Please note: In January 2015, the site was re-structured. The ‘Frequently asked questions’ section has been moved, with the content of each subject being transferred into the information subject on that subject.

Please search for the relevant information section, where you’ll find the FAQ’s relating to that subject.

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When did the law change?
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Changes were made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The changes came into force on the 10th March 2014.

Please note: The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 is a separate piece of legislation which is focused on changes to Probation and rehabilitation services.

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I was convicted before March 2014 – do the changes apply to me?
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The changes are retrospective. This means they apply to everybody, irrespective of when they received their caution/conviction. For example, if you were convicted in 2001 and given 3 years in prison that would now be treated as being spent, even though at the time it could never be spent.

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My conviction became spent before March 2014 but it now seems to be treated as unspent – can that happen?
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If a conviction was treated as spent before the 10th March, it stays spent and isn’t affected by the changes. This is important in a small number of cases where the rehabilitation period has lengthened as a result of the changes. It only applies to a small number of cases, particular where individuals have received multiple summary offences, and where individuals have received Detention and Training Orders. We have kept the old version of the law available on our Disclosure Calculator, for people to use if they think this affects them. You should use the Calculator to work out any convictions that were dealt with before 10th March 2014. Anything that is spent before that point can be discounted. Anything that carries forward should be entered into the Calculator again, but this time using the new rules, to work out when they would become spent.

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I’m applying for a job that is clearly covered by the ROA, but they’re asking me to disclose all convictions, including spent ones. Do I need to disclose my spent convictions?
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No. If you’re confident that the job isn’t ‘exempt’ from the Act, you are allowed to ‘withhold’ the details of any spent convictions. This means that even if the employer asks you about ‘all’ or ‘spent’ convictions, you don’t have to disclose any that are spent. The employer in question should also be encouraged to change their question to make this clear for future applicants. We follow up on examples like this, so please send us the details and we’ll contact them (we won’t reveal who told us!)

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When you say it’s a ‘legal lie’ to not disclose spent convictions, what do you mean?
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So long as the job/role/service that you’re applying for is covered by the Act, even if you get asked to disclose spent convictions, you don’t have to. For example, if you’re applying for house insurance and get asked “Have you got any spent convictions”, you can withhold details of any spent convictions. In other words, you can ‘legally lie’ when answering the question.

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How do I know if a job/role/service is covered by the Act?
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Usually, it will be obvious. For example, all types of insurance are covered by the Act. Most employment positions are too. Those jobs/roles that are not covered by the Act should say so. You might see application forms say that the role is ‘exempt’ from the Act – this will normally mean that the role is not covered by the Act, so the organisation is allowed to know about spent convictions too. These are jobs that do standard or enhanced criminal record checks.

However, not everyone gets it right. Some employers and volunteer bodies might ask about spent convictions when they’re not allowed to, it’s not always obvious whether a particular job or role is covered by the Act or not. We have a detailed section on eligibility, which gives some advice about the types of things to look for, as well as a link to the Governments’ guidance on eligibility.

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How do I get a copy of my unspent convictions?
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You can do this by getting a ‘basic disclosure’ from Disclosure Scotland. It costs £25 if you go directly to them. Their website is www.disclosurescotland.co.uk. Some companies online offer this service for an additional cost – they essentially take your data and then transfer it to Disclosure Scotland, so you’re normally better-off just going directly to Disclosure Scotland. More information about basic disclosures is available here.

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When does the rehabilitation period start? Date of conviction or date of sentence?
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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.

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I served time on remand – is that taken into account?
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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.

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I got a further conviction after I received an earlier sentence of more than 4 years – does the later conviction get dragged through forever?
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No. The earlier sentence of more than 4 years would drag through any previously unspent convictions, and these would never become spent as a result. However, any further convictions after the one of more than 4 years can become spent on their own. For example, if you were sentenced to 5 years in prison in June 1995, this would never become spent. If you were later given a community order in June 2004, this could become spent on its own.

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I received a 2 month sentence, but as part of the recent changes, I’ve been given a further period of supervision in the community. Does this change when my conviction becomes spent?
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The provisions in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2013 provide for a period of supervision post-sentence. This is to make sure that all individuals sentenced to imprisonment have at least 12 months on supervision on release. Individuals receiving sentences of two years or more will not be subject to post-sentence supervision because they will spend 12 months on licence subject to conditions following automatic release at the half-way point of the sentence.

