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Criminal Convictions and Employment

If you've been convicted of a crime in the past, you may not need to disclose it when applying for a job if a certain amount of time has elapsed.

If you have been convicted of a crime in the past, you may be concerned that it will affect your chances of getting a job. Fortunately, for many sentences, a piece of legislation called the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act means that you will not necessarily have to disclose your convictions when applying for jobs once a certain amount of time has elapsed. When the appropriate time period has passed, the conviction becomes what is known as "spent".

Spent convictions and disclosure

When a rehabilitation period has finished and the individual's conviction is spent, he or she will not usually have to reveal the previous conviction, and it also usually cannot be revealed by anyone else without the permission of the individual. The objective is to put the individual in the position that he or she would have been in if they hadn’t performed a crime.

If someone without lawful authority and bad intent publishes or reveals to someone else that the individual has a spent conviction, the individual has the option of suing them for defamation.


Employers will often ask questions about an interviewee’s previous convictions. The usual rule under the ROA is that one can treat such questions as not relating to spent convictions. The ROA stipulates excepted professions, occupations or offices where the protection will not apply, however.

If the job offered is not exempt, the individual does not have to reveal his or hers spent convictions, and if questioned about any convictions the individual is allowed to deny that they have any.

It is considered unlawful if an employer refuses the individual employment, dismisses the individual or treats them less favorably if the individual has a spent conviction or did not tell them of it. If this does happen then the individual can take the issue to an employment tribunal or court.

Exempt questions

As well as excluding certain professions, and jobs involving particular types of work, the ROA exceptions also state that an individual can be required to disclose their spent convictions when certain questions are asked. This includes any asked:

  • to determine an individual’s suitability to work with children.
  • to determine an individual’s suitability to adopt children, or a question about anyone over the eighteen living with such an individual.
  • to safeguard national security if the individual wants to be employed by particular organisations like the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Financial Services Authority or as an officer of the Crown.
  • by or on behalf of the FA, Football League or Premier League to determine an individual’s suitability to work as, or supervise or manage, a steward at football matches.
  • by the Financial Services Authority and particular other organisations involved in finance, when asked to work out the suitability of an individual to hold a particular status in the financial and monetary sectors.

When asked an exempt question, they must be told that the question is exempt and that therefore they are required to disclose spent and unspent convictions.

Applications for particular certificates or licences require that spent convictions must be disclosed, and the licensing authority can take them into account. This includes licences or certificates for driving taxis, for firearms, or where the individual has responsibility for someone under the age of eighteen earning money in another country by entertaining, playing sport, or modeling. In these situations, not disclosing a spent conviction can lead to refusal or loss of the individual’s certificate or licence, and even court.

Employment exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

The ROA is often criticised for the large number of exceptions meaning that an individual will need to state all their convictions, both spent and unspent. Their spent convictions, or their failure to disclose their spent convictions, can be considered enough for an employer to fire them, restrict their employment, or deny them a job in the first place.

However, when an individual applies for an exempted job they should be told specifically that the job is exempt from the ROA which means that they are required to disclose any spent and unspent convictions.

Below you will find some of the excepted professions, occupations and offices.

    You may be required to disclose spent convictions if you are an officer or employee of an institution that deals in matters of crime and justice. These institutions include:

    • prisons
    • short term holding facilities
    • young offender institutions
    • remand centers
    • removal centers
    • the Crown Prosecution Service
    • Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue
    • the Serious Fraud Office
    • the Serious Organised Crime Agency

    Other occupations are not included in the protections under the ROA because the work involved. In this situation, the individual can also often be required to disclose even their spent convictions. Some of these non included categories of work are:

    • contractors who carry out work on tribunal or court properties
    • any person who as part of their occupation occupies premises where explosives are possessed under a police certificate
    • any occupation involving the management of abortion clinics
    • any occupation involving the management of registered nursing homes
    • officers and others who carry out various court orders
    • employees of the RSPCA whose work responsibilities duties include the humane killing of animals
    • any employment or other work normally carried out in bail hostels or probation hostels
    • any office or employment to do with providing care services to vulnerable adults which would usually allow access to such vulnerable adults
    • any position whose usual duties include work in a school, children’s home or children’s hospital
    • officials and employees from government and public authorities with access to sensitive or personal information or official databases concerning children or vulnerable adults
    • officials and employees from government and public authorities with access to sensitive or personal information or official databases about children or vulnerable adults
    • any office or employment involving the provision of health services which would usually allow access to recipients of those health services.

    When does a conviction become spent?

    For details of when convictions become spent, exactly how the legislation works and the various exclusions to the Act, take a look at our page about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

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