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Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, after a defined rehabilitation period, ex-offenders no longer need to disclose certain past criminal convictions.

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Under this act, some convictions will become ‘spent’ after a certain amount of time has elapsed. This means that the ex-offender in question is not required to disclose the conviction when, for example, applying for most jobs or taking out insurance policies, or if they become involved in a criminal or civil case.

If you get any other convictions before the rehabilitation period has ended, the period will be extended accordingly. This means that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is more of a boon to those who have minor convictions, or very few of them, since those with a greater number of serious convictions are quite unlikely to benefit from the Act as much or at all.

Rehabilitation periods

How long the rehabilitation period will last depends on the length of the sentence handed down for a crime, rather than the crime itself. If you were released early on parole from a prison sentence, the length of the rehabilitation period will still depend on the original sentence you were given – for example, if you were sentenced to 8 months in prison, but were released after 4 months, your rehabilitation period would be 4 years, rather than 2 years.

The rehabilitation period does not being until the of the end of the custodial sentence.

Custodial sentences lasting over four years never become spent. For sentences shorter than this, consult the table below. For personal legal advice on driving convictions and all other areas of law, have a look at Instant Law Line – telephone legal advice for a low monthly fee.

Sentence Rehab Period – aged 18 or over when convicted Rehab Period – aged 17 and under when convicted
Prison sentences [1] of 6 months or fewer 2 years 18 months
Prison sentences [1] of more than 6 months to 2 and a half years 4 years 2 years
Prison sentences [1] of more than 2 and a half years to 4 years 7 years 3.5 years
Prison sentences [1] of more than 4 years Cannot be spent Cannot be spent
Fines 1 year 6 months
Compensation orders Spent once paid in full Spent once paid in full
Youth Rehabilitation Orders N/A 6 months
Absolute discharge Spent immediately Spent immediately
Probation [2], supervision, care order, conditional discharge or bind-over Spent at end of the order Spent at end of the order
Hospital orders (with or without a restriction order) Spent at end of the order Spent at end of the order
  1. Including suspended sentences, corrective training, detention in a young offender institution, and youth custody (abolished in 1988).
  2. For people convicted before 3 February 1995.

Disqualifications from driving

When a driver is disqualified from driving, the rehabilitation period will be the same length as the period of disqualification. It is important to note, however, that if more than one penalty is imposed at once, the rehabilitation period takes the length of the longer sentencing.

For example, a motorist who is prohibited from driving for seven years and is also hit with a fine which will take five years to become spent, faces a rehabilitation period of seven years, as it is the longer rehabilitation period of the two.

Rehabilitation for driving offences

An endorsement is what you will receive if you are convicted of a driving offence and have points put on your licence. 

Endorsements for road traffic offences become spent after 5 years (or 2-and-a-half years if the offender is under 18).

Endorsements also stay on your licence for either 4 or 11 years, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

You can find out more about endorsements in our Disqualification from Driving section.

Further convictions

If you commit an offence while you are partway through the rehabilitation for a previous offence, it will have an effect on the rehabilitation period. The effect on the rehabilitation period is based on the seriousness of the new offence.

If a minor offence is committed during a rehabilitation period – ‘minor’ meaning a ‘summary’ offence which will be heard in a magistrates’ court – this will not affect the rehabilitation period of the original offence. The rehabilitation period for the first offence will expire at the same time it initially would have.

However, when a more serious offence – one which could go before the Crown Court – is committed, neither of the convictions will become spent until both rehabilitation periods have elapsed. This means that both of the convictions would need to be disclosed in relevant situations until the longer rehabilitation period ended.

It also means that committing an offence for which the conviction never becomes spent – ie: leading to a jail sentence of longer than 4 years – will lead to a situation in which any other offences for which one is still within the rehabilitation period will never become spent, either.

Further offences do not affect any convictions whose rehabilitation period has already ended.

Concurrent and consecutive sentences

If you are given two prison sentences at once, the rehabilitation period is defined by whether the sentences are intended to run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after another). For example, if two six-month sentences are intended to run consecutively, they count as a single 12-month sentence for the purposes of establishing a rehabilitation period. However, two concurrent six-month sentences are only counted as a single six-month sentence for the purpose of establishing a rehabilitation period.

Prison sentences which are intended to run consecutively to sentences which are already being served are unaffected by this.

Criminal records

Even when a conviction becomes spent, details of the offence will still persist on the Police National Computer. General guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers mean that convictions for what are known as ‘recordable’ offences (meaning those which could potentially be tried in the Crown Court, even if they were actually not) should usually be removed from the record after 10 years, with a number of exceptions.