Under the 2013 Act, where an individual receives a custodial sentence of less than two years, they will serve the second half of the sentence on licence and then there will be a period of post-sentence supervision to make sure that the overall period of supervision in the community is 12 months. For example, under these provisions an individual given a six month sentence may serve three months in prison and three months on licence with a further period of nine months on post-sentence supervision – the period of licence and post-sentence supervision will be 12 months.

However, the extra supervision period is post-sentence and does not affect the rehabilitation period for the conviction. In the example given, the sentence imposed is six months and the rehabilitation period would apply accordingly – the period of the sentence plus two years beyond the end date of the sentence – and the additional nine months of supervision will not be counted.

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I was given a Compensation Order in Court. I understand that my conviction will not become spent until the Order is paid in full. When I apply for a basic check, how does Disclosure Scotland know that I have paid it?
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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).

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I’m on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years – does that mean my conviction doesn’t become spent until then?
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No. A sexual offender notification requirement is not regarded as a “disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty”. This means that the length of time you’re on the Sex Offenders Register is separate to how long it takes for a conviction to become spent. As a result of the reduced rehabilitation periods that came into force in 2014, it is now common for a conviction to become spent, but an individual still be subject to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

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What does “a relevant order” mean?
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The Act applies where an order is made on conviction, and the order imposes any disqualification, disability, prohibition or other penalty. Only if both of these circumstances are met will the order be subject to the rehabilitation provisions and may appear on a basic disclosure certificate, if it has not yet ended. The Ministry of Justice hasn’t published a list of orders that this applies to, but the ones we have seen it apply to are covered in our detailed guide.

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Is a Fixed Penalty Notice or Penalty Notice for Disorder treated as a conviction?
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Fixed penalty notices (FPN) and penalty notices for disorder (PND) are on-the-spot fines issued by the police for minor offences. If you receive a FPN or PND and pay this within the specified time limit, all liability for the offence is discharged and the offence does not form part of your criminal record. However, if you fail to pay a FPN or PND on time, you are likely to receive a court summons. If you accept responsibility for the offence, whether in person at court or by post, or are found guilty, you will have a conviction which will (in most cases) form part of a criminal record.

In some cases where a FPN or PND has not been paid on time and has defaulted to court, the offence is not recorded as a conviction on the Police National Computer and remains a locally held record. If you have failed to pay a FPN or PND on time and the matter has defaulted to court, you may wish to access a copy of your criminal record after the court hearing to see how your information has been recorded.

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When does a Fixed Penalty Notice or Penalty Notice for Disorder become spent?
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Neither of these are technically classed as convictions, and are not technically covered by the Act, so they don’t become spent as such. Although this means that, if asked, you are not entitled to withhold the details of them, in practice you won’t normally get asked about them. Also, they don’t come back on basic, standard or enhanced criminal record checks. This means that employers don’t have access to them through ordinary employment vetting processes.

However, a Fixed Penalty Notice for an endorseable motoring offence will result in an endorsement on your licence. This will stay on your licence for either 4 or 11 years. It also takes 5 years (as an adult) to become spent. In practice, this means that you will need to disclose it to motor insurers until it becomes spent. You may also need to disclose it to an employer, if you need to provide your employer with your driving licence.

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I live in Scotland and have applied for a job with an English company. I will be working from their offices in England during the week. Will my Disclosure Scotland check be based on English or Scottish Law?
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If you are working in England under a contract of Employment governed by English law, you are likely to be bound by the obligations of the law of England and Wales by virtue of working there. This means that when you apply for a basic disclosure, you can choose to have it issued under English law (even though, by default, it would be processed under the law where you live).

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I have previously applied for British Citizenship but have been told that due to my previous convictions I have to wait 15 years before I can reapply. Will the changes to the ROA make any difference to the time I have to wait?
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Unfortunately not. As part of applying for UK citizenship, there will be a check with the Police and other authorities as part of the character check. You will need to give details of all criminal convictions (this used to be just unspent convictions, but it now applies to all). There is further detailed guidance available at http://hub.unlock.org.uk/knowledgebase/applying-citizenship/.

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