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Tag: Employment Support -

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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Is it too much to expect a life without stigma following a criminal record?

Despite serving his 6-month custodial sentence, Alistair feels that the prejudice and stigma he continues to experience will be a life sentence.


Prior to finding myself on the wrong side of the law, I was a highly skilled, tax-paying member of society.

On release from prison in August 2014, I knew life was going to be hard, but I had no idea it would be this hard. The prejudice, stigma and ignorance I kind of expected, however, the lack of structure, support or framework to get skilled people back into work has been the most surprising part of the journey so far. I don’t expect help or to have things handed to me on a plate. However, when I see the money and support offered to chronic offenders and I then compare that to the support I’ve received, I cannot help but wonder why more help is not provided to try and get people who are highly employable, skilled and passionate back into work? Arguably I should be easier to help get back into work, however perhaps that’s why I’m slipping through the cracks?

There is still a huge problem with how ex-offenders are perceived by hiring managers and also with the support services available to help people with my skill-set re-join the workforce.

Five years ago I was found guilty of domestic assault (in relation to allegations that had apparently occurred years before this). It was my word against his, and the law found in his favour, in spite of a lack of evidence. While I still maintain my innocence, I have come to terms now with the fact that it is what it is. I spent 6 months in prison. I lost my high-powered job of over ten years – I was dismissed on the grounds of misconduct. I daresay I would have lost my job anyway, however something inside me thought I might not. I think it’s called hope? My good pay and comfortable pension were gone. My house was gone. My belongings had to be sold. Any savings I had were quickly eaten up to pay legal fees and I accrued thousands of pounds worth of debt to try and make sure I could afford my legal representation. Everything I had worked for was gone the only things I kept were my family and now ex-partner who have all stood beside me throughout. I’m not saying this for sympathy at all, I’m just trying to understand the facts as I see them.

Whilst I was in prison I was disappointed to discover that there was one Citizen’s Advice officer for the biggest prison in Scotland. She worked part-time – one day per week for a couple of hours. I had to ask to see her more times than I care to remember. I eventually got to see her, over three months in to my sentence. I asked her for advice on how to manage my debt on leaving prison. She was clearly overworked, underpaid and too stretched to help me. I had one cursory appointment at the CAB which bore no fruit whatsoever. I received no careers or job advice the whole time I was inside – nothing. I saw the housing officer one week before I was due to be released. His only advice was that I would have to enlist at a homeless hostel on my release. My mental health was at a low and has suffered severely since. I was on prescription medication, I was vulnerable and for the most part, alone other than my friends and family.

For the most part, the answers I needed could not be provided by the services currently on offer by the Scottish Prison Service. I wasn’t under 25 years old, alcoholic, a drug addict or homeless. I wasn’t a priority case for any sort of peer work, education support or indeed any support whatsoever while I was in prison and this has very much been the case since my release. I understand about re-offending rates and trying to assuage the risks of that happening amongst people classed as chronic offenders. However, the support on offer in Scotland is entirely weighted towards this section of ex-offenders. As far as I can see, there is no consideration or thought, programmes, services or support, either in the public or private sector, to help skilled workers re-join the workforce on departure from prison. The funding available to charities is predicted towards giving support to the aforementioned categories of offender. No links between the job centre and big organisations who might be interested in my skill-set. This meant I had to rely on myself, my own abilities and strengths to try and find a job however, once I found one, I realised that a new battle was just beginning that of endemic prejudice about people with criminal records.

Three months after leaving prison I secured a job conducting clinical trials. The salary was less than half of my old job but I was so pleased to be back in work. I disclosed my criminal record at interview and was overjoyed when they hired me in spite of it. I stayed for nearly a year and thought my life was back on track.

A vacancy arose at an employment law consultancy and I thought I’d apply. I got a phone interview and disclosed that I had an unspent conviction. I was asked to disclose this to the hiring manager at interview and when I did, again it made no difference and I was offered the job.

However, a couple of months into the job I was asked to attend a meeting with HR and told that I’d lied at interview and not disclosed my criminal record. I had a voicemail from the recruitment manager which proved they were fully aware of the conviction and that I had fully disclosed. However, I was sacked on the spot. The minute people hear that you have a criminal record they don’t want to hear the nuances and explanations. The doors just close.

