The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 ("the Act") is intended to allow the rehabilitation into employment of reformed offenders.

Once a caution or conviction has become spent under the Act, unless an exception applies, it need not be disclosed, including when completing an application for employment or at a job interview.

The exceptions to this rule are listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975. They mainly relate to employment in particularly sensitive areas such as work with children, work in law enforcement and the legal system, and high level financial positions.

On 28 October 2023, the Act was amended to shorten the length of time for which some criminal convictions must be declared to employers. The changes reduce the rehabilitation period for less serious offences, provided no further offence is committed in that time and introduce a rehabilitation period for custodial sentences of over four years, which were previously unable to become "spent". The reforms do not apply to serious sexual, violent, or terrorist offences which are never able to be spent or otherwise to roles where basic or enhanced DBS checks are required.

The position for adult offenders is as follows.

Type of conviction: Custodial sentence of over 4 years

Previous length of time required to disclose: Never spent

New length of time required to disclose: 7 years, although certain offences are exempt and never spent including offences classified in the Sentencing Code as 'serious violent, sexual and terrorism offences'

Type of conviction: Custodial sentence of 2 ½ years - 4 years

Previous length of time required to disclose: 7 years

New length of time required to disclose: 4 years

Type of conviction: Custodial sentence of 1 - 2 ½ years

Previous length of time required to disclose: 4 years

New length of time required to disclose: 4 years

Type of conviction: Custodial sentence of 6 months - 1 year

Previous length of time required to disclose: 4 years

New length of time required to disclose: 1 year

Type of conviction: Custodial sentence of up to six months

Previous length of time required to disclose: 2 years

New length of time required to disclose: 1 year

The new time periods are extended in the event of re-offending during the declaration period. Any new conviction attracts its own disclosure period and both the previous conviction and new conviction need to be declared until the end of the original conviction's active period or, if later, the end of the new disclosure period applied to the more recent conviction.

For those under 18 at the time of the conviction, half the adult rehabilitation period applies.

It remains that convictions subject to (Adult) Community Orders and Youth Rehabilitation Orders become spent on the last day on which the order has effect.

Employer's might wish to note, however, that although the Act states that an employer cannot refuse to employ or dismiss someone because they have a spent caution or conviction unless an exception applies, there is no penalty attached to that, and the law does not provide any individual who is refused employment contrary to the Act with any entitlement to compensation or any other remedy.

However, as failure to disclose the detail or existence of spent convictions is not a lawful ground for dismissal, an employer cannot rely on such a failure as grounds for dismissal without notice; and any employee dismissed for such a reason after they have acquired unfair dismissal protection (which is currently after two years' continuous employment) will be unfairly dismissed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.