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Looking for work with a criminal record

If you have a criminal record and are looking for a job, it can be challenging to know:

  • if the law says you need to disclose your criminal record
  • how to discuss a conviction with a potential employer
  • how to explain gaps in your CV

Unspent convictions

An unspent conviction is when you have not passed your rehabilitation period. This is based on the length of your sentence. 

If you have an unspent conviction:

  • you must by law disclose your criminal record if asked
  • it will show up on basic, standard and enhanced DBS checks
  • you may face dismissal or prosecution if you are asked and fail to disclose the conviction

Spent convictions

If the role involves a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and you have a spent conviction, you do not legally have to declare that spent conviction on the application form.

Criminal record checks when you apply for a role (GOV.UK)

Basic criminal record checks

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 aims to ensure that people with a conviction are not penalised by employers when applying for a job.

Basic DBS check (Unlock)

Standard criminal record checks

If you are required to complete a standard DBS check, you must disclose the following:

  • unspent convictions
  • spent convictions that are not protected
  • cautions, reprimands and final warnings that are not protected

Standard DBS check (Unlock)

Enhanced criminal record checks

If the job you are applying for requires an enhanced criminal record check, you must disclose by law:

  • spent convictions that are not protected
  • cautions, reprimands and final warnings that are not protected

Unprotected convictions

If your conviction is unprotected, for offences such as serious violent crimes and sexual offences, it will appear on your criminal records check. You must disclose this in the following occupations:

  • those regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority
  • working as a solicitor or barrister
  • positions working with children and vulnerable adults
  • working in the licensed security industry
  • working in health and social care

Protected convictions are automatically removed from standard and enhanced DBS checks after 11 years. This is called ‘filtering off’.

Filtering (Unlock)

Enhanced DBS check (Unlock)

Warning If you must disclose a conviction

You may face dismissal or prosecution if you are asked and fail to disclose the conviction.

Pending convictions

A pending conviction is when a person has been charged by police with a crime but has not been found guilty.

If you have a pending conviction, it will not show up on a basic or standard check.

If you are later found guilty of the crime or have pleaded guilty, you will need to disclose this.

Recruitment processes vary

Every company’s recruitment process varies, so it’s worth researching employers' policies on recruiting ex-offenders.

Ask for advice if you are unsure about which DBS check the employer is using.

It’s not recommended you declare your criminal record on a CV or cover letter. Use these to show your skills and work experience and why you are a good match for the role.

If you are unsure how to address the employment gaps on your CV, you could write ‘unavailable for work’ and specify when you were unemployed.

If you did training while out of work or in prison, include this in your CV. You can ask your probation officer to help with this.

Ways to disclose your criminal record

If you must disclose by law, there are many ways of approaching this.

Application form

Application forms often have a section asking for disclosure of convictions. You could:

  • declare your conviction on the form and add a disclosure statement
  • or acknowledge you have a conviction and agree to provide more details if invited to interview

Disclosure statement

If you must declare your conviction by law, think about how you will discuss it at interview. Bring a written statement as evidence of your disclosure.

Disclosure statements (Unlock)

Prepare for questions at interview

Think about the questions you might get:

"How have things changed since your offences?

"Have you ever re-offended?"

Some might upset you:

"How do we know you won't re-offend?"

"What was prison like?"

Last reviewed by Scope on: 14/04/2022

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