I knew my application had been good and was delighted to hear that I’d been invited for an interview. The interview was tougher than I thought it would be and 10 minutes after leaving the HMRC office I’d totally convinced myself that I didn’t stand a chance and had performed really badly. Fortunately, it hadn’t gone as badly as I’d thought and I was offered the job a week later. However, I wasn’t able to celebrate for too long. As I looked through the information pack I was sent by the HR department, I read that roles at HMRC were exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and I was asked to disclose unspent and spent cautions/convictions which were not eligible for filtering.

It was the last thing I’d expected and, as I had two charges of common assault, I knew that they wouldn’t be filtered and I’d need to disclose. I just needed to decide whether I wanted to disclose or should I keep quiet and turn the job offer down.

If the job had been with anybody else I would have walked away but let’s face it, a job with the Civil Service is pretty much a job for life. I was being offered a good salary, a marvellous pension and there were fantastic opportunities for promotion. If I turned the job down, I’d always wonder what might have happened if I’d disclosed.

Although I completed the form, it didn’t feel right just emailing it back to HR. I’d lived with the shame of my conviction for years and it was important to me that I was able to explain that my actions on that night did not reflect who I was. So I rang HR and arranged to go in and have a chat. I must have changed my mind 20 times or more about going along but, I kept thinking about the positives and pushed on.

I’m not going to say that the disclosure was fine. If you’ve ever done it you’ll know what I mean. Some times are better than others but it’s never a good experience. All I can say is that the lady I spoke to didn’t look too surprised and I certainly didn’t feel as though she were judging me in any way. She nodded in all the right places and asked me a couple of questions about how I felt at the time and how I felt now. I told her that at the time I had just been defending myself and hadn’t thought through the consequences of my actions. Since then however, I’ve had to live with the shame and embarrassment every day and, would certainly act differently if I were put in that situation again.

At the end of my disclosure the HR lady thanked me for being so honest even though she could tell it had been difficult for me to discuss. She confirmed that the conviction made no difference and the job offer stood.

Although I’ve not always followed my own advice, I’d tell anybody now that if you get a great job offer, then the 10 minutes of pain you go through when disclosing can definitely be worth it.

By Stuart (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

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

Responding to rejection – my email to a recruitment agency after being told I was unsuitable

Like many of you who are reading this article, I’ve just had one of those ‘thanks but no thanks’ incidents following an interview arranged by a recruitment agency. I’ve had these types of responses before and felt upset, angry and deflated but this time, rather than just accept the contents, I thought it was important to respond.

So, here’s my email

Hi Emily,

I just wanted to thank you for considering me suitable and capable for the role of XXXX for all the right reasons. I hope you will agree that I was precisely the kind of candidate that was ideal based on the tests carried out, my enthusiasm and my experience. It is just unfortunate that, whether it is [Recruitment agency] or [Employer] who makes these decisions, I was considered unsuitable for the wrong reasons.

Of course, your comment to me regarding why my application was rejected was incorrect. You, no doubt, were simply relaying the information that your manager gave you. In fact, what may quite possibly be true is that you do not employ anyone with criminal convictions – knowingly!

I think it is very possible that you do employ people with unspent criminal convictions, but unlike myself and a minority of people like me who find it virtually impossible to be dishonest (which apart from anything else, I feel is treating the person you are lying to disrespectfully) what you actually have is people who have not ticked the box that requests this information, a very small number of whom may be genuinely mistaken that their conviction is spent. I don’t blame people for lying, they are probably quite rightly aware that their conviction has absolutely no bearing on their ability to do the job, and for [Recruitment agency] or [Employer] to pry further into their history (apart from being quite possibly illegal) would be totally detrimental to themselves as well as the contractor/employee. They would be firing a productive member of their staff for, as I have already said, no good reason.

I cannot recall precisely whether you said, specifically, that only people with “unspent” criminal convictions were refused employment. Even if not, I’m sure that was the inference, as denying people with spent convictions employment without good reason is an offence in itself to my understanding. However, the actual difference between a “spent” and an “unspent” conviction is purely arbitrary as far as any employer is concerned. There is a good argument that someone who’s conviction has been “spent” is actually going to be a greater risk to the employer than one who’s isn’t. A person who still has restrictions and requirements for their action and behaviours has a lot more to lose by upsetting their employer, and there is no reason why an ex-offender will do anything detrimental towards the employer, any more than someone who has never had any involvement in the criminal justice system at all – they have solid experience of the possible repercussions of their actions.

