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Offenders by chenshu



In 2002, there were five million ex-offenders in the UK. Some students and graduates, just like
other members of society, will have criminal records; all of these individuals will have personal
skills and abilities, and many will have career aspirations.

Many people with criminal records feel that employers will discriminate against them because of
their convictions. They are also unsure about how to market themselves effectively, what they
need to tell prospective employers and how to tell them.

The law regarding offences is complicated. Amongst other things, this section outlines when and in
what circumstances convictions become ‘spent’. The majority of advice and information provided is
aimed at people with either unspent convictions or who are applying for vacancies in areas of
employment where convictions never become spent.

Understanding the law

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 enables criminal convictions to become ‘spent’ or ignored
after a period of rehabilitation. After this time, with certain exceptions, an ex-offender does not
normally have to mention their conviction to prospective employers when applying for a job. If you
are asked whether you have any previous convictions, you can answer ‘no’ if the convictions are
spent and the job applied for is not excepted from the act.

In 2002, the Home Office published a review of the act. Their report, Breaking the Circle
(, made a range of
recommendations. These included replacing rehabilitation periods with shorter disclosure periods
and reviewing the rule that convictions involving sentences of over two and a half years are never
spent. However, there are no immediate plans to amend the act.

Rehabilitation periods

The tables below provide an overview of rehabilitation periods but, as the law is complicated, it is
always best to seek advice.

The length of the rehabilitation period depends on the sentence given, not the offence committed.
For a custodial sentence, the rehabilitation period is decided by the original sentence, not the time
served. Custodial sentences of more than two and a half years can never become spent.

The following sentences become spent after fixed periods from the date of conviction.

Sentence1                                   Rehabilitation period     Rehabilitation period
                                            People aged 17 or under   People aged 18 or over when
                                            when convicted            convicted
Prison sentences2 of 6 months               3 ½ years                 7 years
or less
Prison sentences2 of more than              5 years                   10 years
6 months to 2 ½ years
Borstal (abolished in 1983)                 7 years                   7 years

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University                     Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS
Detention centres (abolished in             3 years                           3 years
Fines3, compensation,
probation4, community
service5, combination6, action              2 ½ years                         5 years
plan, drug treatment and
testing, and reparation orders
Absolute discharge                          6 months                          6 months

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced a new custodial sentence for young people with
different rehabilitation periods:

Sentence                                    Rehabilitation period             Rehabilitation period
                                            People aged 12, 13 or 14          People aged 15, 16 or 17
                                            when convicted                    when convicted
Detention and training order of             1 year after the order expires    3 ½ years
6 months or less
Detention and training order of             1 year after the order expires    5 years
more than 6 months

With some sentences, the rehabilitation period varies:

Sentence                                                     Rehabilitation period

Probation7 supervision, care order8, conditional             1 year or until the order expires (whichever is
discharge and bind-over                                      longer)
Secure training (abolished in 2000) and                      1 year after the order expires
attendance centre orders
Hospital order (with or without a restriction                5 years or 2 years after the order expires
order)                                                       (whichever is longer)
Referral order                                               Once the order expires


    1         Cautions, reprimands and final warnings are not sentences with rehabilitation periods.
              However, the government is intending to include them within the act and give them a
              rehabilitation period of nil, which means that they will become spent instantly. In the
              meantime, those people with only a caution on their criminal record can answer ‘no’ if
              asked whether they have a criminal record because this is usually understood to mean
    2         Including suspended sentences, youth custody (abolished in 1988) and detention in a
              young offender institution (abolished for those under 18 years old in 2000 and for those
              aged 18-20 in 2001).
    3         Even if subsequently imprisoned for fine default.
    4         For people convicted on or after 3 February 1995. Probation orders are now called
              community rehabilitation orders.
    5         Community service orders are now called community punishment orders.
    6         Combination orders are now called community punishment and rehabilitation orders.
    7         For people convicted before 3 February 1995.
    8         Care orders in criminal proceedings were abolished by The Children Act 1989 and
              effectively replaced by a supervision order with residence requirement.

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University                             Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS
Exceptions to the act

Just as all offences carrying a sentence of over two and a half years in prison are never spent,
some occupations require all convictions to be declared, even if they are spent under the terms of
the act. This should be clear on application forms for such posts. People with convictions can still
apply for jobs within these areas of work, although some areas will not be available to those with
certain convictions. The list of exceptions broadly covers:

         certain professions, eg, doctors, dentists, nurses, solicitors, pharmacists and teachers;
         work in the health service where there is access to patients;
         work in social services where there is access to people with disabilities, the young, the
         elderly, the sick or other vulnerable adults;
         work where there is access to people under the age of 18;
         work involving the administration of justice, eg, court officials, the police, probation officers,
         prison staff;
         any occupations requiring a licence, certificate or registration from the gaming board;
         any occupation concerned with the management of a private hospital or nursing home;
         certain occupations where national security may be at risk.

Going abroad

The act only covers Britain. Other countries will have their own rules.

Keeping criminal records

This is a complicated area but, broadly speaking, records of ‘recordable’ offences (ie, imprisonable
offences) should be deleted from the Police National Computer (PNC) after ten years. The record
will be kept for life when the offender has:

         been given a custodial sentence of six months or more;
         been convicted of sexual offences, violence, possession of class A drugs or
         trafficking/importation of any drug;
         been found unfit to please by reason of insanity or has been sentenced under the Mental
         Health Acts;
         been convicted of an offence involving a child or vulnerable adult.

