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 you’re just leaving prison. It forms part of our series on the seven stages of a criminal record

As this page is new, we’re keen to get your thoughts. Let us know what you think of it and how it could be improved by emailing us at feedback@unlock.org.uk or completing our feedback form.

Being released from prison is a significant step in going back to a ‘normal’ life. However, many people leaving prison are totally unprepared for dealing with the practical impact of living with a criminal record in the community. This will often leave them feeling extremely stressed and anxious and in the worst case scenario could see them loosing their job or even getting into further trouble with the police.


Criminal record checks

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) the rehabilitation period for prison sentences is made up of the original sentence (the entire sentence and not just the time served in prison)  plus an additional fixed period. All the time your conviction is unspent, it will be disclosed on all levels of criminal record checks.

You can use our disclosure calculator to help you work out if and when your conviction will become spent.

Filtering is a similar concept to the rehabilitation periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. However, instead of establishing what is spent and what doesn’t get disclosed on basic DBS checks, filtering establishes what doesn’t get disclosed on standard and enhanced DBS checks. Unfortunately, any conviction which results in a prison sentence (or suspended sentence) will never be filtered.


Whilst your conviction is unspent you do not have the legal protection of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and you will always have to disclose it when you’re asked to do so. A disclosure letter/statement can help you to decide when and how to disclose your conviction to an employer.

One of the standard conditions on a licence is that you must ‘only undertake work (including voluntary work) with the approval of your supervising officer’. If your probation officer does not feel that the role you’ve applied for is appropriate they may refuse you permission.

If you are subject to MAPPA (due to a violent or sexual offence), your probation officer or the police may also feel that it’s necessary to disclose information about your conviction to a potential employer.

If you’ve been working for an outside employer whilst in prison, the prison should provide your employer with your release date. If you’re going to continue working for the same employer, make sure they know your date of release and give them your personal bank account details. If you don’t, you may find that your wages will continue being paid into the central prison account.


If you’re considering applying for a course at university you will usually be asked to disclose ‘relevant’ unspent convictions. ‘Relevant’ convictions include for example those relating to violent, sexual or firearms offences etc. If your conviction is unspent but not deemed to be ‘relevant’ then it’s unlikely that you’ll need to disclose it. Depending on the nature of your offence, you may be refused entry onto a course.


All the time your conviction is unspent you will need to disclose it to an insurer if asked. If the insurance company were to find out about your undisclosed conviction they would normally cancel your policy. If you were to make a claim an insurer may carry out a basic Disclosure and Barring Service check to establish whether you have any unspent convictions or if you had any at the time you took out the policy. Your claim may be refused if you haven’t disclosed an unspent conviction.

If you’re purchasing a policy for motor insurance, some insurers only ask that you disclose motoring convictions received in the last 5 years. Therefore anybody with an unspent non-motoring conviction would not need to disclose it to the insurer. However. we’d always recommend that you check the small print of your policy.

Unlock has a list of insurance brokers and list of motor insurers who assist people with convictions to get insurance.


Licences generally include standard conditions which state that ‘you must not travel outside the UK without the prior permission of your supervising officer which will only be given in exceptional circumstances.’ If you are thinking about travelling overseas, we recommend that you initially speak to your probation officer who should be able to give you an indication as to whether approval would be given and how you would make a formal application.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act only applies to England and Wales. This means that if you’re looking to travel or work overseas you will need to look at the processes that each country has in place to deal with people with convictions. It’s possible that you’ll need to apply for a visa as well as a police certificate. Depending on the nature of your offence, the disclosure of a conviction could result in your visa being refused.


The national shortage of housing stock, lack of money and employment means it can be difficult to secure housing upon release from prison. If you will be homeless upon release, emergency accommodation can take time to arrange so we recommend that you advise the prison at the earliest opportunity. Organisations such as Shelter and Crisis can provide further information and advice.

Some councils/housing associations and private landlords ask applicants to disclose any unspent convictions. If you don’t disclose and your landlord subsequently finds out about your conviction he may decide to evict you.

If your case was reported in the media and/or is available online, then employers or colleagues could 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 have search requests to your name removed. Alternatively, you may wish to consider changing your name to make it more difficult for people to do searches on you.

If you believe that your probation officer has failed to do something that they should do, has made an unjustified decision or taken inappropriate action, then you may wish to consider making a complaint. Wherever possible, we would always recommend that you try to work towards an amicable solution.

If you believe that your relationship with your probation officer has completely broken down, you could consider requesting a change of officer.

Unless you are already subject to the notification requirements, you will need to make your initial notification to the police within 3 days of release from prison. As well as providing them with your personal details such as name, address, date of birth and national insurance number you will also be asked for details of your passport, bank account and credit cards.

If you are the victim of crime and want to apply for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, your award will be refused if your unspent conviction resulted in a prison sentence.














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