In the jobs I have been able to get since leaving prison, I have been credited and commended by all my managers and supervisors, as long as they were unaware of my conviction (only the recruiting agency being aware). In one case my manager (highly uncharacteristic for him apparently) requested that I not only stayed with him when I moved to his next job location, but wanted me taken on full time by his company. For unrelated reasons I was unable to join him at that site (qualifications) but my concern was also that if I were to join his company I would have to cross a line of dishonesty. Being that he was clearly a bigot (something I disliked, but was willing to accept as being a largely generational thing) I am certain his attitude toward me would have changed should he have known about my conviction.

I just wanted to make these points to you, and for the sake of hopefully encouraging someone to consider these points should you ever be in a position to affect company policy decisions in future, or know of someone who is. It is just unfortunate that the law itself does not reflect on these rather obvious incongruities.

In closing, perhaps I can ask one question. If [Recruitment agency] do not employ anyone with [Employer] who have unspent convictions; is there any chance you know, or can enquire about, which clients of [Recruitment agency] do – and perhaps forward me your relevant recruitment specialists contact details? I would be most grateful.

Thank you


So, it seems that being upfront and honest isn’t necessarily going to land me a job. The advice I received from staff on the work programme was not to disclose anything to a recruitment agency, but to bring it up at the interview with the employer. This approach has definitely resulted in me being put forward by a couple of agencies for interviews although the companies involved then went back to the agency asking why my conviction hadn’t been disclosed previously. I now get the feeling that I’m not trusted by these agencies as they feel that I’ve been dishonest with them.

By George (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Our helpline is often contacted by people who’ve had very similar experiences to George. Sadly it’s all too easy for recruitment agencies to hide behind employers blaming their company policies for rejecting anybody with a criminal record. Although there are no doubt instances where this is the case, we’re fairly sure that some recruitment agencies just don’t recommend individuals with a criminal record. As George says, this will often lead to people not disclosing their conviction to an agency.

Useful links

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

I was told that my historic convictions would stop me working in a prison, but is that really the case?

Like many people who’ve had personal experience of the criminal justice system, Victoria wanted to help others who found themselves in a similar situation to the one she’d been in. Sadly, she discovered that the Prison Service were more likely to consider her historic convictions rather than judge her on her skills and experience.


I applied for a job as a functional skills tutor working in a privately run prison. The interview went well and later in the day I received a call to confirm that I had the job. Great! Or so I thought.

I needed an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check and the education department at the prison also sent me a security vetting form to complete. I have convictions from twenty and forty years ago and I knew that I would have to disclose them but as I hadn’t received any prison sentences or been barred from working with children or adults, I assumed at that stage that I wouldn’t have any problems.

I’ve done a lot of voluntary work with children,helping them with their literacy and numeracy skills and I’ve worked with people suffering from dementia and alzheimers. I thought this would increase my skills and knowledge and would improve my chances of getting into paid work.

As I read through the very long, detailed and complicated security vetting form from the prison, I thought it might save a lot of time if I spoke to the education department at the prison and tell them about my previous convictions. The lady I spoke to at the prison told me that in her experience she was 80 – 90% sure that the job offer would be revoked as a result of my convictions. I therefore decided not to put myself through the ordeal and withdrew my application.

Having had my confidence knocked, I was very anxious about applying for other jobs. Eventually I was offered a job as a tutor at a private language college. I disclosed my convictions to the manager during the interview and she was a lot more relaxed about them, especially as they were so historic. Despite getting the job, things didn’t really work out as I had expected (for a variety of reasons) and I resigned.

My experiences over the last few years have left me in a really bad place. I can’t seem to stop crying and just can’t cope with anything right now. I’ve seen my doctor and been put on anti-depressants which I’m hoping will help me.

I’ve tried so hard over the past 7 years to get a job. I’ve re-trained as a foreign language tutor and took other qualifications not thinking at the time that I would have any problems getting into this type of work.

