Moving on: The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the benefits of a spent conviction

This month, we’ve written another article for Inside Times ‘Through the Gate’ section which focuses on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

A copy of the article can be found below.

How do I know when my conviction will become spent and what will that mean for me?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) gives each sentence a ‘rehabilitation period’. This is essentially the time it takes to become spent, and during this period your conviction is considered ‘unspent’. Once it’s passed, and assuming you don’t receive any further convictions, then your conviction will become spent. Once spent, you no longer have to disclose it when applying for the majority of jobs or when purchasing insurance.

Unless you’ve received a prison sentence of more than 4 years, then you’ll benefit from the ROA at some point in the future (and we’re campaigning for it to cover sentences of over 4 years too).

So what are the benefits when a conviction becomes spent?

The main benefits relate to applying for work and getting insurance. Generally, once spent you don’t need to disclose it.

Applying for work or volunteering

Providing the role you’re applying for is not ‘exempt’ from the ROA then you won’t need to disclose your conviction to an employer once it’s spent, and it won’t appear on a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Roles which are typically covered include:

  • Retail work;
  • Hospitality industry;
  • Construction industry;
  • Office work

Applying for insurance

Once your conviction is spent, the law gives you the right not to disclose it when applying for insurance, no matter what question an insurance company asks. Most insurers only ask you to disclose unspent convictions although some might ask for ‘any convictions in the last five years’. If your conviction is spent, you don’t need to disclose it under any circumstances.

Are there any areas where the ROA doesn’t apply?

Yes. These include:

  • Working and volunteering in roles ‘exempt’ from the ROA – If you’re looking to work with children or vulnerable adults then different rules apply;
  • Working or volunteering outside England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own version of the ROA but they differ in a number of ways. It could be that your conviction would be spent in England but remain unspent in Scotland;
  • Travelling abroad – Each country will have their own entry requirements regarding people with convictions. It’s always best to check before you book any holiday;
  • Coming to, or applying to stay in, the UK (for example applying for citizenship).

How do I work out when my conviction becomes spent?

If you only have one conviction it should be relatively straightforward to work out by using the table included in this article.

If you have several convictions you may find it easier to use Unlock’s online calculator which can be found at – someone with internet access can use this for you and then print the results.

Can I get a formal record of my unspent convictions?

Yes, you can get a print-out of your unspent convictions by applying for a basic DBS certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service. The cost is currently £25. When you start applying for jobs you’ll find that many employers carry out basic DBS checks as part of their recruiting process.

Is there anything else I should know?

You can legally ‘lie’

Although most employers and insurers are clear about when you only have to disclose unspent convictions, some ask misleading questions like …”Have you ever …”. So long as the ROA applies, you can legally ‘lie’ about your past convictions by answering ‘no’ to the question.

It’s the sentence you received, not time served

The time it takes to become spent is based on the sentence imposed by the court, not the time you serve in prison. For example, if you received an 8-month sentence but were released after 4 months, your rehabilitation period will be based on the 8-month sentence.

Court orders

If you’ve received an ‘ancillary’ or ‘relevant’ order in addition to your prison sentence; for example a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) or Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) then your conviction will not become spent until the end of the order. If the order is indefinite, this essentially means that your conviction will not be spent until you apply to have it amended or discharged.

Myth busters

There’s a lot of hearsay and misleading information relating to spent convictions, some of the most common being:

Once a conviction’s spent it’s wiped off the Police National Computer

Although you won’t need to disclose it and it won’t appear on a basic DBS certificate, it will remain on the PNC until you’re 100 years of age.

If you’ve received a conviction for a sexual or violent offence it will never be spent

Providing you didn’t receive a prison sentence of over 4 years (or a sentence like an IPP sentence), your conviction will become spent at some point, irrespective of the nature of the offence.

Your conviction won’t be spent until you’ve come off the Sex Offenders Register

The notification requirement is not regarded as a disqualification or court order and is separate to how long it takes for a conviction to become spent. It’s quite common for a conviction to become spent but for an individual to still be subject to the notification requirements.

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Debbie Sadler