Criminal records are person specific, incredibly nuanced and complex and if you’re having to constantly justify your character to someone who is not willing to take any of that into account, then you will forever be fighting a losing and depressing battle.

By Alistair (name changed to protect identity)


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Employers need to learn how to see the person and not just the crime

Despite achieving considerable success since his release from prison, Jack has found that as the positions he applies for have become more senior, the more likely employers are to do criminal record checks. Sadly he’s found that rather than base their decision on his employment history, the majority of employers can’t see past his criminal record.

My criminal record started when I was 12 years old while growing up in children’s homes. By the age of 18 I had convictions for burglary, assault and had served time in youth detention centres and borstals.

At the age of 20, I was standing in the dock at the Old Bailey receiving a 30-year sentence for armed robbery and attempted murder.

After 20 years in prison, I was released when I was 40 years old. I walked out of prison on a Friday and met a girl two days later. This may sound quick, but I fell totally and utterly in love with her and she turned my life around.

I wanted to be the best I could be for her and go straight. So, aged 40, I got my first EVER job working as a bin man.

My girlfriend and I got married 12 months later and soon after, she gave birth to my beautiful son. With a wife and child to support, I knuckled down and started a career in facilities management. I started at the bottom as an industrial cleaner and within 2 years I’d worked my way up to area manager. I was responsible for 200 staff and 20 sites. From here, I accepted a job overseas and the family and I lived abroad for a while.

Upon our return to the UK, I started applying for senior facilities management jobs and very quickly secured a new position for myself. I’d only been there a couple of days and was going through induction when I was told:

We just need to do your criminal record check

There’d been no mention of this on the application form or during the interview. I knew that I’d have to disclose and did so straight away only to be told that the job offer was going to be revoked.

I was offered another three jobs after this and every time I was told that I’d need a criminal record check. Needless to say, another three job offers were withdrawn. I decided to apply for a supervisory role rather than a senior role and again successfully got through interviews with another two companies. As soon as I disclosed, I was told that the companies were unable to employ me.

I need to support my family and so I now work in the most horrific job imaginable, at a waste recycling plant working 12 hour shifts in 120-degree heat doing back breaking manual work. The work is brain numbing and I feel so depressed and demoralised. I spent over 20 years in prison being punished for my actions and now all I want to do is be a contributing member of society, providing for my wife and child.

I can promise you that I would never ever commit a crime or break the law again as I’d never want to let my wife and son down but, I can see why people do. Prison is meant to rehabilitate you so that when you leave you can lead a law-abiding and industrious life. The problem is that once you disclose your criminal record, very few people are willing to give you the chance you need.

I understand the arguments that are taking place at the moment around minor offences being removed from standard and enhanced DBS checks and I totally support that. However, I feel that the reforms need to go further than that so people with more significant and serious criminal records can also benefit -maybe this is amending the time it takes for convictions to become spent. Perhaps we should just be doing more to educate employers to see the person and not just the crime.

By Jack (name changed to protect identity)


Comment from Unlock

Jack’s story underlines why we’re pushing for further reform to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. As it stands, sentences of over 4 years in prison can never become spent, no matter what positive work people do after release. We believe there should be a point at which people like Jack should no longer have to disclose their criminal record. Before that point, it’s also important that, as the title of this post says, employers see the person not the crime.


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Timpson’s gave me the key to unlock my future

Knowing that you’ve got a job to go to on leaving prison can relieve a lot of worry and anxiety. Michaela’s story sets out her experience of securing employment with Timpson’s whilst she was in prison and then upon release. 


My name is Michaela and I’m an ex-offender.

When I was 21 years old I was convicted of a drunken violent offence, which happened while I was still a teenager. In a second, a mindless act changed so many lives. My actions were out of character however I knew I had caused another person serious harm and for that I was sorry and I knew I had to be punished. I was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Unsure of the prison system I felt like my life was in the complete control of other people. I knew I had a long journey ahead of me, I kept my head down, made a few friends and got on with what was now my life. In prison.

