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3rd Mar, 2023

Mark Severs
Mark Severs
Job Title
Senior Compliance Manager

There are many issues facing people entering the workplace or already working, but if you have any convictions, either spent or unspent, you could face greater challenges in securing a career move because of the barriers to opportunity they bring.

When applying for a job, you may be asked about any previous convictions. There are basic rules about when you have to declare your criminal record and what checks can be made to verify this – with rules differing slightly for those based in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you’re looking for work, it’s important to know what you need to disclose about yourself in your application.

Disclosure checks you or an employer can apply for

The types of disclosure for work or volunteering are:

  • Basic check

  • Standard check

  • Enhanced check

  • Enhanced with barred list check

  • PVG scheme in Scotland

  • AccessNI in Northern Ireland

All disclosure certificates show your name and date of birth. Other information will depend on the type of disclosure you apply for.

Unspent convictions

When asked by a prospective employer, all applicants must declare all unspent convictions and cautions when applying for employment. Any protection the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) provides relates to spent convictions and cautions only.

You can work out whether your conviction or caution is spent from the date of the conviction or caution (not the offence) and the sentence you received.

Unless you received a prison sentence of over four years (or two and a half years in Northern Ireland) your conviction will become spent at some point in the future. The time it takes for a conviction to become spent is based on the sentence or disposal you received in court.

When it comes to any cautions received, these become spent immediately upon the date of issue unless they are conditional cautions. Unlock are a charity dedicated to helping people with convictions. They have produced some useful information regarding whether your convictions or cautions are spent here. Periods when convictions become spent are slightly different depending on whether they occurred in England and Wales, or within Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Further details on convictions can be found below:

Once your conviction or caution becomes spent, you no longer need to declare it when applying for any work that is not classed as either exempt or regulated.

Spent convictions and exempt/regulated work

In some roles, the normal rules around disclosing convictions do not apply and both spent and unspent convictions must be disclosed when requested by potential employers.

Basic disclosures only show unspent convictions & cautions & reprimands, standard disclosures show spent and unspent convictions cautions and reprimands, while enhanced disclosures show the same as standard with the addition of other information that the disclosure body deem relevant to the work being undertaken. Where allowed, enhanced checks can also include a check of the children’s or adult’s barred lists, or both.

Exempt roles are those with additional responsibility, and include work in law enforcement, the legal profession, qualified accountants, vets, and people working in financial services. A good indicator of an exempt role would be if an employer declares that a higher level of disclosure than a basic check is required for an applicant.

Regulated roles are those in environments where children or vulnerable people with care and support needs are present. These include teachers, teaching and learning assistants, nursery workers, care and support workers, and qualified health care professionals. Other regulated roles include those that provide support services in the above settings such as administration workers, caterers, cleaners, and caretakers.

Some old and minor cautions and convictions can become eligible to be ‘protected’ from standard and enhanced DBS certificates by the relevant bodies. Once protected, they are deemed 'filtered' and no longer need to be disclosed when applying for exempt or regulated roles. Everyone needs to declare unspent convictions – only people working in exempt/regulated roles need declare spent.

You can find further information about filtered cautions and convictions at Unlock’s website here.


If an employer is going to ask about a criminal record, it’s likely to occur during the application stage. The advantage of disclosing at the interview is that the employer has the opportunity to meet the person behind the conviction, but be mindful that it takes a lot of confidence to disclose anything at this early stage.

However, the employer might unexpectedly ask about a criminal record or require you to disclose at the offer stage. If you’ve not already been asked, be prepared to deal with this to reduce the chances of a job offer being withdrawn.

Reed have been Chair of the Criminal Records Trade Body (CRTB) since its inception. The CRTB is the representative industry body with the three criminal record checking agencies and works to support and advise on a range of matters including policy and process.

For more information on DBS disclosures, visit Reed Screening - specialists in pre-employment screening - now.