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Top 10 things to know about criminal records

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

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 can’t erase my past mistakes, I can only learn from them to be better.

Source: Adobe Stock

Over the last 3 months the number of people claiming out of work benefits has more than doubled. Like many people with a criminal record, Robbie is worried about how this will further impact on his chances of getting a job.

Every time I turn on the television these days the news is bleak – the number of people claiming out of work benefits has risen, the furlough scheme is coming to an end in October and more and more companies are being forced to cut jobs.

All sectors have been affected; young and old, senior managers and factory workers, all looking for new jobs. What chance do I stand – the guy with the criminal record.

Yes I have a criminal record. I’ve got more than one conviction but my last one was the most serious. Embezzling money from my previous employer, a well known supermarket.

I’d been employed by them for about 12 years, and my offending had started a year or so before it was actually discovered. I was dismissed from my job and given a community order when my case went to court. I avoided a prison sentence because my family paid all the money back to the supermarket in full.

Details of my court case appeared on the front page of my local newspaper and anybody can Google my name and find out what I’ve done. I didn’t realise how many employers do searches like this on potential employees and this has definitely made it harder for me to find a job.

I know what I did was wrong and I am truly sorry for it. I not only deceived my employers but I’ve caused so much pain and worry for my family, in particular my mum who stood by me through it all. It’s something I regret every day of my life.

Since my last conviction I’ve not been in any further trouble and I can honestly say that I will never break the law again. I can’t explain why I stole the money, I can only put it down to greed and stupidity. I was certainly drinking a lot more than I should and this may have been a factor but not an excuse.

Since I lost my supermarket job, I’ve been unable to get any type of paid employment. I’ve successfully completed two courses at evening school and an 8 week unpaid work placement in a clerical role with my local NHS hospital. Last year I went back to college full time to study for an HNC in administration and IT in the hope that it would improve my chances of securing paid work.

Up until the coronavirus pandemic struck I’d been working as a volunteer at a local charity shop. Even though I had to disclose my conviction to the shop manager, she was happy to give me the opportunity to prove myself. Knowing that she was prepared to see beyond my conviction and place some trust in me meant so much. The shop is due to reopen next week and I’m looking forward to going back, it’s good to have some structure to my day and a reason to get up in the morning.

Ideally I’d like an admin or clerical role to put into use the things I’ve learnt at college. The majority of employers have a section on their application form which asks about cautions and convictions and my heart always sinks when I see that question. I appreciate that I have made things much harder for myself and I can certainly understand why an employer would be loath to take somebody on who has a criminal record.

But, I just want a chance to show that I’ve learnt from my mistakes – I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what’s important in life. I want to show that I can be trusted and I know that I’ve got a lot to offer a potential employer.

My future seems bleak. The jobs market is hard enough for people who don’t have a criminal record never mind those like me who do. I wish I could wind back time but I can’t. All I can do is hope that somebody sees fit to give me a chance – I’d grab it with both hands.

By Robbie  (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

In 2015 Unlock launched it’s fair access to employment project. A key part of this work is to support employers in developing and implementing fair and inclusive polices and practices and to recognise the diverse talent of people with a criminal record.

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 and volunteering.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions on our online forum.

Don’t be bitter, just be better

Source: Adobe Stock

Although the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Indeterminate Prison Sentences (IPP’s) breached an individual’s human rights, many men and women remain in prison with no idea of when they’ll be able to leave. Max served over 12 years in prison after being given a two year tariff but he’s out now and starting to lead a new life.

Like so many others who’ve been locked up under an indeterminate sentence, I became very bitter and resentful. This was mostly because I knew that there was (and is) nothing ‘dangerous’ about me. I knew that if I posed a danger to anyone, I posed a danger only to myself.

Nobody was able to give me a true picture of what my sentence actually meant. I thought that with a tariff of 2 years, I would do 2 or even 3 years in prison and then get out. In total I spent 12 and a half years of my life in prison.

I won’t go into specifics, save to say I did not kill or injure anyone. Although it’s no measure of anything, my offence was not sexually related either, so I was surprised by the period of time I spent inside.

After several years I managed to get to an open prison where I secured a role that involved working with the public. I definitely began scratching my head at that point, I’d gone from being ‘dangerous’ to interviewing and helping members of the public with their own problems. I found this voluntary job really rewarding and through my own efforts (I’m definitely patting myself on the back and blowing my own trumpet here), my bitterness began to abate.