The prison experience for me wasn’t all bad. Of course, there were times I found myself in tears. Hours, days and even weeks were spent thinking and wishing things were different but nothing could ever change the situation I was in. I found strength from regular contact with my family and the close friends I had made on the inside and I spent a lot of time reading and writing. Any course the prison had on offer to further my education and skills, I jumped at. I completed various IT qualifications and also gained my Level 2 Certificate in gym-based exercise and physical activity as well as studying for a Stonebridge distance learning diploma in Personal Development Coaching.

A little over a year into my sentence I was finally given Cat D status and this meant I could now start to do unpaid voluntary work outside of the prison during the day and return back to the prison after work. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to get out of there for the day. My first voluntary job role was in a charity shop.

I heard on the grapevine that a company call Timpson were coming into the prison to interview potential employees to give them the opportunity of paid work, training and a chance of employment on release. I spoke to the officer in charge of the outwork scheme and got myself a place on the meet and greet list. A few weeks later the Foundation Ambassador for Timpson, Darren Phillips, came into the prison and interviewed about 12 women. I think they had about 6 vacancies so we were all nervous and feeling fiercely competitive. Well I was anyway. After a brief chat about the company and their quest to find untapped talent in prisons it was time for the one to one interviews and I was up first. My interview went well and I was listed for a second interview two weeks later with the area manager.

My second interview went well and I was offered a paid job. I would be working full time, 40 hours a week and I would get paid. From my wages I had to pay for my own travel to and from work and 40% of my salary was taken out to contribute towards the victim support fund. That was fine by me, I couldn’t wait to get started. Things were looking up for me. The job involved a 16 week training programme – luckily I only had 20 weeks left on my sentence.

My training in store was going great, I passed the relevant skills test and I enjoyed the environment I was in. It wasn’t long before I would be going home and I was keen to ensure that I had a job when I returned to my home town. I contacted the area manager who covered the town I would be going back to and once again I was asked to head to a new store for another interview. I took with me glowing references from my existing manager who spoke highly of me and my work ethic and I was offered another 16 week training period to start the day after I was released from prison. 16 weeks later I was offered a permanent full time position in the store closest to my home, I was over the moon.

I’ve now been a store manager for just over 6 months and I am looking for other great opportunities like the one offered to me by Timpson, to gain more skills and knowledge in different areas. If I can make it this far, why stop now? I have a fantastic work ethic and my ambition is driving me to search for other roles, open up different doors and a new chapter of my life.

I always believed it was easier to find a job when you already had one – I have dedicated a significant amount of time to writing CV’s and applying online for various jobs and registered with different recruitment agencies and here is where I have found a problem. On every single registration form and application form, the dreaded box to tick – ‘Do you have any unspent criminal convictions?’

I find this extremely worrying, as a potential employer will already know I have a conviction before they’ve even met me. Regardless if the conviction in no way effects my ability to work in said position and regardless of how long ago my conviction was, with no other offences in the last 7 years.

This will in no way stop my journey, if anything it has just motivated me even more to make something of myself. I have been in touch with a recruitment agency that is dedicated to helping ex-offenders make it back into employment. I have also contacted a number of charities for any help and advice they can offer me on disclosing my convictions.

My name is Michaela, I’m a dreamer, a mother, a provider, a young woman with passion, ambition and a strong resilience to not let a mistake as a teenager define the rest of my life.

By Michaela

This post originally appeared in the May edition of Inside Time with the title ‘Who I am’ and is reproduced with permission and thanks.

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From prisoner to probation officer – securing a job as a probation officer with a criminal record

Back in 2005 when I was about 16 years old my mum made the brave decision to move me and my younger brother from London to Wales. Although I’d never got into any serious trouble, I’d been hanging around with the ‘wrong-crowd’ and had started to get more and more involved in the whole gang scene. My mum could see that I was becoming more drawn in and was terrified that I’d either end up dead or in prison. When she was given the opportunity to relocate with her job, she grabbed it with both hands.

Although I worked hard at my new school and got 10 GCSE’s I still had that ‘gang mentality’ and was a magnet for local Welsh gangs who looked upon me as a ‘proper London gangster’. I’d started to study for my ‘A’ levels but when I wasn’t at college, I’d be selling drugs for my new Welsh ‘friends’.

