Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about criminal record disclosure and Ban the Box.

We will update this FAQ regularly. Contact us if you have a question that you would like answered.

What is a criminal record?

11 million people in the UK have a criminal record – that's one in five of the population over the age of criminal responsibility, more than the entire population of London.

If someone has been in trouble with the police, it’s possible that that they have a criminal record. If someone has been found guilty, or pleaded guilty in a court, they will have a criminal record.

For the purposes of employment, an individual will have a criminal record if:

  • They have ever received an official caution. Cautions are usually issued in a police station for minor offences where the offender admits guilt. Cautions for people aged 17 and under are called reprimands and final warnings.

  • They have ever been found guilty by a court. For some minor offences, for example, driving without MOT/ tax/ insurance the individual might not have actually attended court in person, but should have received paperwork from the court providing details of the offence(s).

Candidates will not necessarily need to tell an employer about their entire criminal record.

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What criminal convictions must people declare to employers?

Individuals who are found guilty by a court are likely to have to declare that to employers for a fixed period of time, if asked. This length of time is dependent on the sentence that was given, whether that was a fine, community order or prison sentence. Find out more about spent and unspent convictions.

When applying for an unregulated role, applicants must legally declare their unspent criminal convictions if asked. Our guide, Telling an employer about your criminal report, may be useful for people in that position.

For regulated roles such as doctors, teachers, employers will complete a full criminal record check with the Disclosure and Barring Service. This means that they will find out about all criminal convictions and cautions – spent and unspent. Find out more about regulated and unregulated roles.

Individuals do not have to tell their employer about:

  • Fixed penalty notices. These are fines which you can get through the post or on-the-spot for minor offences such as: speeding, drunk and disorderly, shoplifting etc.

  • Civil court proceedings. This could be for bankruptcy, divorce or custody proceedings etc.

  • Informal police warnings (if this did not lead to a caution).

  • Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). Receiving an ASBO does not result in you having a criminal record. But if you breach an ASBO this may lead to a criminal record.

  • Absolute discharges: these are given for the least serious offences e.g minor theft. The court decides not to impose a punishment because the experience of court has been punishment enough. The offender still gets a criminal record though.

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What is the difference between a spent and an unspent criminal conviction?

Convictions are “unspent” for a certain number of years after the date of conviction. During this time, employers are entitled to ask and individuals must tell them about these convictions if asked. Once this time period is over, convictions are “spent” and do not need to be disclosed to employers unless the job is one which requires a full criminal record check with the Disclosure and Barring Service. Find out more about regulated and unregulated roles.

The number of years it takes for a conviction to become “spent” is specified by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. The time it takes before a conviction becomes “spent” is determined by the punishment given for an offence (not by the nature of the offence). This time period is known as the “rehabilitation period”.

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For how long must different convictions be declared?

The length of time for which a candidate must declare their convictions, if asked, is defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. It relates to the punishment given by the court, not the type of offence committed.

The following examples highlight when adults (aged 18 or over) would need to tell their employer about a conviction:

  • Fines (not fixed penality notices) must be declared for one year.

  • A prison sentence of 6 months or less must be declared for two years from the end of the sentence.

  • A prison sentence of more than 6 months to 2.5 years must be declared for four years to the end of the sentence.

  • A prison sentence of more than 6 months to 2.5 years must be declared for four years from the end of the sentence.

  • A prison sentence of more than 2.5 years to 4 years must be declared for 7 years from the end of the sentence.

If someone has multiple criminal convictions this may well extend the time period for which previous convictions must be declared. For under 18s, the time periods for which convictions must be declared are shorter – most are half the length of time listed above.

It is often complicated to calculate when convictions are spent, particularly where multiple criminal convictions are taken into account. Unlock have developed a Disclosure Calculator: a web tool that can be used to find out when a criminal record becomes spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

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How many people are affected by the tick box?

The number of people affected by the tick box on application forms changes every day dependent on when they were convicted and therefore when their rehabilitation period ends. We know, however, that this issue affects a large proportion of the population.

1 in 5 of the UK population has a criminal record. And 84,000 people are in prison in the UK (equivalent to the population of Stevenage!), all of whom will have to declare their conviction for a minimum of two years, when asked.

Anybody that has ever been found guilty of an offence will have had to consider whether or not they need to tick the box – that ranges from people who have received a fine from a court to those with more serious convictions that resulted in a prison sentence.

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If an applicant declares a criminal conviction, does this automatically stop them getting a job?

An applicant with a criminal conviction should not be automatically rejected from a job – other information should be considered too.  However, we know that pre-judging based on criminal convictions is rife and has been a problem for many years.