During the time I spent in prison, I’d always made the most of every opportunity given to me and, prior to release I became aware of a scheme being run collectively by the Cabinet Office, the Civil Service and the Ministry of Justice called the Going Forward into Employment programme. It’s main aim was to help ex-offenders overcome the barriers to finding employment that can be caused by a criminal record, by helping them gain employment in the Civil Service.

This was a truly fantastic opportunity for me; I could leave the past behind and start a meaningful career within the Civil Service.

I’ve left prison now and I’m currently working for the Prison and Probation Ombudsman where I’m involved in the investigation of complaints from those in custody. I work with a great group of people who investigate complaints honestly and impartially. They don’t have the lived experience I have but one of the benefits of the programme is allowing us all to learn from each other and see a situation from both sides.

I’m not necessarily where I want to be yet but thank goodness that I’m not where I once was.

By Max  (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 leaving prison.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to leaving prison on our online forum.

Ban the Box employers

This is a short information page with details of those employers that have signed up to the Ban the Box campaign. The aim of this page is to develop the list of Ban the Box employers produced by Business in the Community (BITC) into information more aimed at individuals with a criminal record, including the name and contact details of the employer as well as setting out the point at which the employer may ask you to disclose your criminal record.

This forms part of our information section on looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering.

Gaps in the table mean that we’ve been unable to get clarification from the organisation as to when they ask applicants to disclose their criminal record. We will be continuing to update and improve the information available.

Where we have concerns that an organisation which is signed up to the campaign is not doing what they say they do, we will look at raising this both with the employer and BITC. If you have any personal experience of applying for work with one of these companies (good or bad) please let us know by emailing

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found on our looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on supporting and challenging employers
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this you can contact our helpline.

Lets be inclusive not exclusive – a possible solution to re-offending

Andi is of the firm belief that inclusion is at the heart of preventing re-offending. Read how his own experiences have shaped his views.

I had a childhood that was plagued with crime, poverty, drugs, violence and adversity. This meant spending some time in care, school exclusion and heavy drugs use at an early age.

I was convicted and sentenced to 18 months YOI at 17, twenty months YOI at 19, four months at 21 and then two years as an adult at 22.

I have always worked in between these sentences and my offences were alcohol or substance misuse related. I got work through recruitment agencies and chose to never disclose my convictions. I believed that I would get the job first and prove that I was a hard worker, then if they found out, I’d explain that this was the reason why I didn’t disclose.

In 2007 whilst I was sweeping the floor in a warehouse I heard that the Leeds Youth Justice Service were looking for volunteers. I thought I might be good at working with kids like myself and help them avoid making similar choices and mistakes to me. I also felt it would help me achieve a career I thought I deserved.

As I was going to be working with kids and needed to have an enhanced DBS check, I disclosed my convictions. I explained that I had qualifications from prison but didn’t know how to put them to good use and I managed to convince them to let me volunteer with the service. This was the evidence I needed to show that I had the skills to turn my unfortunate life around.

Whilst volunteering, a temporary paid opportunity arose working as a support worker for a sport programme in partnership with a local rugby club. I was amazed when I discovered that my application had been successful and that I’d be paid to work with kids they said were ‘hard to reach’ when in fact they all seemed to hold their hands out to me.

Staff at Leeds YJS saw how well I worked with the kids and how we formed relationships based on trust; we spoke together, related to each other and perceived the world in a similar way. It wasn’t long before I was offered the chance to be a sessional worker; although this meant I didn’t have the security of a contract, it was a risk I was happy to take.

18 months later, a full time job became available and, confident that my skills and knowledge were commensurate with my colleagues, I applied and got the job. However, when it came to my contract of employment having to be drawn up by HR, they had some real concerns about my criminal record. My line manager was apparently told by HR

It’s a risk taking him on and, if anything goes wrong, you’ll have to pay the consequences”

Luckily my line manager knew me reasonably well and knew all about my criminal record. I’d managed to build up a good relationship with him and he was happy to fight my corner. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d chosen to turn his back on me; he had a mortgage to pay and a family to support and being told that it would be his fault if I messed up was unfair. It might have been too much for him and stopped him from giving me a chance.

However, he did take the risk and I’ve been working for the service for the last 12 years. I’ve become a specialist in my field and qualified in Youth Justice in 2013. I’ve created programme after programme that have supported children in desisting from offending and therefore reduced the number of potential victims. I’ve also written a book called “Your Honour Can I Tell You My Story?”

