Out of a population of about 60 million, approximately 8 million people in the UK have a criminal conviction. That means that more than one in ten of the people in the UK have, at some point in their lives, made a mistake. This might range from a petty crime that earned them a fine all the way up to a serious offence that locked them up in prison for several years. This affects a lot of people and also their families and close friends.
A criminal record is something you carry with you. The fact you shoplifted when you were 17 will never go away. That time you got drunk and took an argument in a pub too far? If you were convicted,
that will always be on your record.
It's been several years since that episode. You're living a normal, crime-free life and you're looking for work or applying for insurance. All of a sudden, you find that you're being rejected time and time again for something that happened years ago, for which you served your time or paid your dues and were released as a normal citizen. So why are you being discriminated against now?
This is where the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 steps in.
Although the Act dates from 1974, it has had several revisions over time, and applies to all people with a criminal record, regardless of when they were convicted. Any revisions that happen in the future will apply to all former offenders as well.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, or ROA, is a piece of legislation designed to help people convicted of less serious crimes the chance to leave their past behind them. It allows them to say 'no' when asked if they have a criminal record in certain, but not all, situations. This doesn't occur straight away; they have to wait a period of time before this applies to them. If they stay clean, they get to start afresh.
What Kind Of Time Period?
The time frame is known as the 'rehabilitation period', and is calculated from the date on which you were convicted (not, say, the date you were released from prison). When the rehabilitation period is finished, your conviction is now classed as 'spent'. This doesn't mean it is deleted from the Police National Computer or that it never existed; it just means that for the purposes of seeking employment and obtaining insurance you can answer 'no' if someone asks you.
The rehabilitation period changes depending on the type of punishment, not the type of crime. For example, a prison sentence of two years takes ten years to become spent, but it doesn't matter what you were in prison for. If you were 17 or under, many of these times are halved.
Details of all the rehabilitation periods can be found at the NACRO website but for a quick reference here are some of the most common:
|Sentence Type||Rehabilitation period if convicted aged 18 or over||Rehabilitation period if convicted aged 17 or under|
|Prison sentence of over two and a half years||Never spent||Never spent|
|Prison sentence over six months to two and a half years||Ten years||Five years|
|Prison sentence of up to six months||Seven years||Three and a half years|
|Fine||Five years||Two and a half years|
|Community Service||Five years||Two and a half years|
|Does This Apply For Every Job?|
Some jobs are considered exempt from the ROA: jobs where the applicant will come into contact with vulnerable people1, where they are positions of trust2, and those working in positions of national security. There is no set list but applicants will always be told that a job is exempt at the application stage. In effect, it means that someone who wants to work in these types of professions will feel as though the convictions are never spent as they will always have to disclose their entire history.
This doesn't mean that an applicant won't get a job, it just means that the full history needs to be taken into account in order to be considered for the post.
|What If The Employer Doesn't Ask?|
If they don't ask, you don't have to tell. However, on nearly all application forms there will be a teeny little box that asks if you have criminal convictions. If you have any unspent convictions, you have to say yes. Don't be tempted to try to squeeze any details into that tiny little box, though - write a cover letter or say that you'll discuss the relevant details at the interview.
|What's This About Insurance?|
All types of insurance can be affected by a criminal record, both personal (eg car or home contents) and employment (eg public liability insurance for the self-employed). When applying, companies usually require you to disclose all 'material facts'. This means that, even if they don't ask, the onus is on you to tell them about any unspent convictions that you have. This applies even if the crime you committed has nothing to do with the type of insurance you are applying for - it is up to the company to decide how this affects your policy. Spent convictions, however, do not have to be disclosed.
|Is That All There Is To It?|
Unfortunately, no, this is the gentle introduction. The
official version is available for those well versed in legalese, but for a more palatable version try NACRO's summary which can be found here. While this Entry has done its best to keep things factual and easy to understand, the Act itself is complex and if it applies to you it is recommended to look into it in more depth - do not rely on this Entry to make decisions about your life!