In 2001, three quarters of employers surveyed by the Department for Work and Pensions would treat a candidate less favourably if they were aware of a criminal conviction. One in seven would reject any applicant with a criminal record, irrespective of the nature or the offence. In 2010, research by Working Links also found that three quarters of employers would use a conviction to either reject an applicant outright or as a reason to choose a different, qualified candidate. This shows that the situation has not improved in ten years.

If the tick box wasn’t there, not all unemployed people with convictions would find work. But they would have the opportunity to be assessed on their skills first, giving a greater chance of an employer reflecting on this rather than an unrelated conviction when choosing applicants.

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What is the purpose of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is designed to improve the chances of offenders being fully rehabilitated into society. It seeks to achieve this whilst still taking public protection into account.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act defines the point at which a conviction is no longer required to be declared to employers based on the seriousness of the sentencing of a crime. After this point, a person’s conviction is declared “spent” and the person is deemed rehabilitated.

The Act is relevant for all employment that is unregulated. Regulated roles, instead, require full criminal record checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service.

The Act means that people with convictions can move on from their past, leaving their conviction behind after a specified period of time. These specific time periods have been reduced by the Government in March 2014, with the implementation of amendments to the Act.

Factsheet - Changes to Rehabilitation of Offenders Act - March 2014

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What do you mean by regulated and unregulated roles? What’s the Disclosure and Barring Service?

Regulated activity relates to roles that involve handling of sensitive information or taking responsibility for children or vulnerable adults for example. A full list is available on the Disclosure and Barring Service website. For these roles a person’s full criminal record history of both spent and unspent convictions and whether they are barred from any particular types of work is disclosed via a full criminal records check. The checks can also sometimes include police intelligence.

The Disclosure and Barring Service replaces the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority. It processes these requests for criminal records checks for regulated activity and decides whether it is appropriate for a person to be placed on or removed from a barred list.

Unregulated activity relates to all other roles, such as office workers, plumbers or delivery men. For these roles, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act means that employers are only entitled to ask about unspent criminal convictions and cannot complete a full criminal record check with the Disclosure and Barring Service. It is illegal for employers to ask about spent convictions for an unregulated role.

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What checks can employers do? What checks should they do?

All employers are entitled to request disclosure from a candidate of all unspent criminal convictions regardless of the role for which the candidate is applying. They can do a check - called a Basic Check - to verify this information. This check will list only unspent criminal convictions.  Equally, an employer can decide not to request disclosure at all - it is up to them – and many employers (such as True Story) don’t ask.

For unregulated positions we are calling for a removal of the tick box from application forms so that disclosure is moved further down the application process. Through our campaign we are calling on employers to assess a candidate’s skills and abilities first before considering any appropriate checks that may be relevant to the role.

By asking at a later stage in the application process – still within the legal rights of the company – a candidate can be assessed based on their skills and abilities first and can provide contextual information about their conviction at an appropriate point following that. Their conviction would be secondary and only taken into account if relevant to the job role in question.

Employers are only legally required to do more comprehensive criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly CRB) when the position is listed as regulated activity. Find out more about regulated and unregulated roles.

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 I have a criminal conviction. What help can I access to disclose my criminal conviction to an employer?

We hope that the Ban the Box campaign will support you by sparking change in perceptions and actions amongst employers.

If you have a criminal conviction that you feel is preventing you from gaining employment, you could take a look at our guide Telling an employer about your criminal record. Or contact Nacro or UnLock who could offer you direct support.

You may also be eligible to access BITC’s Ready for Work programme. On the Ready for Work website you will find eligibility criteria for the programme highlighting the barriers faced by participants. We cannot accept self-referrals for Ready for Work; the website also details the referral process undertaken by key workers, probation officers and others on behalf of the person who'd like to take part in the programme.

We are not able to target specific employers to find out about a rejected application or provide 1:1 support to individuals. But we would really like to hear from you about your experiences of applying for jobs. We will use this information to develop our campaign and to challenge employers on their policies and practices.

Does Banning the Box put my company at risk?

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Ban the Box is not about removing protection from risk. Recruitment always comes with risks and challenges. But we don’t believe that somebody with a criminal conviction automatically represents an exceptional risk.

If necessary, an employer could ask about criminal convictions at a later stage – for example at interview, between first and second interview, or once an offer is made. However, by banning the box ex-offenders would be less likely to be automatically excluded from a job due to their conviction.

A tick box does not provide the necessary information in order to consider whether the conviction is relevant to the role and as such whether there is any risk to take into account in this specific instance. By discussing and deciding at what stage and how employers would welcome positive disclosure of unspent criminal convictions, risk can be assessed in relation to the role in question at an appropriate time, following the initial skills assessment.

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What do you mean by positive disclosure? How can an employer encourage positive disclosure?

Positive disclosure means asking an applicant about their unspent criminal convictions in a way that allows them to explain how they have reformed and to explain or account for their criminal record.