As people with convictions, we’re in a unique position to assist others to make better choices. However, due to the DBS process, we’re the least likely to obtain such positions. Lots of us are disadvantaged from the start of our lives. 25% of adults in prison were in care and up to 42% excluded from school.

Criminal records are a barrier, however a lack of education, gaps in employment history and an inability to articulate our stories without employers believing we are shirking responsibility are also barriers.

Inclusion is the heart beat of preventing re-offending so we must focus on this. We must find a way of better regulating the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act to ensure employers are not discriminating against people on the basis of their convictions. People with convictions have so much to offer and like me, will forever be grateful to the organisations that believed in us and recognised our strengths and not just the ‘risk’ we pose.

I believe living in a risk averse society is a significant factor in why our re-offending rates post custody for young people and adults are so high. Probation don’t always assist offenders in this area focusing instead on public protection. They often create further barriers by sharing risk information with employers when the individual chooses not to.

This is not strengths based and I don’t believe this is an approach that keeps the public safe. Yes we need to protect the public but each case is different. People that are seeking employment are trying to move away from offending. If I’m right, we are socially marginalising this particular group and increasing the risk of re-offending so an alternative approach is required for those upon release from custody with inclusion at it’s core.

By Andi

Useful links

‘Employers, if you want me to disclose my conviction, then please ask me the question’

Despite ticking the ‘Yes’ box which asked about convictions on an application form, Silvester wasn’t asked about them at interview and so did not disclose. Although he’d done nothing wrong, he was still dismissed when his criminal record came to light.

I’ve been out of prison for 18 months and still have another 2.5 years to go on licence.

In the past 18 months I’ve applied for over 700 jobs, getting to interview stage on only 6 of the applications, only to be rejected when I disclose my conviction (I was convicted of historical abuse claims dating back 39 years).

I recently applied for a job with an international company and disclosed my conviction during the online application process by ticking the ‘Yes’ box. I was invited to an interview and during this interview my disclosure wasn’t mentioned by the person conducting it. As I understand it, if the interviewer doesn’t raise the subject of criminal convictions you are not legally obliged to disclose. I assumed that as head office were aware then I didn’t have to do any more.

You can imagine my joy when a couple of hours later I was offered the job. I eagerly accepted after double checking with my probation officer and police offender manager that it was OK for me to accept. There were no concerns from either so I was looking forward to my start date which duly arrived.

I had to undertake 18 hours of online learning, covering health and safety, manual handling etc. There was a test after each module which you had to pass before moving on to the next one. This was carried out at home in my own time and I passed all the tests with an average pass mark of 98%.

I had been working for the company for nearly 4 weeks when my manager called me in to his office one day. He asked me if it was true that I had a criminal record. I replied that it was correct. He then asked why I hadn’t disclosed at interview and I told him that as he’d not asked me directly I didn’t have to disclose to him about the conviction. He asked me to go back to work only for him to call me back to the office a couple of hours later to inform me that after speaking to head office he would be suspending me on full pay pending further investigation. I informed him that head office were fully aware of my conviction and that I had not tried to hide anything.

A couple of days later I received an email from the HR department asking for my court papers and a copy of my licence conditions. I spoke to my probation officer, police offender manager and Unlock and they all told me that I should not give my employers this information – it wasn’t necessary or legally acceptable to ask. I contacted my manager and told him that my probation officer and police offender manager would be happy to speak to head office to confirm that they had no issues or concerns with my working at the company and they would confirm my conviction without disclosing any other information.

I passed on their contact details to head office and respectfully informed them that after seeking advice I was unable to supply them with the papers they had requested.

I was suspended for 3 weeks and finally received a text message from my manager asking me to attend a “meeting” the following week. I replied that it would be fine.

The day of the meeting arrived and I was feeling quite confident knowing that I had done nothing wrong. I arrived early and the manager came out on to the shop floor and asked me through to his office. I was greeted by a more senior manager from another store who told me that they would be conducting the meeting. My own manager would be taking notes of the conversation that would follow. It soon became clear that I was to be dismissed immediately on the ground of

Concerns for my safety and that of my fellow colleagues on the shop floor and to protect the company image”. In my humble opinion it is the latter statement that was the reason for my dismissal.”

It appears that someone who knew me had come in the store and had seen me while I was working and had telephoned head office to ask if they knew they had employed a sex offender. I was taken aback a little and again I was asked by the senior manager why I had not disclosed my conviction at the interview and again I explained that because the subject wasn’t raised I was not obliged to disclose. In all fairness to my manager, he did say at this stage that he was partly at fault for not asking the question about my conviction at the interview stage. He had a couple of hundred applications to go through in a short space of time and he had simply overlooked this question. I then emphasised the fact that I had not tried to hide my conviction and that head office had been made aware of it during the application process. The senior manager stated that:

Head office don’t always look closely at the application forms and my conviction had obviously gone unnoticed.”

