We’ve produced specific information to help you understand what you might need to know at each stage of your criminal record journey. This page focuses on what you’ll need to know if your conviction is spent. It forms part of our series on the seven stages of a criminal record.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) gives each sentence a ‘rehabilitation period’. During this period, your conviction is considered ‘unspent’ but, once it’s passed and, assuming you don’t receive any further convictions,then it will become spent.
Having a spent conviction is a significant stage in your journey through the criminal justice system. It means that for the majority of jobs or when purchasing insurance, you will no longer need to disclose your conviction. You will find the world of work opening up to you and you should start to see significant savings in both your car and house insurance premiums.
From this point on, in most circumstances you will be dealt with as though you don’t have a criminal record.
Criminal record checks
If you’re applying for a job which is exempt from the ROA and will require a standard or enhanced check, spent convictions will always be disclosed unless they are eligible for filtering. Although the filtering system was introduced to prevent the disclosure of old and minor cautions and convictions on standard and enhanced criminal record checks in practice, very few are filtered due to the current inflexible rules and eligibility criteria.
Once your conviction is spent, you’ll be able to apply for most jobs safe in the knowledge that if an employer were to do a basic check, nothing would be disclosed. If an employer were to carry out an ineligible check (either a standard or enhanced DBS instead of a basic DBS) this could result in them becoming aware of a conviction which, legally, they are not allowed to know about. You could find that once they’re aware of it, they decide to withdraw the job offer.
Our A-Z of job roles and their eligibility for basic, standard and enhanced DBS checks sets out the levels of DBS checks which may be undertaken for various jobs and roles.
If you’ve been denied a job which is covered by the ROA solely on the basis of a spent conviction, you may be able to bring litigation against the employer. Generally, an employer will give another reason as to why your application had been unsuccessful.
As colleges and universities usually only ask applicants to disclose unspent convictions when applying for courses, a spent conviction means that there will be very few courses which will require you to disclose.
However, if you’re considering applying for a course which would involve working with children or vulnerable adults and where an enhanced DBS check would be required (for example a nurse or a teacher), then you would need to disclose your spent conviction unless it’s eligible for filtering. Depending on the nature of the offence, you may be asked to sit a risk assessment panel or could be refused entry onto the course.
Once your conviction is spent under the ROA then you will not need to disclose it when purchasing any type of insurance policy, irrespective of how the insurer asks the question. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has published a good practice guide for insurers setting out the best way to ask about a customer’s criminal record.
If you disclose your spent conviction to an insurer by mistake, the insurer is under a legal duty to disregard it.
If you received an endorsement to your licence, this may stay on your licence for longer than the spent period (for example, a drink driving conviction is likely to become spent after 5 years but would stay on your licence for 11). Legally however you still do not need to disclose it to motor insurers once its spent. If an insurer uses your spent conviction to cancel your policy, you may want to consider complaining to the Financial Ombudsman and/or the Information Commissioners Office.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act only applies to England and Wales. This means that when travelling overseas, you will need to look at the processes that each country has in place to deal with people with convictions. Many countries will require you to apply for a visa along with a police certificate which would include details of your spent conviction unless it had been ‘stepped down’.
Since 1st October 2012, visa and citizenship applications have been exempt from the ROA. Visa’s to the UK can be expensive and fees are usually non-refundable if your application is refused. It’s important to have a good understanding of whether your application is likely to be successful before applying.
If your case was reported in the media and/or is available online then employers or colleagues can find out about your criminal record from the internet. This is often referred to as the ‘google effect’. Once your conviction is spent you can apply to the website and search engine (for example Google) to request that search results are removed. If your request is refused, you may want to consider changing your name to make it more difficult for people to do searches on you.