In this employment guide, we address the challenges that may come with finding a job if you have a criminal conviction, things to consider, and how to disclose to an employer if you have an unspent conviction. At the Careers and Employability Service, we appreciate how difficult and uncomfortable it may be having to tell potential employers your criminal background, no matter what the circumstances are. You can speak to one of our advisers about this by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our service is confidential and impartial.
What does the law say around criminal convictions?
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) allows most convictions and all cautions, reprimands and final warnings to be considered ‘spent’ after a certain period. This period – known as the rehabilitation period – is determined by the sentence or disposal given, rather than by the type of offence. The ROA gives people with spent convictions, cautions, reprimands, and final warnings the legal right not to disclose them when applying for most jobs, most courses and all insurance purposes.
The ROA has some exemptions and in these cases, particularly roles which require DBS filtering. This means that an employer can consider spent and unspent convictions when determining your suitability for a role. Some offences are eligible to be filtered through DBS checks and no longer need to be disclosed by an applicant.
Roles that are not protected by the ROA, where you may need to disclose, include:
- Working with children and vulnerable adults
- Legal professions (e.g. barristers, solicitors, paralegal)
- Chartered or certified accountant
- Veterinary surgeon
- Nurse or midwife
Unlock has an A-Z list of roles that are eligible for basic, standard and enhanced criminal record checks.
Further information on exceptions can be found on Nacro and on the Government website.
Opportunities - what to look for when researching employers
Your approach to finding a job will depend on whether the conviction is spent and the kind of work you wish to apply for. If you would like to talk to someone 1-1 confidentially and impartially about how to plan your job search, you can contact our Careers team on email@example.com. You should look at the company’s policies in regards to criminal records and applicants, which you can find on the organisation’s website. You can view our guide to ‘Researching an Employer’ to help you get started.
Disclosing your criminal record to an employer
See our guidance below on what to do if you need to disclose your criminal record to an employer
If your conviction is unspent, then you do not have the legal protection of the ROA and cannot answer ‘no’ when asked if you have a criminal record. Many companies have a ‘Recruitment of Offenders’ policy and you should check if your potential employer has one and what it says so that you know what to expect. This can usually be found on the recruitment section of the website.
If you have been asked to disclose on an application form, you can provide a written statement which you can upload as part of your application if space isn’t provided to do so. You should disclose your record at the point of the application process at which you are asked for a declaration, so you do not have to disclose if not asked to. Do not do this on your CV, as your CV is your opportunity to focus purely on your experience, knowledge and skills, demonstrating your suitability for the job.
The benefit of providing a written statement is that it allows you to talk about your conviction on your own terms and prepares you for what you may want to say if you get a job interview.
Be genuine - Try to put yourself in the shoes of the employer who is making a judgement about the information you’re providing. Accurately provide a reflection of your circumstances and attitudes, and emphasise that you are no longer at risk of offending. For example, if personal problems contributed to the reasons behind your offence(s), it might be worth stating that these problems are now resolved and your circumstances are now very different. You could even provide a positive character reference to strengthen your statement. If highlighting any mitigating circumstances that contributed towards your offence, you should avoid disowning yourself of responsibility for what happened.
Relate what you say to the job for which you are applying - Start your statement with something positive, such as why you’re applying and the skills and experiences you have that are relevant to the role. Highlight what yo
You might be better at explaining things verbally rather than in writing, although it is important to also have a written statement to provide as well. If disclosing verbally, you should prepare beforehand what you are going to say. This will help you explain things more clearly and also ensure that your written statement aligns with your verbal disclosure, particularly thinking about legalities.
If this is the first stage of disclosure and the employer isn’t already aware, preparing what you will say, how and when, will be particularly important. Highlight your strengths and positives at the beginning of the interview and avoid presenting your conviction as something that would cause a problem in the future. You could consider advising them in advance of the interview that you would like to discuss something of a personal nature that you would like to discuss at the end of the interview.
At the end of the interview, you can provide the panel a copy of your written statement to keep with your application to support your verbal statement, or even as an alternative of a verbal disclosure. This will also act as having evidence that you disclosed your criminal record. Final decisions made about recruitment may need to be made by the HR team following a DBS check.
Nacro has a Criminal Record Support Service with any questions you might have about disclosing to an employer, such as helping you prepare what to say or write, and providing feedback on draft statements.
Other things to consider and knowing your rights
- Many organisations employ people with a criminal record. Changes to the DBS Filtering Regime from 28th November 2020 increased opportunities for those who have old and minor convictions and cautions as they no longer need to be disclosed for certain roles.
- ‘Good’ employers will deal with criminal records on a case-by-case basis, so even if your criminal conviction is unspent, you may still be considered for a role.
- The ROA is not designed to enforce disclosure of unspent convictions; it is a protective law, not one aimed at making life difficult for those who do not benefit from its protection. This means that if information about your criminal record is not sought by an employer, then there is no legal need for you to disclose your unspent convictions and nor should you be penalised if these are later discovered.
- It is unlawful for an employer to subject you to any prejudice because of a conviction if it is spent, for jobs that are protected by the ROA. In practice, this should not arise very often as it would be difficult for an employer to discover a spent conviction without any kind of DBS check. You should seek legal advice if you believe that you have experienced unfair or unlawful treatment during the application process, during employment, or if you have experienced unfair dismissal due to a spent conviction. You can find more detailed information about your employment rights with spent or unspent convictions on Unlock’s website.
Support organisations and networks
- Nacro - supports people through their housing, justice, and education services- provides further details about the length of spent cautions and convictions.
- Apex Trust - offers advice and guidance to people who have experienced difficult lives as a result of their personal circumstances and integrate them back into society and work.
- Unlock - an independent advocacy charity that provides advice on employment issues and barriers to those with criminal convictions.
- Motiv8 - supports young people and their families who are at risk of offending and anti-social behaviour in the Hampshire area.