It then transpired that the company had not approached either probation or the police for their input, they had made up their own minds that I was not suitable for the role.

I asked them what was the point of an online application form if no one looked at them and why no contact was made with probation or the police. The senior manager said they couldn’t explain that to me because they didn’t have the answer. I asked if I could appeal the decision to dismiss me and the answer was a very swift “No”. The meeting concluded and I was escorted off the premises.

To say I felt gutted is an understatement. I really thought that at last someone was willing to give me a chance to prove that I could be an asset to them. How wrong I was.

By Silvester (name changed to protect identity)


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The smartest thing I’ve learnt since my conviction is that I don’t need a man to be successful

Lisa is the first to admit that although she didn’t set out to break the law herself, she was happy to turn a blind eye to what her husband was involved in. Her time in prison made her realise that she was a stronger person than she’d thought she was and, her success has been even sweeter because she’s achieved it on her own.


When I left school at the age of 18, I suppose I would have been described as a bit ‘geeky’ or naive. I’d never had a boyfriend, didn’t smoke or drink and thought ‘weed’ was just something that grew in the garden.

Although I’d taken a few GCE’s, I hadn’t thought about going to college or university. I just wanted a job to tied me over until I got married and had babies.

My lack of experience with men meant that I fell for the first guy I met. He was an insurance broker at the company where I was a secretary. We were married after 6 months and had two children within 3 years. Had we taken longer to get to know each other we would have realised that we weren’t that well suited; neither of us were happy in the marriage and before long the verbal and physical abuse started.

It took me a while to pluck up the courage to leave but I did, taking my children to live with my parents. Over the next few years, I had a succession of relationships with unsuitable men; one was an alcoholic, one was married and one constantly cheated on me and was always borrowing money he never paid back.

Then around 2002, I met Ian. He was nothing like anybody I’d ever met – kind, considerate, a non-smoker and teetotal. He had his own business, own house, brand new car and he spoilt me and the kids rotten.

When he asked me to marry him and the children and I moved in with him, I thought I’d met my sole-mate. Before long, I started working with him in his property business – it seemed a sensible thing to do; I wanted to earn my own money and he wanted a business partner.

It was only after I’d started working with him that I realised that some of his business dealings were not as ethical or legal as they should be. When I challenged him about them he convinced me that there were loopholes in the law which all businesses benefited from. If I’m honest, I knew what he was doing was wrong but life was good and I didn’t want to rock the boat.

When he set up another company solely in my name, I thought it was odd but he convinced me that it was just for tax purposes. What he meant was – it was a tax dodge.

I won’t go into too much detail but needless to say, it didn’t end well. Ian (and I) had become part of a huge fraud, Ian was a totally willing participant and although I didn’t know what was going on, I can’t say that I was an innocent bystander. I chose to ignore the warning signs for the sake of a good life.

When the case got to court, we both received long prison sentences (8 years each). The final day in court was the last time I saw Ian; as far as I was concerned I was done with men, I had no plans to get involved with one ever again.

Whilst I was in prison I was left in no doubt that finding work with a fraud conviction would be difficult. I took advantage of every employability course I could and signed up for self-employment and business funding programmes. During the last year of my prison sentence I was able to go to an open prison and I got myself an admin job working for a media company. Sadly it wasn’t something that I was able to continue with on release as it was too far from home.

As it got nearer to my release date I concentrated on building up a network of contacts. They all knew my background and the work I’d been doing both inside the prison and out. I sent my CV to as many of these contacts as I could, confident that I stood more chance of getting a job with one of these than an employer who knew nothing about me.

I’m pleased to say that the time and effort paid off and I was invited to four or five interviews which resulted in two job offers which I had to choose between. The job I picked didn’t pay the most but on balance, I thought it had better career prospects and would also give me the opportunity to utilise some of the marketing skills I’d learnt at the media company. That’s a complete change of mindset to how I’d been prior to prison; previously I’d definitely have gone for the job with the most money but after living on £10 a week your priorities do change.

In the short time I’ve been working, I’ve been given a promotion and a small pay rise and, at my recent appraisal, it was agreed that my employer would fund a marketing course for me. I really feel that I’m making a valuable contribution to my employer’s business and my ideas and suggestions are really taken seriously. Life’s better than it’s ever been before and importantly, I’ve achieved it without any help from a man.

