People with a criminal record: diversity matters

Having a criminal record doesn’t mean that you can’t start a fulfilling career after graduation – but should you bring up your past during the recruitment process and, if so, how? We look at issues surrounding disclosing a criminal record in the UK.

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Consider the employer’s point of view and anticipate their concerns...

The laws around declaring past convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings are complex. Here TARGETjobs summarises key aspects of the legislation and gives you advice on whether and how to disclose, but we strongly recommend that you discuss your situation with a careers adviser and the probationary service (if appropriate) and seek advice from social justice charities such as Nacro (the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) and Unlock.

Do you need to declare or disclose your criminal record to employers?

There is no legal requirement to disclose your criminal record unless and until you are asked. Some employers ask all candidates about criminal records (for example, via an application form); others request the information of successful candidates.

In England and Wales, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) ensures that no job applicant needs to declare spent convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings. This is unless they are applying for a job, work placement, vocational training course or similar in one of the exempted ROA job roles and professions. These exemptions include (but are not limited to):

  • working with children and vulnerable adults
  • the legal profession
  • working as a chartered or certified accountant
  • working as a veterinary surgeon
  • working as a nurse or midwife.

You can go to and the Disclosure and Barring Service to find out more about exceptions.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (formerly Criminal Records Bureau or CRB checks) are only carried out on successful applicants for a role.

Scotland also adheres to the ROA, with some variations, particularly with regards to the amount of time elapsing before a conviction is considered spent. Disclosure Scotland runs equivalent background checks to the DBS.

AccessNI runs the background checks in Northern Ireland.

Note that unspent convictions and similar will show up on any criminal record disclosure search.

Minor traffic offences do not usually form part of a criminal record and you will not typically need to disclose them, unless you are applying for a driving role or if your driving license is required.

How can you best disclose your criminal record to employers?

If you have been asked to disclose on an application form, you could acknowledge your record briefly in a written statement uploaded to an online application form. This allows you to deal with it on your own terms. Nacro recommends that you explain your offence, provide any mitigating circumstances (without sounding as if you are abdicating responsibility) and emphasise that you are no longer at risk of offending. Highlight what you have learned from the past and what your achievements have been since, whether in education or in taking on responsibility or positions of trust.

If you are worried about gaps on your CV, you could state that due to personal circumstances you weren’t available for work. If so, it is possible that you will be asked for further details at interview.

If you attend an interview and you haven’t disclosed, you will need to decide if and how to do so. Keep in mind that the final decisions about recruitment following a DBS check may not be made by the interviewers, but a more senior member of the HR team. If you aren’t asked about a criminal record directly and you choose to disclose, you might want to indicate to the interviewers beforehand that there are personal circumstances you wish to address in the interview. Nacro advises reading from a written statement.

Bear in mind that if there are discrepancies between what you have disclosed and any findings from a DBS check, they could throw your offer of employment into doubt – although best practice is for employers to discuss any discrepancies with you first. Make sure that you double check the legalities over the timeframe for spent convictions in order to avoid any confusion or mistakes. Nacro has some good resources on this.

Written by TARGETjobs editors in April 2018.

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