A simple guide to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA)

Download a guide we produced on this in 2014: How long do I have to disclose my conviction for? – A brief guide to the ROA [PDF]

Aim of this information

In 2014, changes were made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This information reflects the situation after these changes.

This information forms part of our Rehabilitation of Offenders Act section as well as our disclosing to employers section.

Why is this important?

Once your conviction is spent, you can legally lie about it when applying for jobs requiring a basic check and insurance. This means you can generally answer “no” to the question about convictions. Being aware of how the law works will ensure you are able to work out if your convictions are spent or not.

What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 gives people with spent convictions and cautions the right not to disclose them when applying for most jobs, and buying insurance. Apart from those given prison sentences of more than 4 years, most people with convictions will benefit from it at some point in their lives. The changes came into force on the 10th March 2014.

What are the benefits of it?

The main benefits of the Act relate to applying for work and insurance. Generally, once spent, you can legally ‘lie’ about your past convictions by answering ‘no’ to a question about convictions.

Applying for work

Once your convictions are spent, the Act gives you the right not to disclose them when applying for jobs, unless the role is exempt from the Act. Most employers with jobs covered by the Act will only ask for ‘unspent’ convictions. If they ask about all convictions, you should check what level of disclosure they’re entitled to, and if it’s only a basic disclosure, then this may be an ineligible check and you can legally withhold any spent convictions.

Applying for insurance

Once your convictions are spent, the Act gives you the right not to disclose them when applying for insurance. For example, spent motoring convictions do not need to be disclosed when applying for car insurance. This applies no matter what question an insurance company asks. Most will only ask for unspent convictions, although some might ask for ‘any convictions in the last 5 years’. If it’s spent, you do not need to disclose it under any circumstances when applying for insurance.

What doesn’t it cover?

  1. It only applies in England and Wales. If you’re applying for work in another country you’ll need to check the disclosure laws that apply in that country.
  2. You may have to disclose spent convictions when applying for jobs that are exempt from the Act. These will normally involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check.

Rehabilitation periods for specific sentences

roaposter

There is also a long list of sentences and when they become spent.

What about further convictions?

If you already have an unspent conviction and you get a further conviction before the earlier one becomes spent, then neither conviction will become spent until the longest of them does. If the further conviction results in a prison sentence of more than 4 years, then neither the second nor the first conviction will ever become spent.

Important points

True.

The offence you are convicted of has no bearing on your rehabilitation period. The sentence you receive determines your rehabilitation period. If you are sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, your rehabilitation period is the full sentence plus 2 years (2 years 6 months.) Our Is it spent? poster gives more information on rehabilitation periods.

True.

  • If you get a fine and a 2 year community order as an adult, it will become spent 1 year after the community order ends.
  • If you get a motoring conviction as an adult which results in a 6 month driving disqualification and an endorsement on your licence, it will become spent after 5 years.

How do I work out if my convictions are spent?

If you only have one conviction, it should be relatively straight-forward to establish whether your conviction is spent by using the tables in this guide. If you have got a number of convictions, it might be more difficult. You can use our online disclosure calculator which will help you to work it out.

Can I get a copy of my unspent convictions?

Yes. You can obtain a list of your unspent convictions by applying for a basic disclosure from Disclosure Scotland. The current cost is £25. An employer may also carry out a basic disclosure as part of their recruitment process (but they’d need your permission to do this).

When can spent convictions be taken into account?

There are many jobs or roles where you might need to disclose your spent convictions particularly when applying for certain jobs or volunteer work. Examples include:

  • Working with children and other vulnerable groups (jobs such as teachers, social workers, doctors, dentists, chemists and nurses).
  • Working in professions associated with the justice system (such as solicitors, police, court clerks, probation officers, prison officers and traffic wardens).

These jobs will usually involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check. It is important to realise that these types of checks will show both spent and unspent convictions and cautions. The only exception to this is where your caution or conviction is eligible to be filtered.

Only an employer can apply for a standard or enhanced disclosure, you are not able to apply for your own. However, it’s really important that you find out exactly what your criminal record is so that you know what you do and don’t have to disclose. You can apply for a Subject Access Request (SAR), from your local police force. This is a copy of your criminal record and costs £10. It provides information that is held on the Police National Computer (PNC), about you. This is for your information only and shouldn’t be given to an employer. If an employer forces you to give them a copy of your SAR, this is now a criminal offence and employers can be prosecuted for this. There are other times when spent convictions might be taken into account, including:

  1. When applying to stay in the UK (i.e. immigration and nationality decisions).
  2. When travelling abroad to another country.

What does it mean if I have…?

  • If asked by an employer, you have to disclose them, and they can legally refuse you or discriminate against you.
  • They will be disclosed on all types of criminal record disclosure (basic, standard and enhanced).
  • If asked, you will have to disclose them when applying for financial products and services, such as insurance, a mortgage or renting a house.
  • You could be prosecuted if you fail to disclose them when asked.
  • For most jobs, you do not need to disclose them to an employer, even if they ask about convictions.
  • They will not be disclosed on a basic criminal record check.
  • For some jobs (those exempt from the ROA), you may need to disclose them if asked – these jobs will usually involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check. If your conviction is filtered, then you do not have to disclose, however, if it is not filtered an employer can legally refuse you or discriminate against you.
  • You do not need to disclose them to insurers when purchasing insurance.
  • You might need to disclose them when travelling or working outside of England and Wales.
  • They will remain on your record for life – they will not be deleted

Frequently asked questions

It depends on the disposal/sentence.

Sentences with a buffer period (i.e. prison sentences, suspended sentences and community orders), are made up of the original sentence, plus an additional fixed period. For these, you normally start from the date the sentence started.

For sentences with no buffer period (i.e. a fine), the rehabilitation period is either the length of the order, or a fixed period starting from the date of conviction.

No. The buffer period starts from the end of the full sentence. This includes time spent on licence. For example, if you were sentenced to 12 months in June 2013, and were released in December 2013, the buffer period wouldn’t start until June 2014, which is the end of the full 12 month sentence.
The buffer period starts on the sentence end date of the custodial sentence, which takes into account any time spent on remand. For example, if you were held on remand in May 2013 for one month, and then sentenced in June 2013 and given a 6 month sentence with remand having been taken into account, the end of the full sentence would be November 2013, which is when the buffer period would apply from.
If you get a further conviction while an earlier one is unspent, neither of them will become spent until the longest of them is spent.
Suspended prison sentences are treated as prison sentences under the Act. It is the length of sentence that is used, not how long it was suspended for.
A Community Order should have an end date, i.e. you might be given 180 hours, as part of a 12 month order. It doesn’t become spent quicker if you finish the hours quicker – the fixed period starts from the end of the court order.
Yes. However, non-payment of a fine may result in a further conviction, which will have its own rehabilitation period, and may drag the earlier conviction with it.
When you are applying for your basic disclosure, you need to provide evidence to Disclosure Scotland that the Compensation Order has been paid. You can obtain a letter of confirmation (or a receipt), from the Court when it is paid. If you don’t have this, you should be able to contact the court and ask them to confirm this in writing (and there shouldn’t be a charge for this).
No, you only need to provide the evidence once. Disclosure Scotland will keep this on file for all future basic disclosures.

More information

  1. For practical self-help information – More information is avaliable on our:
  2. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on this issue
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline

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Download a guide we produced on this in 2014: How long do I have to disclose my conviction for? – A brief guide to the ROA [PDF]

 

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in June 2016. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to advice@unlock.org.uk.

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