Retention and deletion of police cautions and convictions

Aim of this page

This page sets out details of the current practice for retaining details of criminal records and the process involved in requesting the deletion of a caution or conviction.

We have separate information on the retention and deletion of DNA and fingerprints.

This page forms part of our information on police records.

Note – this page is about retention and deletion, not disclosure. Advice on disclosure is covered elsewhere on this site, particularly around when criminal records become spent (so not disclosed on basic checks) or filtered (so not disclosed on standard/enhanced checks)

Why is this important?

Many people are unaware that details of all recordable offences remain on the Police National Computer (PNC) until they reach the age of 100.

Cautions and convictions can only be removed from the PNC in exceptional cases and it’s important to know what those circumstances may be and how you would go about applying for them to be removed.

Introduction

On this page, when we refer to a “criminal record” we mean convictions, cautions, final warnings and reprimands.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN’s), Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND’s), findings of innocence, acquittals and other police intelligence (including allegations) is covered in the local police information section.

Retention

The current practice is for the police to store details of all recordable offences, and other specific offences, and for these to be held until the individual reaches 100 years old. What’s recorded on the PNC?

Historically, the process of retention has varied.

Prior to early 2006, the police were able to delete records entirely after a certain period, depending on the nature of the offence. This was possible under the old ‘weeding’ guidelines. However, the police do not appear to have deleted records on a systematic basis, and many records that were eligible for deletion were never actually deleted. If you have a CRB check (as they were known then) that you did prior to 2006 that came back clear, your offences have either been deleted or were not recorded in the first place.

In 2006, the police stopped deleting records and introduced a new policy which stated that all records would be held until an individual reached 100 years of age. At the same time, they introduced ‘step-down’, which was a filtering process enabling the police to hold on to records indefinitely on the Police National Computer (PNC). Individuals could apply to have them ‘stepped down’ so that they wouldn’t be disclosed on standard or enhanced checks.

This step-down procedure was stopped in October 2009, following a Court of Appeal decision, meaning that even those who had records stepped down now have them back on their CRB checks. If you applied for step-down and had your records stepped down, unfortunately it is likely that they will reappear on your criminal record check and your best course of action would be to discuss these with whoever is requiring a check.

Since October 2009, the police have not deleted cautions or convictions.

If you are not sure what records the police still hold, you can access your own record by doing a subject access request.

What if my conviction doesn’t show up on my police record?

Check local records

It is possible that you have only received details from the PNC. You need to see a copy of the local police records from wherever you received the conviction. It may be recorded there. This wouldn’t automatically be disclosed on a DBS certificate, but may be disclosed on an enhanced certificate.

Police recording practices

The PNC does not include every single conviction. The police currently store details of all recordable offences (indictable, triable-either-way and some summary offences). They keep this data until you reach 100 years old. However, in the past, the process of recording has varied. This means that you may have been convicted in the past but it may not be recorded on the PNC.

Weeding

In the past, the process of keeping records has also varied. Until early 2006, weeding guidelines, allowed the Police to delete records after a certain period depending on the offence. They only normally deleted records if requested, so many records that could have been deleted were not. The police stopped deleting records in 2006 and introduced a new policy of keeping all records on the PNC until a person’s 100th birthday.

Step-down

In 2006, the police introduced a process for filtering out information before it appeared on a criminal records check. A person could apply to the police to have information ‘stepped down’ from their standard or enhanced check. This was typically in relation to offences that were very old and very minor. The decision was at the discretion of the chief constable of each local force.

Step-down was stopped in October 2009 after a Court of Appeal decision. If you previously had information stepped down, it will now reappear on a criminal record check.

Can convictions be removed from the PNC?

The Police National Computer (PNC) currently retains all information until an individuals 100th birth date. The police are obliged, under Part V of the Police Act 1997, to provide the DBS with access to all convictions held on the PNC. There was previously a system known as ‘step-down’, but this was ended into October 2009.

You retain 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 ‘Deletion of records from National Police Systems guidance’ (see below). However, it is very rare for convictions to be removed under this procedure. The deletion of records from National Police Systems is usually reserved for cases involving non-conviction information (such as unproven allegations, or findings of innocence), or where it can be proved that the arrest was unlawful or where it is established beyond doubt that no offence existed.

The only other option would be to legally appeal against the conviction (for example “I didn’t do it”). This can normally only be done within a short time period following the conviction. To do this, you should seek legal advice. Also note that, if you pleaded guilty at court, that makes appealing your conviction even more difficult.

Who owns the information?

Under the Data Protection Act, the police are the Data Owners and Data Controllers of the information on the Police National Computer (PNC). They own and maintain the information.

The DBS uses information from the PNC. They cannot amend or delete information or decide how it is presented.

Deletion of records from National Police Systems

You have the right to ask the police to remove information under the Deletion of records from National Police Systems guidance.

