An update on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

It’s been just over 3 months since the changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 came into force in England & Wales. At that time, we published an update which featured new materials that we’d produced, as well as our updated detailed guidance.

Since that point, we’ve learnt quite a bit about how these changes are working in practice, mainly through cases that have come through our helpline. So we thought it was about time we produced another update, highlighting a couple of important practical areas.

Get a copy of your basic disclosure

As you will read below, there have been quite a few examples where people have been surprised to see what’s on their basic disclosure. Often, this is because they thought that their convictions were spent since the ROA changes came in, but for various reasons, that hasn’t been the case.

As a result, and given many people are relying on the ROA changes to make important life-decisions (such as moving jobs, applying for jobs without disclosing, not having to disclose when buying insurance), we think it’s important to emphasise the importance of checking for yourself by applying for our own basic disclosure. It costs £25. This will allow you to raise any queries that you might have, and make sure ultimately that what you think is spent and unspent is actually the case.

Find out more about basic disclosures.

Court orders

One area is has caused a lot of confusion is how ‘court orders’ are treated by the Act. We’ve seen many people think that their conviction becomes spent earlier than what it seems to be doing, because they didn’t realise that alongside their conviction they were given a ‘court order’ that can have an effect on the rehabilitation period.

The most common court orders we’ve found causing people difficulties are Compensation Orders, Restraining Orders and Sexual Offence Prevention Orders.

For example, if somebody received a 1 year community order as an adult, this would normally become spent 1 year after the end of the order. However, if they were also given a 3 year restraining order, the conviction wouldn’t become spent until that order ends

The way in which these ‘ancillary orders’ (as they’re known) are impacting on how long it takes for a conviction to become spent is something that we’re collecting evidence about at the moment. If you have a copy of your basic disclosure which shows that your conviction is still unspent because of a court order, please send us copies, as we’re keen to understand what types of orders this is affecting – email them to policy@unlock.org.uk.

Find out more about court orders in our detailed guidance.

SOPOs and Sexual Offences

Another area of confusion relates to Sexual Offence Prevention Orders (SOPO’s). The view of the Ministry of Justice is that SOPO falls within the definition in the ROA of an “order that imposes a prohibition”, so the rehabilitation period ends on the date when the prohibition ceases to have effect. This will depend on the length of the SOPO. This means that a conviction cannot become spent until the SOPO that relates to that conviction ends. It follows that if a SOPO is imposed for an indefinite period then it will be subject to disclosure indefinitely, until the SOPO is ended in some other way (e.g. going back to court to get the end date amended).

Find out more about SOPO’s.

However, this is separate to the sexual offender notification requirement. This does not constitute “any disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty” and so does not effect when a conviction becomes spent.

Compensation orders

These are only regarded as spent once they are paid in full. Unfortunately, there is no record kept on the Police National Computer that compensation orders are paid, and this is all that Disclosure Scotland see when they process basic checks.

This means that Disclosure Scotland advise people to try and obtain proof of payment from the court and keep this document to prove that the compensation order has been paid in full.

This is something that we are challenging at the moment, as we don’t believe that this system is workable. It’s not particularly clear when you apply for a basic disclosure that you have to provide this proof, and many people don’t even realise they have a compensation order. If you end up receiving your disclosure without providing proof, you have to pay for another application, alongside your proof of payment, to have an accurate one issued.

However, while this situation remains as it is, you’ll need to provide proof. In England & Wales, you can obtain a letter of confirmation from the court when any compensation order has been paid in full. There is guidance in the magistrates’ courts’ staff manual as to the wording to be used in a proof of payment letter relating to compensation orders. If you didn’t get this at the time of paying the compensation, you should be able to get something from the court at a later stage.

A copy of that letter should be provided to Disclosure Scotland either with your application or separately in confidence if your application is being submitted via a third party.

To submit proof of payment independently of submitting an application, you can send it:

You should quote your application barcode or reference number, or your name, current address, and date of birth in your communication.

Once you’ve submitted proof once, Disclosure Scotland should keep this on file in case you have to apply for a further disclosure in the future.

Extended ‘supervision periods’ under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2013

As part of the Government’s recent changes to prisons, probation and sentences, people sentenced to less than 12 months in prison will have an ‘extended supervision period’ meaning that they’ll have at least 12 months supervision on release. This has led to questions about whether this effects when a conviction becomes spent under the ROA. We can confirm that the headline sentence will remain the same for ROA purposes. The ‘buffer’ part of the rehabilitation period will start from the end of the original sentence.  The extra supervision period is post-sentence and does not affect the rehabilitation period for the conviction.

For example, if somebody was convicted as an adult in June 2014 and given 5 months in prison, the end of their sentence would be November 2014, so the conviction would become spent 2 years later (i.e. November 2016). The fact that the individual might be subject to ‘extended supervision’ into 2015 does not effect the ‘end of the sentence’ under the ROA.

Motoring convictions

There remains a lot of confusion about the way that motoring convictions are being dealt with under the ROA, particularly given the way that motoring offences are recorded (or not) on the Police National Computer, and what this means in practice for individuals in terms of applying for employment and insurance. We are working on some specific guidance at the moment on this, so if you have any information or experiences that you think would help with this guidance, please send them to policy@unlock.org.uk.

‘Easy Read’ guide on the ROA

Let’s not beat around the bush – the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is still very complicated. Sadly, the Ministry of Justice’s guidance doesn’t do much to help make this issue easier to understand.

We have been pleased with the feedback we’ve had to the materials we produced when the reforms came into force – including our A3 poster, brief guidance and detailed guide. But we felt we needed something else.

So we were delighted to work in partnership with KeyRing to produce an ‘Easy Read’ guide on disclosing criminal records. ‘Easy Read’ documents present information using simple words and pictures that make information easier to understand.

Download the Easy Read guide.

Updated ‘ROA FAQs’ section

We’ve had some weird and wonderful questions in the last couple of months about how the ROA works. We’ve been working hard to keep a track of some of the most common ones, and we’ve recently updated our FAQ’s section on the ROA with some of these.

Send us your examples/evidence

We are constantly looking to gather examples and evidence of the issues that surround the way the new Rehabilitation of Offenders Act reforms are working in practice. If you were surprised to see what’s come back on your basic disclosure, or if you’ve experienced some of the issues that we’ve mentioned in this update, please send any evidence you have (including copies of disclosures). Any details you send will be held confidentially, and only be used anonymously as part of our advocacy and policy work. Please send them to policy@unlock.org.uk.

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Christopher Stacey