Why is today a good day for ten million people?

You may well not know why today is significant for a lot of people, writes Faye Goldman, Campaigns Manager, Work Inclusion. But for people with a criminal record – all ten million of them – it’s proving to be a historic date, as new legislation prohibits employers from demanding 'excessive' criminal record checks. 

On this date last year, the introduction of radical changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act dramatically reduced the length of time for which ex-offenders are required to disclose previous convictions to employers.

Today, 10 March 2015, we see Data Protection legislation enforced, which puts welcomed limits on employers’ access to excessive levels of criminal record data about job applicants and employees, highlighting continued recognition from the Government that access to employment for ex-offenders must increase.

What is changing?

The Data Protection Act allows us all to access personal data held about ourselves by making a ‘subject access request’; whether we request our medical records from a hospital or our criminal record from the local police station.

Yet, this right has been misused, with employers and other bodies requiring individuals to make and then handover subject access requests – using that extensive data, often in excess of what they are legally allowed to know, to exclude people from employment or the provision of goods or services.

Today, Section 56 of the Data Protection Act comes into force. As a result, these enforced subject access requests will become a criminal offence, punishable by an unlimited fine.

Why is this relevant for employers?

For any employers that have been using this process to gather criminal record information about job applicants, the implications are clear. Now employers cannot use the back door route – checks must be conducted through the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland. These bodies provide only the information that an employer is legally allowed to know dependent on the role in question.

But the relevance of this change to employers is much broader than the technicalities of criminal record checks. It raises important questions about fair recruitment, and highlights the need for employers to take a positive, informed approach to assessing information about criminal records during the recruitment process.

It’s not all about enforcement; what choices can employers make?

Employment reduces re-offending by up to 50% – access to work means ex-offenders can contribute to society and lowers crime levels in our communities.

We welcome the fact that restricting employers’ access to excessive, historic criminal record information will allow more people to move on from their past and find work. Yet employers can and should go much further than purely abiding by this law in order to increase access to employment for skilled people with criminal convictions.

As a responsible employer, you can choose to make your jobs accessible to people with convictions. One of the simplest ways to do this is to remove the criminal record tick box that many employers use on application forms. When this blunt tool is used, not only do many employers exclude potential applicants but applicants also exclude themselves – put off from applying because they don’t think they’ll have a chance.

Surely you want the best person for the job? That person could have a criminal record. Make your recruitment decisions based on their skills and suitability for a role, before discussing the background to their criminal record and the possible risk and relevance to your business.

No criminal record or individual’s experience is the same – don’t reduce ten million people to a data request.