By Lisa (name changed to protect identity)


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I’ve worked hard to be part of a system that’s now holding me back – problems with the UK criminal record disclosure system

There are many people who, as youths, picked up convictions for minor offences. However, having worked hard to gain an education and contribute to society, they find themselves in a similar situation to Tom – being judged by employers who only see them as a safeguarding risk.



As a young lad I was the class clown; the one that never went to class, never did my exams and eventually got expelled – it was classed as ‘early study leave’ at that time. With few qualifications I worked in factories for a while and then decided to go and work abroad for several months.

I really enjoyed the time I spent overseas and I started to plan for all the things I was going to do in the future. However, when I returned home I pretty much went back to my previous behaviours. It became a very common occurrence to get arrested for various ‘petty’ offences – drunk and disorderly, possession of cannabis progressing to possession of cocaine, criminal damage and battery.

For the best part of five years I never claimed a penny in benefits, was employed throughout and always paid into ‘the system’. I began to change my life around properly about 3.5 years ago when I realised that the time had come to seek help from a substance misuse service. The help I received was priceless and I soon began to volunteer for the service myself.

I really enjoyed volunteering; it helped me personally, but I was also getting some good feedback from clients that I was working with. I started to apply for trainee roles with the company and eventually I was offered an 18-month temporary contract with them.

I knew this was the field I wanted to work in, but I didn’t just want a job, I wanted a career. I went to night school to do a GCSE in English and then I enrolled for a degree course with the Open University. I’m now in my second year and considering that I’ve not done any form of studying for years and years. I’m doing OK. As well as the success in my career, I’ve now got my own place to live, I’ve got a car and even a dog and I regularly raise money for charity.

However, for all the positive stuff that I’ve done, I’ve just realised that it’s impossible to escape your past. A few days ago, I had a fantastic interview at a local care home; I’d really gelled with the manager and I was quietly confident that I’d be offered the job. I’d been asked to call into the care home to pick up some documents and I thought this was a really good sign.

When I arrived, the manager seemed a bit different to how he’d been at the interview and asked me to come into his office. He then said:

We have a problem. I’ve discussed your criminal record disclosure with HR and we’re unable to take your application any further. The company believe that you could be a safeguarding risk.”

I could feel my eyes starting to fill with tears. Even though my last conviction had been approved 9 years before, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I’d made drastic changes to better myself and I wanted to continue to do so. I found it difficult to understand how I could be penalised for something that I’d done so long ago.

I’ve made such an effort to conform, to behave and be part of “the system” yet that system is stopping me from doing so. Because I’ve got several convictions and I want to work in regulated activity, I’m always going to need to disclose the details of my past.

It’s clear to me that the UK system of rehabilitation and criminal record disclosure isn’t working and is one that urgently needs addressing.

By Tom (name changed to protect identity)


Comment from Unlock

Back in January 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that two aspects of the current filtering regime were disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the way multiple convictions and childhood cautions are dealt with.

We hope that it’s not too long before changes are made to the system and that people like Tom will be able to leave his past in the past.

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What’s the point of having a policy if an employer doesn’t bother to follow it?

Miski applied to a large, well-known employer and believed they would follow their published policy on recruiting people with criminal records. Here we look at how this employer approached asking, assessing and adhering to their own policy.


A couple of years ago I applied for a job at a large organisation famous for its inclusive values. Having unspent convictions for drugs-related offences, I was nervous about applying but the organisation’s online policy on recruiting people with criminal records was clear and seemed progressive. Although applicants were asked to disclose unspent convictions on their application, the policy said:

At interview, or in a separate discussion, the recruiting manager will ensure that an open and measured discussion takes place on the subject of any offences or other matter that might be relevant to the position.”

The job was a specialist role and I was well qualified so decided to apply, ticking the box for ‘unspent convictions’ and indicating that I’d discuss the details at interview. I expected to hear nothing back, so I was delighted to be invited to interview.

The interview was in two parts – a presentation, followed by a panel interview with the line manager, a director and three staff from other teams. The interview lasted for three hours in total and I travelled over 100 miles there at the employer’s expense. On arrival, an HR administrator filled out forms on my right to work and travel expenses, but at no stage was I asked about my criminal record. Naively, I thought maybe they’d decided it wasn’t relevant. The organisations people-centred approach seemed to be underlined when the senior manager explained that they aimed to let candidates know their decision within 48 hours. When I left I felt hopeful and optimistic; even if I didn’t get the job, it was good to know that some employers took an enlightened approach to applicants with criminal records. I’d heard such horror stories.

