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 your conviction is unspent. 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.

While your conviction is unspent you’ll have to tell an employer or insurer if they ask you. At this stage, you don’t have the legal protection of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.


Criminal record checks

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) the rehabilitation period for disposals given in court is made up of the original sentence 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.

Irrespective of the offence you were convicted of (including violent or sexual offences), unless you received a sentence of over 4 years in prison, your conviction will become spent at some point in the future. If you received a ‘relevant’ order such as a restraining order or Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) this may affect when your conviction becomes spent, especially if it is for an indefinite period of time.


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 your conviction when you’re asked to do so. Using a disclosure letter/statement can help you to decide when and how to disclose your conviction to an employer.

As there is no legal concept of ‘discrimination on the grounds of having a criminal record’ as there is for discrimination on the grounds of age or disability then you can be refused a job on the basis of your criminal record.

The law currently allows employers to recruit whoever they want without questioning their reasons.

If your partner works in a school/nursery with children under the age of 8, your unspent conviction means that they may be be deemed to be ‘Disqualified by association’. If this is the case, they’ll need to disclose your conviction to their employer who will require them to apply for a waiver from Ofsted before they can continue working in the school/nursery.


If you’re considering applying for a course at university you will usually be asked to disclose ‘relevant’ unspent convictions. ‘Relevant’ convictions may include for example those relating to violent, sexual or firearms offences etc. If your conviction is unspent but not deemed ‘relevant’ then it’s unlikely that you will need to disclose it. Depending on the nature of the 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 conviction they would usually cancel your policy. If you make a claim an insurer can carry out a basic Disclosure and Barring Service check to establish whether you have any unspent convictions or had any at the time you took out your policy. This is more likely to happen if the claim you are making is for a large amount of money. Your claim could be refused if you haven’t disclosed.

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 may be able to help you get insurance.


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 the offence, the disclosure of a conviction may result in your visa being refused.


The onus is on the lender to ask about convictions when you are applying for a mortgage although in our experience, most mortgage companies do ask. Each lender will have their own lending criteria and the majority will deal with the disclosure of an unspent conviction on a case by case basis.

A sexual offender notification requirement is not regarded as a disqualification or ‘relevant order’ and therefore 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. It’s common for a conviction to become spent whilst an individual remains subject to the notification requirements.

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