In 2007, just after my 18th birthday, the inevitable happened and I was arrested and charged with possession with intent to supply. I wasn’t really surprised when the judge sentenced me to a 2 year 10 month sentence and took my punishment like a man. But I fell apart like a baby when I looked over to my mum and saw the tears and look of disappointment in her eyes. I knew immediately that I had to change, I had to make my mum proud of me, whatever happened.

Prison is prison and the worst part of it is the boredom. The prison education department arranged for me to sit my ‘A’ levels. There begun my interest in learning and gaining more knowledge and I was lucky enough to be able to study for a couple of Open University modules.

The prison education department were great. I think they could see how desperate I was to change my life around and they gave me all the help they could. As I started to think about release, I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to continue my education and study for a degree and with this in mind I started applying to different universities. After being rejected by several as a result of my criminal record, I was invited to attend an interview upon my release at a university in Wales. The interview couldn’t have gone better. I didn’t feel as though I was being judged I just got the impression that they wanted to offer me a place and wanted me to succeed.

In September 2009 I started a degree in sociology. A lot of the course was geared around human behaviours which totally fascinated me. I loved learning and was extremely motivated to do well. As well as studying I also started doing voluntary work with an organisation who worked with youth groups and in particular, those who were at risk of getting involved with gangs. Disclosing my conviction was no problem, if anything I used it as a positive rather than a negative and the organisation viewed it in the same way.

After 3 years of study I got a 2:1 in sociology. I’m not saying that I wasn’t happy with my result but I quickly realised that when I applied for jobs I’d be up against other graduates with a similar degree but lacking a criminal record. I knew I needed more and so weeks after leaving university I applied to study for a Masters in Criminology and I was accepted. I also started to look at other volunteering opportunities and came across a vacancy with my local probation service as a mentor. With my background, I didn’t think I stood much of a chance but I also took the view that I had nothing to lose and lo and behold I was invited to an interview and offered a voluntary mentoring role.

On completion of my Masters, I saw a Probation Officers job advertised at the Probation Trust where I volunteered. I’d formed a great working relationship with all the staff in the office and several of them encouraged me to apply for the job. I don’t know whether I’ve just been lucky but I’ve always been very upfront about my past and on the whole, this has served me well. I’ve tried to use my past in a positive way and in light of the type of work I’m doing I guess its been a bit easier.

Prison and education were my saviours and I’m not sure that I would have done one without the other. If I hadn’t been arrested and sent to prison when I was, I would have continued offending – I may well have ended up dead but more likely I’d have got a really long prison sentence. Prison gave me the time and motivation to learn and the rest, as they say, is history.

By Richard (name changed to protect identity)


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Staying positive and being resilient – my journey from prison to normality

Having a little bit of time on my hands, I just wanted to share my experiences of being out in the real world.

It’s been eight months since my release from prison after serving four years of an eight year sentence for conspiracy to defraud. From the outset, I have maintained my innocence and stated that trust and stupidity are the only crimes that I’ve been guilty of.

The first eight months out of prison has been strange to say the least. I was fortunate enough to have been directed to the Langley House Trust who provided me with accommodation upon release and the prospect of a cardboard box under the arches was finally put to rest. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and support.

Next it was off to the job centre. I think it was clear to the advisor straight away that I had health issues but I was happy to go along to the job centre every week, use their computers and pursue every job application that was appropriate. My advisor suggested that I should go onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which I did but I continued to remind the job centre that I was actively seeking work and they acknowledged that being on ESA would simply allow me time to ensure that my job search could be more precisely tailored to my health needs – for example there would be no attempt to send me off to do heavy lifting in a warehouse.

Strangely, I’ve recently been asked to attend an assessment with the ESA people to determine my fitness for work despite my telling them that I am fit for work and am actively seeking employment. My only reason for going onto ESA was because I was advised to do so by the job centre advisor – I’m starting to think that the different departments at the DWP don’t speak to each other.

I’ve continued my search for work and although I’m based in Northamptonshire, I’ve extended my search area to London and Kent. I have adopted the ‘don’t tell until you need to’ approach to disclosure. If a prospective employer doesn’t ask, then you don’t have to disclose but I’m pretty sure that if I’m offered a job I will tell – I’ve got a written disclosure all prepared which will help if an employer asks me to disclose in writing or in person.