True to his word, the senior manager contacted me that evening and offered me the post. He explained that HR would be in touch to discuss salary and a start date, and that he was aware I had disclosed my conviction so there would be some additional paperwork to complete. The following day, I completed the paperwork sent by HR and then I waited.

After a week, I contacted HR and was told ‘don’t worry, we’re just doing checks.’ They didn’t say what checks. After another week, I wrote again and was told ‘no news’. A few days after that, a short email arrived with the title:

Application not progressed’

No reason was provided, and I asked several times for an explanation before receiving a response. They eventually admitted they’d done online searches. I knew what was there – the usual tabloid stuff, a link to a racist website and some local news. I never thought it would be part of a recruitment decision, especially by an organisation like this. But they were adamant:

…you may feel that material in the public domain does not contain all of the facts but we have to take into consideration how the media and public may respond to your appointment and that response will also be based on that information.”

This seemed at odds with the published policy: there had been no ‘open and measured discussion’ and the things they said they’d consider –

  • Whether the conviction is relevant to the position in question;
  • The seriousness of any offence;
  • The length of time since the offence occurred;
  • Whether the applicant has a pattern of offending behaviour;
  • Whether the applicant’s circumstances have changed since the offending behaviour, and
  • The circumstances surrounding the offence and explanation(s) offered

wasn’t mentioned at all. It seemed my criminal record was not a problem for the employer, but the fact that other people could find out about it was. I had been offered the job, and the policy was clear that:

Where a job offer has already been made, we will undertake to discuss any matter revealed with the person seeking the position before withdrawing a conditional offer of employment.”

I tried pointing this out, but was met with a wall of silence, eventually receiving a brief ‘Our decision is final. I do not intend to discuss this matter further.’

There is nothing to stop an employer discriminating against me because of an unspent conviction, but the fact they did so simply because I can be found online seems unfair. Especially when their brand is built on being inclusive. Can a big organisation really suffer reputational harm because it gave someone a second chance?

By Miski (name changed to protect identity)


Comment from Unlock

On the face of it, this employer had a reasonably fair approach to applicants with criminal records. Although asking on application forms is usually unnecessary, the employer does explain that applicants will have the chance for an open and measured discussion and that a conditional offer would not be withdrawn until after a discussion with the applicant. We advocate this approach in our self-disclosure guidance to employers. So what went wrong for Miski?


As our guidance on self-disclosure makes clear, applicants should only be asked about criminal records when it’s necessary and it will not usually be necessary on application. 125 companies have signed up to Ban the Box because they recognise that people with criminal records can enhance their business. For those employers, it means not asking until interview stage, or after an offer has been made. This doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes reject applicants because of a criminal record but it does mean they’ve given thought to how to deal with them fairly. Necessity will depend on the employer’s approach, but will generally be at interview or offer stage.

The employer should have avoided asking at application stage, but that made no material difference – Miski was offered an interview anyway. The problem arose when the employer failed to follow their disclosure policy and even introduced a new element – checking material in the public domain. Lots of employers do this, but they should make it clear to applicants if this is part of the recruitment process and be clear about how information is assessed and used. It may breach data protection principles (c) – as the employer acknowledges, information in the public domain may not contain all the facts so they cannot be certain it is accurate. Not every criminal case makes the news, and it is unlikely that any reports will contain all the facts. Using material in the public domain without informing applicants could also be a breach of the ‘fairness’ element of data protection principle (a).


Applicants may sometimes disclose criminal records that make them unsuitable, but employers should consider their policy and approach to avoid situations like Miski’s. Staff time was wasted and, ultimately, the best candidate on merit – Miski – was not employed, because of the perceived reputational risk. None of the factors in the policy were considered.


Like many organisations, the employer in this case had copied and pasted their policy form the DBS sample policy. While this means it’s legally compliant, using an off the shelf policy means an organisation has given limited thought to how it will work in practice. In Miski’s case, the policy wasn’t followed. More than that, new elements – checking of material in the public domain – were introduced. This suggests the employer had limited experience in recruiting people with convictions, and little regard for their own policies. If reputational harm is a factor in recruitment, employers should consider how best to manage disclosure and assessment. Post GDPR, they must also be clear about what information will be collected and why – use of information in the public domain could be considered excessive.


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