Spent Conviction

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 sets out to make life easier for many people who have been convicted of a criminal offence and who have since lived on the right side of the law.

A person convicted of all but the most serious criminal offences and who receives a sentence less than 2.5 years in prison, benefits from the Act if they are not convicted again during a specified period. This is called the rehabilitation period.

In general terms, the more severe a penalty is, the longer the rehabilitation period. Once a rehabilitation period has expired and no further offending has taken place, a conviction is considered to be 'spent'.

Once a conviction has been spent, the convicted person does not have to reveal it or admit its existence in most circumstances, including, for example, when applying for a job.

Length of sentence Rehabilitation period
Aged 18 or over when convicted
Rehabilitation period
Aged under 18 when convicted
Prison sentence of six months or less. Includes a suspended sentence, youth custody (abolished in 1988) and detention in a young offender institution. Seven years Three and a half years
Prison sentence of more than six months up to (and including) two and a half years. Includes a suspended sentence, youth custody (abolished in 1988) and detention in a young offender institution. Ten years Five Years
Prison sentence of more than two and a half years. Includes a suspended sentence, youth custody (abolished in 1988) and detention in a young offender institution. Cannot be spent Cannot be spent

Exceptions to the normal rules

In some cases, a potential employer can require the job applicant to reveal information about both spent and unspent criminal convictions and, in some circumstances, other criminal records even if there was no conviction. These are jobs which typically involve working with children or vulnerable adults.

If an exception applies, the procedure is that, once s/he has been selected for the job, the job applicant will be asked to complete an application form for a Disclosure. A Disclosure is a document which reveals both spent and unspent convictions and, in some cases, other police records. This application form will be countersigned by the potential employer and sent to the Criminal Records Bureau which processes the application. There is a procedure for obtaining a Disclosure. Individuals cannot directly obtain Disclosures.

In some cases, depending on the sort of job, a potential employermust check whether a job applicant appears on certain government lists. A potential employer is not allowed to offer a job to someone who appears on these lists. She is not allowed to offer a job to someone who has a disqualification order.

In other cases, the potential employer is not automatically forbidden to offer a job to someone even if a Disclosure reveals spent or unspent convictions or other police records. This will depend on the circumstances of the convictions. The employer must have a policy on the employment of ex-offenders. However, if the potential employer does refuse to offer the job applicant the job, there is nothing the job applicant can do to challenge this.

Which convictions never become spent

There are certain convictions which can never become spent under the Act and the Order. The client therefore always has to declare these convictions if s/he is asked about her/his past convictions. This happens when the client was given a prison sentence of more than two and a half years.

When calculating whether an offence can become spent, it is the length of the original sentence that counts, not how long the client actually spends in prison. For example, if the sentence was for five years, and the client was given parole after two years, the conviction could never be spent and would always have to be declared.

Convicted again during the rehabilitation period

If someone is convicted again during the rehabilitation period for a previous conviction. If this happens, the new period of rehabilitation will depend on whether the new offence:-

If the new offence can be tried only in the magistrates' court and the client is convicted, the rehabilitation period for the new offence runs independently of the rehabilitation period for the original offence. This means that, for example, if a client has three more years left of a rehabilitation period for the original offence and the new offence has a five year rehabilitation period, the first offence will be spent at the end of its original rehabilitation period and will not then have to be declared. The new offence will become spent at the end of the appropriate rehabilitation period for that offence.

If the new offence could be tried in the Crown Court, neither conviction will become spent until the rehabilitation periods for both offences are over. This means that both convictions have to be declared until the longer of the two rehabilitation periods is over. If the second conviction leads to a prison sentence of two and a half years or more, neither conviction will ever become spent.

Disclosure of criminal records: police cautions, reprimands and warnings

Formal cautions, reprimands and warnings are not criminal convictions and therefore are not covered, in England and Wales, by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 or, in N. Ireland, by the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order 1978. For example, if a client is asked to declare previous convictions, s/he need not declare a caution. However, if s/he is asked a question like "Have you ever been in trouble with the police?" or "Have you a criminal record?", s/he should declare a caution, reprimand or warning.

Since December 1995, records of cautions for recordable offences, that is, offences for which a client could be imprisoned, are held on the Police National Computer. Guidance states that they should be deleted after five years. Records are not automatically deleted. Some police forces retain records for longer than five years, and some indefinitely. Records are not kept of informal cautions.

A caution may appear on the National Sex Offenders' Register, or, in N. Ireland, on the Sex Offenders' Register held by the PSNI.

If a person who has been cautioned and wants to know whether the record has been retained could ask her/his local police station for details of any police record held either locally or centrally. S/he will need to complete a subject access form.

In England and Wales, formal cautions, reprimands and warnings appear on both Enhanced and Standard Disclosures provided by the Criminal Records Bureau.