Information: General information about sexual offences

Aim of this page

This information is designed to provide specific information around convictions for sexual offences, in particular civil orders which may run alongside a caution or a conviction. We have specific information on notification requirements.

Why is this important?

There are many misconceptions about convictions for sexual offences and how they work in terms of disclosing to employers. You should make sure that you are clear about:

  • When your conviction becomes spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and what you’re legally requested to disclose to employers, insurers etc.
  • The impact of the sex offenders’ register and any civil order on rehabilitation periods.


This information gives an overview of the relevant legislation relating to those with convictions for sexual offences. We have separate information on notification requirements and barring.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Sexual offences can become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in the same way as any other conviction. It depends on the sentence that was received.

The ROA and notification requirements

It’s important to note that the length of time it takes for a conviction to become spent is usually different to how long you may be subject to the notification requirements. As a result, it is possible for a conviction to be ‘spent’ under the ROA, but you will still be subject to the notification requirements.

The ROA and Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOPO’s) or Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO’s)

The view of the Ministry of Justice is that SOPO’s and SHPO’s fall within the definition of an “order that imposes prohibition”, so the rehabilitation period ends on the date when the prohibition ceases to have effect (if it’s the longest one). This will depend on the length of the SOPO/SHPO. This means that a conviction cannot become spent until the SOPO/SHPO that relates to that conviction ends.

It follows that if a SOPO/SHPO is imposed for an indefinite period, then it will be subject to disclosure indefinitely, until the SOPO/SHPO is ended in some way (for example going back to court to get the end date amended).

On licence for a sexual offence

If you have been released on licence it means that you will serve the rest of your sentence in the community.

Your licence gives specific instructions on what you must do and the conditions that you must follow. You may be taken back to prison if you do not follow the rules. This may be because you have offended again or broken some other conditions; this is called a breach of licence.

For more information and advice about being on licence for a sex offence, the Prison Reform Trust have published a useful leaflet.

Civil orders – SOPO’s, SHPO’s and SRO’s

On the 8th May 2015, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was amended, making changes to the provisions dealing with behaviour orders to be imposed following complaint or conviction for a sexual offence. The following orders were repealed at that time:

  • Sexual Offences Prevention Orders
  • Risk of Harm Orders
  • Foreign Travel Orders

They were replaced with:

  • Sexual Harm Prevention Orders
  • Sexual Risk Orders

Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOPO’s)

Until March 2015, a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) was a civil order created by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to replace Restraining Orders and Sex Offender Orders available through the Sex Offenders Act 1997.

Read more about SOPO’s.

Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO’s)

A Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) is a preventative order enabling a court to impose prohibitions on an individual who has been:

‘Convicted, found not guilty by reason of insanity or found to be under a disability and to have done the act charged, or cautioned etc for an offence listed in Schedule 3 or Schedule 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 either in the UK or overseas’

They replaced SOPO’s in March 2015.

Sexual Risk Order (SRO)

A Sexual Risk Order (SRO) is a civil order which can be sought by the police against an individual who has not been convicted, cautioned etc of a Schedule 3 or Schedule 5 offence but who is nevertheless thought to pose a risk of harm.

Foreign travel restrictions

SHPO’s and SRO’s may contain foreign travel prohibitions, where this is necessary for the purpose of protecting children or vulnerable adults abroad. Restrictions can include:

  • A prohibition on travelling to any country outside the UK named or described in the order
  • A prohibition on travelling to any country outside the UK, other than a country named or described in the order, or
  • A prohibition on travelling to any country outside the UK.

An individual subject to a SHPO or SRO prohibiting them from travelling to all countries outside the UK will be required to surrender their passport at a police station specified in the order. It is an offence for the individual to fail to surrender their passport as required by the order.

It is important to note that the activity which would constitute causing harm to the child or vulnerable adult does not have to be illegal in the foreign country where it is intended to take place. For example, a SHPO or SRO can prevent an individual from travelling to a foreign country to engage in sexual activity with a child aged 14 even if sexual activity with a child aged 14 is not an offence in the country concerned.

Notification orders

Notification orders (not to be confused with the notification requirements) require those convicted of sexual offences overseas to register with the UK police, in the same manner as those convicted in the UK.

The police may apply to the court for the order in relation to individuals already in or intending to enter the UK. These orders will not apply to the majority of people convicted of sexual offences already resident in the UK as they will already have been subject to the notification requirements from the point of conviction. The number of applications for notification orders is therefore relatively low compared to the use of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Read Alex’s story about living day to day with a sexual offence order – Functioning on a daily basis with a sexual offences order
Duncan writes about the ongoing discrimination of a sexual offence – Food for thought at the food bank – An old sexual offence getting in the way of collecting food

Discuss with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Circles UK – A national organisation working to reduce sex offending
  • Lucy Faithfull Foundation – A child protection charity working with people with convictions for sexual offences

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on sexual offences
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the tag sexual offences
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. 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 stories by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord




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