Where a conviction is recorded accurately, we are unaware of a case where the police have agreed to remove it under this procedure

Can cautions be removed from the PNC?

It is only in exceptional circumstances that the police will remove a caution.

You may be able to have your caution ‘expunged’ from your criminal record by applying to the police. You can do this yourself by setting out a well-argued and comprehensive reason as to why the police should consider ‘expunging’ your caution. Alternatively, you could seek legal advice.

If the police agree to ‘expunge’ your caution then the PNC will show ‘no further action’ instead of the caution. It will no longer be disclosed on a standard or enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. There is no standard time period to have a caution removed, and different police forces take differing periods of time to remove cautions (for example, the Metropolitan Police Force give a time estimate of around 12-18 months for a removal application to be processed).

You should be aware that even if your caution is ‘expunged’, the information held by the police force could still be disclosed under the ‘other relevant information’ section of an enhanced check, if the police feel that it is relevant and ought to be disclosed. You can challenge this decision.

Removing information from local police records

The Record Deletion Process only extends to records held on the Police National Computer, National DNA Database and fingerprint database. Locally held records, including custody photographs, are not covered by this process and instead, are managed by chief officers in accordance with the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) – Information Management.

Frequently asked questions

Your offence has likely either been deleted or was never recorded. As you know that it’s not going to appear on a criminal record check, there is no reason for you to disclose it to any employer it you are asked.
Your offence might still show on a standard or enhanced check, even if it’s never been disclosed before. This is because ‘step down’ was removed in 2009 and has been replaced by a filtering process.
Details of any conviction, irrespective of how minor, will remain on the PNC until you reach 100 years of age. However, as you were under the age of 18 at the time and this is your only conviction your biometrics (DNA and fingerprints) will be automatically deleted after 5 years (plus the length of any prison sentence). For further information see here.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on understanding your criminal record
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord
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  • Doug

    Under The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme which came into being on 08 March 2014, members of the public have a ‘right to ask’ Police where they have a concern that their partner may pose a risk to them. If an application is made, the Police will carry out checks and if they show that the partner has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate that there may be a risk from the partner, the Police will consider sharing this information. There’s more information about this elsewhere on here – see http://hub.unlock.org.uk/knowledgebase/domestic-violence-disclosure-scheme-2/. Hope this helps. From Doug, Unlock

  • John

    I was recently arrested for assault, having only defended myself. I gave my not guilty plea yesterday morning and a trial date was set. In the afternoon I received a phonecall stating the prosecution had dropped the case and that it is now all done and dusted. However, I know that the record of my arrest etc will still be on the PNC, how do I go about getting this expunged?

    Thanks.

  • Terry Simons

    As a law abiding citizen who has previous convictions from my exuberant youth over 30 years ago, I find it extremely frustrating and simply wrong that I am still paying the price for mistakes and unfortunate circumstances, especially as the barrister convinces you to plead guilty “in order to avoid a sentence” when you are petrified and know no difference! Why after all this time can I not get the job of my dreams (accountant) or one day move to a country I would like to retire too?
    Something in our system seriously needs to change in our system!!

  • Ange Hofmann

    I have a drink-drive conviction which I think was back in 1994 or 1995. I had to have a background check recently and nothing showed up at all. Was very, very surprised!

  • lea

    Same situation here, after a drunken argument with my partner of 23 years ( we are still together) a moment of total stupidity resulted in me hitting him and bruising his lip. After admitting i had hit him and not taking any legal council I received a caution just so i could get out of there! They never explained to me how this would ruin my life and make me unemployable in the future

    I didn’t realize it was so serious, it was only through a subject access request many years later that i relisted how serious it is and that i had been cautioned for Assault Occasioning ABH.

    After doing some research and reading the polices own charging guidelines it appears i should have been Cautioned with common assault and not ABH. I bruised lip is not serious did not require medical attention or cause any long term affects!

    If it was a common assault caution as it should have been it wouldn’t show up on any checks as it was over 6 years ago.

    As its a caution for ABH it will show up on my checks FOREVER!

    I have always worked hard and never been in trouble with the law before or after this caution. Now my kids are older i want to go back to work, i am a good person of good character who wants to be a productive and active member of the work force.

    With this caution i can no longer work for the NHS, or in any form of health care or dentistry, at a doctors surgery or with children in a school, or any organisation which has contact with children, even if its just dealing with child’s records in an office! I cant work with the elderly or work for the council or law courts or other places within the civil service. I cant even apply for roles which are just admin within these organisations where i wouldn’t even come into contact with children/elderly or vulnerable people!

    It has truly ruined my life, i feel like whats the point, my life is over, i wish i had just lied to the police and not taken responsibility for my actions because 8 years on and it is crippling me. It might as well have been a conviction because that how its being treated anyway!