May 24, 2016

Life outside the big house – A chance for reform

The Queens speech set out a proposal for prisoners to spend weekends in jail and live at home the rest of the time, therefore enabling them to keep full-time jobs during the week.

These proposed reforms to the prison system include plans to make them into “places of rehabilitation”, in a drive to increase “life chances” for everyone.

The Prime Minister hopes that the move will “revolutionise” sentencing by enabling prisoners to keep full-time jobs during the week and spend their weekends in custody. However it may lead to a backlash from Conservative MPs over “soft justice”.

What is the current law around offenders and ex- offenders?

You can’t automatically refuse to employ a person just because they have a previous criminal conviction.

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, convictions can be erased from an individual’s record after a period of time. Such offences are then considered ‘spent’ and there is no obligation on the applicant to declare them.

During the recruitment process you may ask job applicants to disclose any unspent convictions, but cannot ask job applicants questions about spent convictions, nor expect them to disclose any spent convictions.

What counts as a spent conviction?

Convictions with a sentence of 4 years or less become spent after a ‘rehabilitation period’ that is dependant on how severe the penalty was.

Rehabilitation periods

Custodial sentence Rehabilitation period (from end of sentence)
0 – 6 months 2 years
6 – 30 months 4 years
30 months – 4 years 7 years
more than 4 years Never


 Non-custodial sentence Rehabilitation period (from end of sentence)
Community order 1 year
Fine 1 year (from date of conviction)
Absolute discharge None

The rehabilitation period is halved if the person was under 18 when convicted (except for sentences of up to 6 months where it’s the sentence period plus 18 months).


Simple cautions become spent immediately. Conditional cautions become spent after 3 months.


Certain areas of employment are excluded from the rehabilitation rules, particularly health care, education and social services.

If the job you are recruiting for requires a criminal record check and is therefore exempt from the above legislation, employees will need to complete a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service ) check before commencing employment.

For more information on applying for a DBS Check contact

If the job you are recruiting for requires a criminal record check, and this shows that someone is not suitable for a job because of a spent conviction or caution, the employer can withdraw a job offer. The employer should tell the applicant that an exception applies.

For more advice and information please contact the advice line.

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About the author

Donna Chadbone

Donna joined Moorepay in September 2008 and has worked with a range of clients from the engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, service, leisure, education, construction and care industries. During her career Donna has worked on an extensive range of generalist HR activities including recruitment and selection, performance management, disciplinaries, grievances, absence management and flexible working requests. As a field-based HR Consultant Donna provides specialist HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy, project delivery and training services to our clients. She primarily works with HR Managers, line managers and directors to support and guide them through HR best practice and employment law.