So far, I’ve had no opportunity to disclose my record because quite frankly, the job market is not as buoyant as I would have hoped and I have now reached the ghastly age of 60. I believe that so far I have suffered from age discrimination rather than any other type of discrimination but obviously it’s impossible to say for sure.

As we progress day to day, it’s easy to lose sight of our goals and objectives. I’ve run the gauntlet of emotions from being fed-up, tired and dejected and at the point of giving up. I know it takes time and energy to find a job but sometimes it just seems so pointless.

I’ve now found a flat closer to my family and friends and will be moving into my own self-contained accommodation for the first time in five years. I’m looking forward to that and it’s a boost to my confidence at the right time. Seeing more of my family and friends will make the wait for a job easier; I’ll also be in a new location and can search with a fresh head on my shoulders.

The thing is, we all need a pick-me-up once in a while. The so-called justice system and the DWP think that people are robots and that facing rejection day after day has no effect on the will to continue – how wrong they are. Constant daily, weekly and monthly failure to progress has a huge impact on our resilience.

When you’re getting to the end of your rope, talk to someone you trust. Don’t give up, don’t let go of your dreams and don’t them ‘them’ get you down.

Good luck everybody.

By Francis (name changed to protect identity)


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Sometimes you have to believe you’re worth it – securing the job of my dreams with a criminal record

I’ll never forget the day I sat across from the smiley faced prison officer who told me

“You’ll never get a job with a fraud conviction. You’d have more chance if you’d murdered somebody”.

So much for moving on, being rehabilitated – from what this woman was telling me, I had a life on benefits to look forward to.

Luckily things didn’t quite turn out like that. I went to an open prison and, as soon as I was eligible for paid work, I secured a job with a well-known supermarket who employed individuals near to the end of their sentence. The job was essentially stacking shelves but I was so pleased to be working.

The best part of all was that when I was released, I kept the job. The money was ok and there was plenty of overtime available to bump up my salary. After a year I’d managed to rent myself a small flat and buy a really cheap car. It was wonderful to have some possessions of my own, all legally acquired.

Work was going well too. My line manager recognised that I was a hard worker, I kept myself to myself and was always willing to step in and cover extra hours when they were short staffed. He recommended that I go for promotion and after a bit of persuasion, that’s what I did. Four years on another promotion beckoned – department manager this time.

I passed all my assessments and moved to a small local store and as time went by I moved to bigger and better stores taking on more and more responsibility. I’d never had any passion to work in retail and although I was doing well, I’d often wondered what my life would have been like had I not received a criminal record. Prior to prison I’d worked in a management role for an IT company and I’d sometimes think about doing something different. However, that prison officers’ words always came back to me to haunt me. I was sure she was right. I’d secured one good job and after breaking the law and going to prison, I should be content with that job!

The supermarket that employed me often did work with local charities and I’d gotten to know the CEO of one of these quite well. I’d seen a lot of women in prison who were victims of domestic violence and I’d developed an interest in this field. I think I’d mentioned the possibility of doing voluntary work to the CEO at some time. One lunchtime as I read the local newspaper, I saw that the charity were advertising for an operations manager. The job description sounded just like my existing job albeit in a charity rather than a supermarket. I knew that I would be able to use a lot of my existing skills in this job but how could I? I had a job. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I’d have to disclose my convictions and the minute they found out about me, they’d reject my application. Not only that, but potentially I’d lose the respect of the CEO who I’d come to look upon as a friend.

For the next couple of days I tried to put the job out of my mind but at the most unexpected times, it would leap into my head. What should I do – just be happy with my lot that’s what.

To cut a long story short, I felt that I needed to speak to somebody about my thoughts and concerns. I rang my mum and asked her what she thought I should do. She told me that I needed to start forgiving myself for what I’d done in the past. That the only person stopping me doing something with my life was me.

Good old mum – always knows best.

I took her advice and filled in the application form. When I received the letter inviting me for an interview I was over the moon but then the doubt set in and there were several times when I almost rang and cancelled and even on the morning of the interview I almost didn’t go. I had a great interview. I’d done loads of research about the charity and I really gelled with the HR manager. Even when I disclosed my criminal record she didn’t seem too phased but I guessed that she was probably just a good actress.

