The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in the UK dates back to 1975, way before the creation of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or its predecessor, the Criminal Records Bureau, or CRB. One of the core components of the 1975 was the idea of “spent” convictions. This means that after a set period of time, offenders can consider that they have spent their convictions, they are now forgotten, and they no longer have to declare their convictions on a job application form. Not having to declare very old convictions allows ex-offenders to make a fresh start and get a job. The length of time it takes for an offence to be spent depends on a range of factors including the type of offence, the length and type of sentence, and the age the person was at the time of conviction.
Although most articles and information you see about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will talk about spent convictions, you’ll also see protected convictions used too. These two terms can be used interchangeably. Think about it this way – after your conviction has been spent, you are protected from having to disclose it again in the future. For a long while, this was all ex-offenders had to worry about, whether or not their conviction or caution had become spent. But as concerns about child protection grew through the 1990s, things started to complicate a little.
When Spent Doesn’t Mean Spent
The whole idea behind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is to allow people to leave their past behind them and become rehabilitated. But the main aim of safeguarding legislation is to flag up anything in someone’s past which could be considered a risk. There’s an obvious conflict there, and in the 20 years since the CRB came into existence, there has been a constant debate about which side “wins”.
The process which is used by the DBS to decide what to put onto disclosure certificates is called filtering. Policies change over time, and the most recent change in 2020 means that some of the very oldest and minor convictions are automatically disregarded. This is a recent shift in policy, as previously multiple convictions were always disclosed, whatever their nature.
Finding out About Spent Convictions
If you can remember details such as the date of your conviction, and any sentence, then it should be a fairly simple matter to work out whether your conviction has been spent. There are several calculators and web pages which can help you work it all out if you get confused. Problems can arise however when you can’t quite remember the exact offence you were charged with, or the date. Remember that if you are applying for an enhanced DBS check, then the chances are that any very old will be automatically filtered anyway. You also have the option of requesting access to your Police record to see what information is held about you, but this can take some time.