I love teaching English as a foreign language and I’m good at it. I have the skills and abilities to be a great teacher and could have easily done the job in the prison. Unfortunately from what I’ve heard, the system doesn’t seem to want me.

By Victoria (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

We’d always encourage people to apply for any job which they believe they have the necessary skills and experience to do. If you want to find out whether your criminal record will affect your chances of success, make sure that you speak to the relevant person within the organisation, for example an HR Manager. Although Victoria was told by a member of the education department that there was an 80 – 90% chance of the job offer being revoked, she may have found herself in the 10 – 20% that was successful.

Useful links

  1. Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  2. Information – We have practical self-help information on prison vetting
  3. Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions on specific occupations and professions on our online forum.

I’ve cleared the road for future employees at my company by challenging an ineligible DBS check

Having been in his job for a year, Colin was horrified to learn that his employers were going to be carrying out an ineligible criminal record check which would have disclosed his spent conviction. Read how Colin kept his job and got his employers to change their recruitment practices.


I’d been working for about a year as a driver taking doctors who were working for an ‘out-of-hours’ service to their appointments when, out of the blue, I was asked to go into work early for my next shift as I had to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) application form. My heart sank as I knew that if my employers did an enhanced DBS check it would disclose my spent conviction and I would almost certainly lose my job.

Like a lot of people with a conviction, I was really embarrassed and ashamed about it and my confidence had reached an all-time low. At one point, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to hold down a job such was my anxiety about the past.

I eventually mustered the courage to telephone my employer and asked in a very roundabout way whether the DBS check they were going to complete would be an enhanced one, hoping of course that they’d say ‘No’. Sadly they confirmed my worst fears – it would be enhanced.

The next time I went into work, I was asked whether I’d brought in my ID documents for the DBS check and I pretended that I’d left them at home. I was trying to buy myself more time but the HR Manager told me that if I didn’t bring them along to my next shift then I’d be unable to work.

So, the following week, off I went to complete the online DBS form with the office administrator. When we got to the section about convictions, I really didn’t know what to do but thought that honesty was the best policy and answered ‘Yes’, explaining to the administrator that my conviction was now spent. When we’d finished filling in the form the admin guy told me not to worry, that everything would be okay and to get on with my shift.

However, the next time I went into work, I was summoned to a meeting with my manager and asked to explain the spent conviction which I’d revealed whilst filling in the DBS form. I was asked about the nature of the conviction and when I refused to go into detail I was threatened with suspension. I was confused, embarrassed and unsure how to proceed but eventually I told him everything, whereupon he explained that he’d have to investigate the matter further and that I would be suspended whilst this took place.

I wasn’t a member of any union and I wasn’t sure whether I had any employment rights. Searching the internet, I came across an organisation called Unlock who, I immediately contacted for some advice. They told me that an enhanced DBS check may be ineligible for the job that I’d be doing and they explained that I could challenge this through the DBS. I sent an email off to the DBS straight away and with renewed confidence, also sent an email to my employer setting out why I thought an enhanced check was ineligible.

I heard back from my company very quickly and asked to attend a meeting with a senior manager. Although he was very understanding he maintained that my role would need an enhanced DBS check as it was often necessary for drivers to go into people’s houses to act as a chaperone. I explained that I’d never been asked to act as a chaperone but even if I had, I would always be with the doctor and never alone with the patient.

I’d clearly given the manager a lot to think about as he told me that he’d have to seek further information. When he did eventually get back to me, he told me that having sought independent advice he now appreciated that my job would only require a basic DBS check and that he was happy for me to return to work immediately.

Although I initially found it quite difficult to challenge my employer, the advice and support I was given by Unlock gave me the confidence to do it. If I hadn’t stood up for myself, I’m sure I would have lost my job which would have been yet another knock to my confidence. My employers have now changed their recruiting policy and state that they will only carry out basic checks for my type of job. I’m delighted that as a result of my challenge, future employees with spent convictions won’t have to worry about disclosing and being judged.

By Colin (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

We see many examples of employers looking to conduct incorrect levels of criminal record check on their employees. This can lead to individuals having job offers revoked or even losing their job. If you believe that an employer is trying to carry out an ineligible check, we would always recommend that you challenge it through the Disclosure and Barring Service. As Colin’s story shows, successfully challenging these checks will not only benefit the individual but can make a difference to all future employees.