This could be by letter or at the interview. We suggest a written disclosure should accompany a verbal disclosure. However you plan to ask, inform the candidate in advance so they have the opportunity to prepare.

A good recruiter will seek to contextualise the offences by considering:

  • how the candidate has moved away from any previous criminal activity

  • whether their offence(s) relate to the job

  • the explanation the applicant provides for their offending behaviour  

  • the number and type of offences as well as the age of the applicant when they committed these offences

This is often a difficult, personal story for applicants to share so encourage positive disclosure by letting the applicant know that why you are asking for this information. Also let them know that you are asking to understand what has happened since, rather than to automatically exclude them from the role.

Keep visiting our website for resources, case studies and online surgeries to help with this.

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If I want to ask an applicant about convictions, when should I do it?

You don’t have to ask an applicant about criminal convictions for unregulated roles. If you do ask there are various points at which you could do this:

  • After the initial sift (before interview)

  • At interview

  • Before selecting a candidate

  • After offer of employment

At each stage this information could be requested in writing or in person.

Different organisations will have a different approach. Throughout the campaign we will be sharing examples and case studies showing whether employers that have banned the box are requesting information about unspent criminal convictions and, if they ask, how and when they do so.

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Has Business in the Community banned the box?

Yes – Business in the Community has banned the box. We recognise that we should lead by example, as our HR Director highlights:

“Business in the Community stands for responsible business and we are proud to lead the call for employers to Ban the Box. We endorse this call to action through our own recruitment process: we do not ask candidates to disclose their unspent convictions at the point of application for a role at Business in the Community.

We know that seeking disclosure of unspent convictions at the very first stage of the recruitment process stops some individuals from applying and results in a less diverse pool of talent from which to draw.  We also recognise the considerable cost to society by people caught in a cycle of offending. I hope that other organisations will join us in banning the box, ensuring that candidates are assessed on their skills and abilities first.”

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What else can companies do apart from Ban the Box?

Once an employer has decided that they want to open up their employment opportunities to people with unspent convictions they can do much alongside banning the box. Employers take a number of different approaches. They can:

  • Seek out partnerships with probation, prisons and voluntary organisations who can put forward work-ready candidates for placements and roles in the business

  • Work with organisations who are supporting ex-offenders into work e.g. through our Ready for Work programme

  • Publicise their commitment to making their workplace accessible to ex-offenders through membership of networks like the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending and by joining public debates

  • Work with BITC to establish networks with other employers who can support them along the way

The positive impacts of supporting ex-offenders into work through programmes like Ready for Work or in-house initiatives are wide-ranging and we want business to take action to achieve these benefits whilst making a difference to the communities in which they are based.

Ban the Box is just the first step towards levelling the playing field for people with unspent criminal convictions.

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Don’t ex-offenders need other support to access employment?

Some people with criminal convictions may need additional support to build the skills and confidence for employment. There are programmes in place to offer this support, such as our Ready for Work programme.

However, other people with criminal convictions may have just made one mistake that they need to disclose to an employer for five years. Others may have stopped offending a long time ago but, due to a more serious offence, may always have to disclose. They could well be ready for work and a tick box is preventing them from showing this to potential employers.

Ban the Box is the single action that all companies could take to significantly change how criminal convictions are considered and disclosed during the recruitment process.

Ban the Box cannot change everything. However, with employment reducing the likelihood of re-offending by up to 50%, any moves to increase access to employment opportunities for ex-offenders would have a positive impact on the potential route out of offending for people with criminal convictions.

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Does Ban the Box encourage positive discrimination?

We are not asking companies to prioritise the employment of ex-offenders over and above others. However, we believe that current recruitment practices do not enable ex-offenders to get to the table and have an opportunity to compete for a role based on their skills and abilities.

Lots of people have a criminal conviction in the UK. This group includes a large number of dedicated, motivated and diverse potential employees. Companies should recruit in a way that gives them access to this talent pool, assessing them on their potential, rather than eliminating candidates due to previous, unrelated convictions.

Ultimately, an employer needs to select the best candidate for the role. The best candidate may happen to have an unspent criminal conviction.

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How can I make sure I employ a good, trustworthy candidate?

As with any applicants, we recognise that employers want to hire people that suit their organisation, that are skilled for the job and that they trust. Whether or not they have a criminal conviction, some applicants won’t be the right fit for your business. Companies will inevitably receive unwanted applications. However, a ticked box to indicate that a candidate has an unspent criminal conviction should not automatically indicate that they are submitting an unwanted application.

Research shows that a previous criminal conviction should not be used as an automatic indicator that a candidate is not trustworthy. 72% of respondents to a survey by Reed experienced that people with criminal convictions were just as or more trustworthy compared to those without a criminal record.

Any decision to employ should be based on clear criteria and an open recruitment process that values skills and abilities of all candidates from the widest possible talent pool.

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