The PNC is not automatically scanned for out-of-date records. Individuals can conduct a ‘subject
access’ check under the Data Protection Act 1984 to make sure that this happens.

Criminal record checks called standard disclosures and enhanced disclosures were introduced in
March 2002. Standard and enhanced disclosures are available in cases where employers are
allowed to ask exempted questions. They cover areas of work exempt from the Rehabilitation of
Offenders Act 1974, including health work, private security work, the law, accountancy and working
with children.

Finding positive employers

If you have a criminal record, you may feel that every rejection you have received is solely based
on how employers view this. However, it is important to remember that there may be other reasons
for unsuccessful applications – the wrong skills mix, poor application techniques, lack of
experience or just a better candidate on the day – and you should act positively and pro-actively in
order to try to overcome the challenges having a criminal record can pose.

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University                         Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS
Marketing yourself

If you are a student or graduate with an unspent conviction, or you are applying for an area of work
exempt from the act, it is particularly important that you sell yourself as positively as possible in the
areas of work experience, transferable skills, suitability for the vacancy and relevant experience.
You will then be giving yourself the maximum chance of success. A careers adviser can help with
all aspects of self-promotion, both on paper and at interview.


When disclosing a conviction, the aim is to present yourself in the most positive way. You should
provide an explanation of the particular circumstances that influenced the offence (eg, financial
problems, domestic circumstances) and explain that they no longer apply. Outline factors that
minimise the impact of the offence (eg, it was a long time ago). You should also:

    •    convince the employer that it is not a risk to employ you;
    •    focus on your positive attitude and how you have learnt from past experiences;
    •    present your achievements since the conviction.

It is important that you do not make excuses or allow the offence to dominate the application form.

There is also the issue of timing to consider – at what stage of the application process should you
disclose your conviction? This is a personal decision and will depend on the type of conviction,
application procedure and the job for which you are applying. The following guidelines will help you
focus on these issues but you may also wish to seek further advice from a careers adviser.

On the application form or CV

When an application form asks about convictions it is likely to be in the form of a yes/no question.
This is unlikely to give the employer enough information to consider your application fairly and may
lead to a rejection. It is often best to answer the question and include a separate sheet giving brief
details of the offence. Mark this sheet private and confidential and refer to it if sections of the
application form are relevant.

You do not need to mention your criminal record on a CV. However, if you have served a prison
sentence that has left a gap in your employment history, you could state ‘not in employment’ or
‘unavailable for work due to circumstances’ and give full details in a letter or at interview.

At interview

This approach has the advantage of allowing you to make a positive impression in person. You
can talk about your skills and abilities and show your interpersonal and communication skills, which
may help counterbalance any negativity.

You need to consider at what point in the interview you would like to disclose: it may not be a good
idea to finish with disclosing a criminal conviction but to end the interview on a more positive note;
at the same time, starting on a potentially negative note could create a negative first impression.

You may also find that disclosing at an interview without giving any prior warning could unnerve the
interviewer and cause confusion. The interviewer will not have had time to consider any questions
they want to ask about the offence and may feel unprepared. In this case, it may be worth
contacting the interviewer prior to the interview to warn them that you have something of a
personal nature to discuss with them.

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University                       Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS
At the job offer

Disclosing at this stage may leave the employer feeling deceived and they may revoke the offer. It
is worth noting that if you are not asked about your criminal record you do not have to disclose.
However, this is a high-risk strategy and may lead to dismissal from work and even, in rare cases,
prosecution. Remember that if you are dismissed from a non-exempt profession for a spent
conviction and have been employed for a year or more, you can claim unfair dismissal under
employment legislation.

Top tips

         Make sure you understand the law and how it affects your criminal record and the types of
         work in which you are interested. Remember – you do not have to disclose a conviction if it
         is spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the job is not in an exempt area of

         Explain all the mitigating circumstances and what you have learnt and achieved since the

         Don’t make excuses or allow the offence to dominate your applications.

Case study


Paul was a final-year law student when he was convicted of driving whilst under the influence of
alcohol. He received a fine and a suspended sentence. He finished his law degree but knew that
he would be ineligible to practice because of his criminal record.

For a while, Paul was devastated by the fact that he would not become a lawyer. He was
unemployed and sinking into depression. He was spending long periods of time alone at home and
playing games on the computer was one of his few sources of entertainment.

He gradually became more interested in computers and how they worked. A friend suggested he
enrol on a further education college course in programming. Paul realised he had an aptitude and
took further courses. He realised his real interest lay in this area and began to apply for vacancies.

When completing application forms, Paul always explained in a covering letter about the nature of
the offence and about his regret and subsequent ‘journey’. He began to get interviews and was
eventually offered a job with a small IT firm. Paul describes the interview as challenging but
sympathetic to his explanation of the offence.

Paul is now enjoying his career as a programmer and has no regrets about the direction his career
has taken. His advice is to be honest but positive about the offence and subsequent events.

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University                     Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS
Sources of further advice and information

Apex Charitable Trust
St Alphage House
Wingate Annexe
2 Fore St
London EC2Y 5DA
Tel: 020 7638 5931
Confidential helpline: 0870 608 4567

Helps people with criminal records to gain employment.

Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)
PO Box 110
Liverpool L69 3EF
Info line: 0870 909 0811

169 Clapham Rd
London SW9 0PU
Tel: 020 7582 6500

The Home Office
50 Queen Anne’s Gate
London SW19 9AH

Written by: Helen Reed, Nottingham Trent University      Edited by: Gemma Green, AGCAS

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