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“You’re fired!” – Losing my job after my spent conviction came to light due to my own honesty

A core aim of any criminal justice system must surely be to stop people re-offending. We know that getting people back into work helps with this. However, as Phil’s story shows, employers are not always so open to taking people on once they know that they have a criminal record, even if it’s now ‘spent’.


When we consider what is needed to help those with criminal convictions move forward in their lives, time and time again we hear that the most important factor is having a job. There are many advantages to the individual, not only the obvious financial stability but also helping the individual to feel a sense of belonging, taking responsibility, gaining a sense of purpose and the creation of social relationships. It’s so clear that being in employment is a no brainer as there are so many positive advantages for both the individual, the employer and society. Regrettably we so often come across employers who continue to display discrimination and prejudice. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was an attempt to remove some discrimination by employers and amendments made to the Act in 2014 reduced the rehabilitation periods after which certain convictions could be classified as spent which should have given a clear, positive message to employers.

Yet one has to wonder just how many employers are fully aware of their legal obligations and how many are still actively continuing to discriminate against those with convictions either unspent or spent and how committed the government is to the Act.

This hit home to me recently when after eight months of full time employment I was dismissed for gross misconduct. I was denied any notice or pay in lieu of notice and was escorted from the building without being able to return to my desk to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues! Most people would assume that I must have done something wrong to warrant such draconian action? But it would appear this is an all too common happening around the country. The reason given for my dismissal was that I:

Have been convicted of a criminal offence that in the Company’s opinion may affect their reputation or its relationship with its staff, service users or public, or otherwise affects the employer’s suitability to continue working for the company.”

At the time of my dismissal I had a spent conviction but I had declared it on my application form as, at the time of applying, it was unspent (it became spent one day before the job interview). I wasn’t asked about it either at interview or in the months that followed when I attended a further two interviews for promotion. I felt this was fair and correct as I’d only applied for jobs which I knew afforded protection under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. My interviews for promotion were successful and I was promoted due to my ability, exemplary work, time keeping and attitude. I was judged on present merit not on something from the past.

So you can imagine my horror when one morning without any warning I was summoned to a meeting room and found myself being questioned by the HR manager because they had ‘discovered’ the ticked box on my original application form. It would appear the earlier lack of interest in my conviction was not due to good practice as I’d first though but simply an oversight.

I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise as since receiving my conviction abroad six years previously, I’ve struggled to move forward with my life and in particular, to find my way back into employment. This hadn’t been due to a lack of motivation or effort on my part or even an unwillingness to resume a constructive place in society but rather the preconceived attitudes of the state, employers and organisations towards people with criminal convictions. Despite what is said by the government the reality on the ground is very different and what happened to me will never show on any statistics.

All my friends and family have told me how wrongly I’ve been treated so I wrote to the company’s Managing Director in protest and he agreed to meet me with the HR director so that I could appeal the decision. For me this was well within my capabilities but I can imagine many would be daunted by having to enter the Dragon’s Den for a second time, confronting two main board directors of a huge company employing about 3000 employers. I was 100% focused as clearly they’d not only breached the ROA but were also in breach of contract for not paying me in lieu of notice. Despite this it was a hard and stressful face to face fight just to achieve my basic entitlements under employment legislation. There was no apology for the appalling way the company had treated me nor for the stress I’d suffered or the financial problems that losing my income would cause me. I was viewed as a nuisance, wasting their time. They had no choice but to agree to pay me in lieu of notice and remove the gross misconduct allegation however the dismissal still stood! As I was within the first two years of employment I couldn’t go to a tribunal for unfair dismissal and indeed as such proceedings are often reported in the media would be a big deterrent for most people. I’m sure there are many who would not be prepared to take this risk.

I will move forward, disappointed but stronger for my experiences. I have become used to my life being a game of snakes and ladders but one has to wonder just how many knock backs can a person take.

By Phil (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Phil’s story sadly demonstrates the attitude of a lot of employers which is that despite offering him two promotions based on his exemplary work and attitude, they were unable to see beyond his criminal record once they became aware of it. Unlock see this on a regular basis and is why we work on fair access to employment, supporting and challenging employers in how they treat people with convictions.


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