When my phone rang the next morning offering me the job I couldn’t believe my ears. I’d done it. I’d got my dream job.

I’ve been there about 8 months now and I love it. I no longer think about the words of that prison officer but I often remember what my mum told me that the only person stopping me doing something with my life was me. She was absolutely right and I wouldn’t mind betting that there are people reading this now who are doing exactly the same as I was doing.

By Viv (name changed to protect identity)


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Job centre advisors – make sure you understand the problems facing ex-offenders

delivery-van-clipart-delivery_a05In October 2015 I found myself sitting in front of a job centre adviser desperate for her to help me find a job so that I’d have some money to buy my kids some Christmas presents and to put that all important turkey on the table.

I didn’t care what I did. I hadn’t been out of prison that long so I couldn’t afford to be choosy.

If I’m honest, my experience of the job centre up until then hadn’t been great. On the day I first went to sign on I thought it would be best to be honest about my criminal record but, as soon as I started explaining them, the advisers attitude towards me totally changed. Gone was the happy, helpful lady of five minutes ago, chatting about the weather and her holiday. Now she was ‘looking down her nose’ at me, hurrying me along, desperate to get rid of me.

I’ve got a couple of convictions for fraud. Nothing to be proud of and I’ve got no excuse for breaking the law. But I’m a decent bloke; certainly not violent or dangerous.

Still, I tried not to let the advisers attitude bother me and I always turned up for my appointment with a smile on my face, ready and willing to ‘engage’.

So on this particular morning the adviser told me:

“You’ve come at the right time. Royal Mail is just starting to recruit for Christmas staff. You can apply online.”

Sounds great especially if like me, your name’s Pat! Sadly though not a job for me. I’d tried applying for a similar role immediately after I got released from prison only to be told that the Royal Mail have a blanket ban on recruiting anybody with an unspent conviction for fraud (and a whole range of other offences as well).

As I was explaining this to the adviser, she started tutting and the look on her face told me that she thought I was making excuses. I really wasn’t. It didn’t stop her saying:

“If you don’t apply, you run the risk of being sanctioned”

So, I tried to apply but could only get so far on the application form before it told me I was unsuitable. As expected, when I told the job centre that I hadn’t been able to apply, I was sanctioned.

Why is it that these people who are meant to be there to help you, actually offer no help? Mainly because they don’t have a clue about how to help somebody who has a criminal record.

I would probably have had good grounds to appeal the sanction but decided that dealing with the job centre was just causing me additional problems and stress. The adviser I was dealing with was no help and I wasn’t confident that another would be any better. Added to which, I felt that if I asked to change advisers I would just be labelled ‘difficult’ or ‘problematic’.

As I sat at home trawling the internet, I came across Unlock. I wasn’t sure what they did but thought I’d give them a call. After I’d finished telling the guy on the phone my story, he agreed that I’d have had no chance of a job with Royal Mail with an unspent conviction (it’s a well-known fact apparently) but told me to have a look at Unlock’s list of friendly employers.

I hadn’t heard of a lot of the companies on the list but followed some of the links and came across a company looking for a delivery driver. I had the skills and experience and clicked onto their online application form. One of the questions asked if I had a ‘police record’ but even when I selected ‘yes’ it still allowed me to continue to the end of the form. A week later I was invited to attend an interview and two days after that I started work.

A year on, I’m loving my job. I’m pretty much my own boss when I’m out and about in my van. The company know about my conviction – they employ many people like me but they don’t make a big deal about it. They’ve been on the Sunday Times Best Employer List since 2012 and their office is really close to the job centre. So I find it even more extraordinary that an expert at the job centre didn’t point this company out to me at my very first visit.

My experiences with the job centre have been pretty bad and I’m sure there are some good advisers around. I really believe that all job centre staff need to be trained in how to deal with ex-offenders and have a much better understanding of the problems that are very specific to them.

The only thing that helped me get my job was my own motivation and, of course, a little help from Unlock!


By Pat (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on looking for (and keeping) employment
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to job centre agreements and sanctions on our online forum.

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