Comparing Spent and Unspent Convictions

The majority of job roles available to apply for in the UK involve some form of pre-employment check. Whether that’s just having to list your previous experience on a CV and cover letter, or more extensive identity and security checks, it’s essential to understand what each job application entails.

One of the most common checks used during the recruitment process is a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check. This was previously known as the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check and is used for potential employers to understand whether job seekers have any spent or unspent convictions that could make them unsuitable to the role they’ve applied for.

There are three levels of DBS checks availableBasicStandard and Enhanced DBS checks, the usage of which depends on the level of security that employers require. Some people may be hesitant to undergo DBS checks for fear of past criminal activity possibly affecting their recruitment chances, so this guide aims to explain the differences between spent and unspent convictions and how they relate to DBS checks.

 What are Unspent Convictions

An unspent conviction is a term used to describe any criminal conviction that you’re still in the rehabilitation process for (which is predetermined according to the nature of the crime), or that will stay on your criminal record. An example of this is any conviction that results in a prison sentence of more than two and a half years or involves a violent or sexual crime.

This categorisation is required to ensure public safety. As all employers want to ensure that their employees are working in safe conditions, any unspent convictions that you currently have will show up on all forms of DBS checks.

If you have an unspent conviction on your criminal record, you’re probably nervous about whether this will affect your ability to be hired for a job. Admittedly, it makes the process more difficult, but it doesn’t stop you from being hired for roles that use DBS checks.

If the potential employer deems your unspent conviction not to be relevant to the position you’ve applied for and decides that it doesn’t put their existing employees or customers at risk, they may still hire you for the job.


What is a Spent Conviction?

You have a spent conviction if any criminal conviction you’ve previously committed has since been removed from your criminal record as per the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which generally occurs due to the UK-mandated rehabilitation period ending. The time it takes for an unspent conviction to become spent depends on your age, the specifics of the sentence and whether you went to prison.

This removal from your criminal record means that a spent conviction will not appear on a Basic DBS check report. However, when an employer requires extra security and criminal record checks, spent convictions become relevant to your job application, which means they show up during Standard and Enhanced DBS checks.

If you’re a jobseeker with spent convictions, this may bring about concerns that you may not be hired for any jobs which require Standard or Enhanced DBS checks. The good news is that it’s illegal for an employer to refuse you a job purely because of a spent conviction.

Failure to Disclose

If you’re a jobseeker and are nervous about your spent or unspent convictions being shown during the job application process, it can be tempting not to disclose your convictions when asked. This is a terrible idea, which could result in you being prosecuted.

Employers will usually find unspent convictions, especially if a DBS check is part of their application process, so failing to disclose any previous convictions can have grave implications for your job application. It’s therefore critical to remember that if there is a legal requirement to disclose convictions during the application process, you should do so.

Summarising Spent and Unspent Convictions

Hopefully, you now understand the differences between spent and unspent convictions and how they affect your job applications. Here’s a summary of all you need to know:

Spent convictions:

  • Refer to any criminal conviction that’s been removed from your criminal record.
  • Only appear on Standard and Enhanced DBS checks.
  • It cannot legally be the reason for employers to turn down your application.

Unspent convictions:

  • Refer to any criminal conviction that is still on your criminal record.
  • Appear on all three types of DBS checks (BasicStandard and Enhanced).
  • It will affect your ability to be hired in specific roles.

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