Working or finding a job with a criminal record

What is a criminal record?

If you are found guilty of a criminal offence by a court, the offence is recorded against your name and held on the Police National Computer. A criminal record contains the list of offences of which a person has been convicted.  If you have accept a Police Caution, it also counts as a criminal conviction. Some motoring offences such as fixed penalty notices are not recorded as crimes.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Disclosure and Barring Service checks contain information about convictions, cautions, reprimands, and warnings which are on the Police National Computer.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Finding a job when you have a criminal record is difficult, but you can do it.  The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) allows some criminal convictions to be ignored after a prescribed period. The intention of the act is to make sure that people do not have a lifelong blot on their records because of a relatively minor offence in their past. ROA is “an Act to rehabilitate offenders who have not been re-convicted of any serious offence for periods of years, to penalise the unauthorised disclosure of their previous convictions, to amend the law of defamation, and for purposes connected therewith.”

The Act does not apply to certain jobs such as those involving access to children, vulnerable adults, and other sensitive positions. The full list of exceptions is contained in the Exceptions Order of the Act.

Spent Convictions

ROA aims to improve the chances of people with convictions being fully rehabilitated into society by removing some of the barriers that they face. Cautions and convictions become ‘spent’ after a specified period of time. This specified period is different depending on the sentence that a person was given.

  • Once a caution or conviction becomes ‘spent’, a person has to be treated as rehabilitated and they don’t have to declare the conviction for things like job applications and insurance.
  • You don’t need to disclose a spent conviction to an employer for most jobs, even if you are asked.
  • Spent convictions will not come up on a basic criminal record check, but will show on standard and enhanced criminal record checks.
  • You have to disclose spent convictions for particular jobs if you are asked. These are jobs that need a standard or enhanced criminal record check, and the prospective employer can refuse to employ you or fire you in such a situation.
  • You do not need to disclose them to insurers when purchasing insurance.
  • You might need to disclose spent convictions when travelling outside of England and Wales.
  • They remain on your record for life.

Resources available

criminal charge cover








How to survive a criminal charge, conviction, caution or police investigation at work

Disciplinary action and capability

Discrimination at work

Surviving a workplace suspension

Health and Safety Dismissal

How to fight dismissal on Probation

Social Media and Unfair Dismissal

Surviving a disciplinary investigation at work

Surviving Capability and Performance Management

The Disciplinary Hearing

Alcohol and Drugs at work

How to prepare a schedule of loss for unfair dismissal



Spent convictions and work

A prospective employer would want to make sure that you don’t have any previous criminal convictions. The fact that you have a conviction does not automatically mean that you are not suitable for the job, particularly where your conviction does not impact on your job.

  • An employer will be acting unlawfully if they refuse to employ a job applicant on the grounds that they have a spent conviction or that they have declined to disclose a spent conviction. See Automatically Unfair Dismissals.
  • S4 (2) ROA 1974 allows you to answer questions about your criminal record in a job interview or application form as if you have no convictions.
  • For certain types of employment, it is unlawful for an employer to take convictions into account when deciding whether or not to employ a person. You may be able to sue an employer for “breach of statutory duty” of this happens.
  • Information about a job applicant’s criminal convictions is ‘sensitive’ data under the Data Protection Act 1998.

There are particular roles for which you must disclose your spent convictions. These jobs are excluded from the ROA. The following are examples of jobs where you have to declare spent convictions;

  • Doctors, dentists, midwives and nurses
  • Lawyers
  • Accountants
  • Police officers
  • School-based jobs
  • Jobs with social services providers
  • Jobs that involve supervising or training young people

In these jobs, if you are asked to disclose spent convictions, you do not have the legal right to say no. If you don’t declare when asked you could face prosecution and dismissal.  The vast majority of jobs and professions are not covered by these exemptions and a request to disclose spent convictions can be ignored unless the position is exempt. Any job that requires a standard or enhanced disclosure will show spent convictions and cautions, so be upfront in applications and interviews.


Unspent Convictions

If your conviction is unspent, then you do not have the legal protection of the ROA 1974 and cannot answer “no” when asked if you have a criminal record. This means that there is nothing to prevent a potential employer from asking you the details of those convictions if you admit to having a criminal record.

  • If an employer asks you about an unspent conviction, you have to disclose it. They can legally refuse to employ you or discriminate against you.
  • Unspent convictions are disclosed on basic, standard and enhanced criminal record disclosures.
  • You have to disclose the when applying for products and services, such as insurance, a mortgage or renting a house.
  • You can be prosecuted for failure to disclose when asked.

If your prospective or current employer asks, and you don’t declare an unspent conviction, you can be dismissed when your employer finds out. Your employer could sue you for breach of contract or even criminal prosecution.

If your prospective employer does not ask about your unspent convictions, then you don’t have to declare them. If your employer did not ask and later finds out and dismisses you, you may have an unfair dismissal claim.


Best of the web

Guidance on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Rehabilitation periods

Disclosure calculator

Looking for work with a criminal record

Getting a job when you have criminal record

Rehabilitation periods

Spent convictions and work

Unspent convictions and work

UNLOCK – for people with convictions



This resource is published by Employee Rescue Limited. Please note that the information and any commentary on the law contained herein is provided free of charge for information purposes only. The information and commentary does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice. Employee Rescue accepts no responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material contained in this update. Further specialist advice should be taken before relying on the contents of this summary. No part of this summary may be used, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of Employee Rescue Ltd.


Case Study

In the Scottish case of Collins v First Quench Retailing Ltd [2003], Ms Jacqueline Collins was awarded £179,000 from her employers when the off-license she managed was robbed. Ms Collins had been the manager of Victoria Wine, run by First Quench Retailing, for about ten years. When Mrs Collins started in the shop she had been concerned about security and raised this with management. Since 1977 there had been 13 reported crimes at the shop, including five thefts, one minor assault, one serious assault and one assault with intent to rob. There were two armed robberies in 1994 and four... Read More
Ms Jacqueline Collins was awarded £179,000 from her employers when the off-license she managed was robbed.Collins v First Quench Retailing Ltd
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