If 3 recordable offences have been committed, the records will be stored for 20 years instead, and some types of offence will lead to the record being accessible for the offender’s entire life.

The following types of offence will mean that the records will be kept for life:

  • Offences where a custodial sentence was imposed;
  • Offences involving indecency, sex, violence, possession of class A drugs, or supply or trafficking of any drug;
  • Offences where the perpetrator was found unfit to plead due to insanity, or where their sentencing was performed under the Mental Health Acts;
  • Offences involving a child or vulnerable adult which suggest that the offender intentionally targets these sorts of people.

However, these rules are not set in stone, and there may be differences between how different police forces approach this issue.

Criminal records are normally considered confidential data and will not be released without cause. In general, criminal records will only become relevant when they relate to the protection of vulnerable individuals, maintaining justice, or issues involving national security.

Jobs involve driving, such as operating taxis, heavy goods vehicles or passenger service vehicles, will also likely involve a vetting of any convictions one may have acquired. Since July 2002, any unspent convictions may be viewed by employers.


Cautions, reprimands and final warnings are not affected by the Act, as they do not count as criminal convictions. If asked if you have criminal convictions or a criminal record, you can answer that you do not if you have only received a caution, reprimand or final warning.

However, sometimes you may specifically be asked if you have any of these on your records, in which case you should disclose them if they still exist in your record. Usually, these will be removed after five years if you have not had any convictions, though in practice, some forces end up with these left on the record for longer periods of times or even indefinitely.

Benefits of the Act

Applying for jobs

This Act is very beneficial for those who have spent convictions and are applying for jobs, as you can answer that you do not have any criminal convictions once the rehabilitation period has ended (as long as the type of job does not exempt you from this – see Exceptions to the Act below).

It is illegal for for an employer to not employ you or to fire you for discovering that you have a spent conviction on your record. However, not telling an employer about an unspent conviction when asked could get you fired, or even prosecuted.

If you are dismissed from a job at which you have worked for more than two years due to a spent conviction, you may be able to claim unfair dismissal.

Applying for car insurance

You may say that you do not have any previous convictions on an application form for an insurance policy as long as the rehabilitation period has ended and the convictions are spent. This still applies even if the convictions are relevant to the insurance policy being taken out – you do not have to disclose spent road traffic convictions when applying for car insurance, for example.

Civil proceedings

During civil court proceedings, it is generally not allowed for anyone to ask you anything to that would lead to you disclosing spent convictions, and you can refuse to answer any such questions. However, there are exceptions, such as:

  • In civil proceedings relating to children and their care (eg: adoption, custody, guardianship)
  • When disclosure of the spent convictions is seen to be vital for justice to be done (evidence can be given relating to spent convictions if the ex-offender consents to this)
  • When the court proceedings are related to a matter specifically excluded from the Act.

These regulations affect regular courts, as well as arbitration, disciplinary tribunals, and club committees which are able to effect changes to a person’s rights, privileges, obligations or liabilities.

Criminal proceedings

When criminal proceedings are underway, spent convictions may come into play. However, the courts operate under the premise that spent convictions should only be mentioned in very rare circumstances.

Confidential information

Under the Act, it is an offence for anyone who possesses access to criminal records to publish or spread information relating to spent convictions unless they have been permitted to do so. Using fraudulent or dishonest means or bribery to get hold such information is also an offence, and a more serious one at that. Furthermore, under the Data Protection Act 1984 coupled with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, confidential computer data is protected under law.

If information about alleged spent convictions is spread maliciously, it may be possible for the subject of the data to sue the perpetrator for defamation.

Exceptions to the Act

The Act does list a number of situations in which you must declare all convictions, including spent ones. The major exceptions are:

  • Assuming any position whereby one will be providing accommodation, care, leisure and recreational facilities, schooling, social services, supervision or training to anyone below the age of 18
  • Jobs where you will be providing care or other social services to elderly people, physically or mentally disabled people, alcohol or drug addicts or chronically ill people
  • Careers which involve the administration or enforcement of justice
  • Positions which require certain legal safeguards and protections, such as doctor or accountant
  • Jobs which carry a potential national security risk

If a position is exempt from the rules of the Act, the application form should make this fact clear. If you are not sure about the legal position, be sure to ask.

Going abroad

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act’s jurisdiction does not extend beyond Britain. Spent convictions may have greater sway in other countries so you should not rely on the protection of this Act if you are applying for a job, looking for insurance or doing anything else which may be affected in other countries. If you need help, you should contact appropriate agencies in those countries.

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