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Criminal Record: What you need to know

Being arrested, cautioned or convicted of a crime can be a daunting experience but the long term effects of having a criminal record can make it even worse.

Over 10.5 million people in the UK have a criminal record and many face stigma and discrimination when applying for jobs. Earlier this month Unlock, a charity which assists those with convictions, launched a new website that encourages companies to recruit people with criminal records.

Recently the Cardinal Vincent Nichols also expressed his belief that ex-prisoners shouldn’t have to declare their criminal convictions on initial job application forms. Instead employers should wait until the later stage of the interview process to request such disclosure thereby enabling applicants an opportunity to present themselves free from preconceptions.

Whilst these are positive steps for those with criminal records, it remains important that those who have had an encounter with the criminal justice system, whether with the Courts or the police, understand when sensitive information relating to criminal matters can be retained and disclosed.

What you have to disclose

When you are applying for a job, you may be asked whether you have ever been convicted of a criminal offence or whether you have ever been given a caution, reprimand or warning for an offence. In most instances whether you are required to disclose a previous conviction or caution will depend on whether it is ‘spent’ or not.

Spent convictions

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, many convictions and cautions become spent after a certain period of time, known as the rehabilitation period. Once the relevant rehabilitation period has passed, you will not need to disclose that conviction.

Sentence / CautionRehabilitation Period
Prison/Youth custody sentence over 4 yearsNever spent
Prison/Youth custody sentence between 2.5 years and 4 years (including suspended sentences)7 years* (3.5 years for those under the age of 18 at the time of conviction)
Prison/youth custody sentence between 6 months and 2.5 years (including suspended sentences)4 years* (2 years for those under the age of 18 at the time of conviction)
Prison sentence of 6 months or less2 years* (1.5 years for those under the age of 18 at the time of the conviction)
Most fines1 year** (6 months for those under the age of 18 at the time of conviction)
Community order or youth rehabilitation order1 year*** (6 months for those under the age of 18 at the time of conviction)
Conditional dischargeEnd of the discharge order
Absolute dischargeImmediately spent
Conditional cautions3 months or when caution ceases to have effect if earlier
Cautions, warnings and reprimandsImmediately spent

* Starting from the date on which the sentence (including any licence period) is completed.

** Starting from the date of conviction.

*** Starting from the end of the order. This period starts from the last day of when the order given by the court has effect. Where no such date is provided, the rehabilitation period for the order is 2 years, starting from the date of conviction.

However, for certain types of employment potential employers are entitled to know about all convictions, both spent and unspent, any cautions and, in some circumstances, other information that the police hold about you. These employers can request a check to be carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau). The police are legally obliged to provide the DBS with access to all convictions held on the Police National Computer.

The Police National Computer (PNC) system holds records of anyone who has been arrested, convicted, cautioned, reprimanded or warned in respect of a recordable offence. This information is stored on the PNC until a person reaches 100 years of age.

Criminal Record Checks

There are two types of DBS checks for criminal records:

  • Standard DBS check generally applies to a number of professional careers (such as medical or military), jobs that require a licence, and work with children or vulnerable adults.
    Standard DBS checks show most spent and unspent convictions and cautions held on the PNC.

However, some old and minor convictions and cautions will not be disclosed once a certain period has passed. Cautions will not be disclosed after 6 years from the date of the caution (2 years if received when under the age of 18). Convictions that did not result in a prison or suspended prison sentence will not be disclosed after 11 years from the date of the conviction (5½ years if received when under the age of 18). However, all convictions will be disclosed if there is more than one on an individual’s record.

Certain convictions and cautions will never be filtered and will always be disclosed on DBS checks. For example, offences committed under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Other information held by the police, such as previous arrests and Penalty Notices for Disorder, will not be disclosed under a standard DBS check.

  • Enhanced DBS check contains the same information as the standard disclosure but also includes any information that the police reasonably believe is relevant and ought to be included. This information is held on the Police National Database (PND) and can include, for example, allegations made by someone that did not result in an arrest, and concerns passed on to the police from other bodies (such as schools or social services). This check generally applies to jobs that involve regularly caring for, training, supervising or being solely in charge of children or vulnerable adults.

It is important to note that a person is entitled to apply to the DBS under the Data Protection Act before a criminal record check is sent to any prospective employer, for example to challenge any incorrect information held on the PNC.

Full list of the careers requiring a standard DBS check.

Deleting records from the PNC

You have the right to contact the police directly about information about you which is held on the PNC, and ask them to remove it through the Record Deletion Process. However, individuals with a court conviction cannot apply to have their records deleted under this process.

The deletion of records from the PNC is usually reserved for removing non-conviction information, such as allegations, arrests, cautions and acquittals. A person can apply to have a record removed from their PNC by submitting an application to the ACPO Criminal Records Office outlining the grounds for its removal.

However, the Record Deletion Process is based on, though not limited to, a Chief Officer having substantial evidence that someone has been eliminated as a suspect before agreeing to delete their records. For example, insufficient evidence to convict does not necessarily mean there is sufficient evidence for an individual to be eliminated as a suspect.

The following are examples of circumstances when a Chief Officer may consider the deletion of a person’s PNC record:

  • No crime committed
  • Malicious or false allegation
  • Unlawful arrest
  • Proven alibi
  • Incorrect disposal
  • Suspect status not clear at the time of arrest
  • Another person convicted of the offence
  • Where there is a wider public interest to do

If the police agree to remove a caution from the PNC record it will show as ‘no further action’ instead of a caution. It will no longer be disclosed on a standard or enhanced DBS check, unless the police feel that it is relevant and ought to still be disclosed under an enhanced check. However, this can be challenged by way of an application to the DBS under the Data Protection Act.