What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

Everyone deserves a second chance in their career…

If you’ve previously been convicted of a criminal offence, re-entering the workforce isn’t always easy. But if enough time has passed since you’ve served your time, your legal history really shouldn’t be a hindrance – and, by asking about it directly, employers could even potentially be breaking the law themselves.

To help you learn your rights, here’s a quick guide to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974):


What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) is a piece of legislation introduced to help ex-offenders re-enter the workforce.

It enables some minor offences to become ‘spent’, or disregarded, after a set rehabilitation period has been completed.


What are spent convictions?

A spent conviction is essentially a previous conviction which can now be ignored.

Once the offence has been spent, the offender is considered fully rehabilitated, and treated as if they have never been cautioned or committed a crime.


Is my conviction spent?

Whether your conviction is spent or unspent will all depend on the length of time that has passed since you served it – as well as the severity of your crime.

As a result of changes made to the Act in 2014, the following time-frames apply:


Simple/youth caution – Immediately spent

Conditional caution – 3 months

Prison sentences under 6 months – Length of sentence + 2 years

More than 6 months and under 30 months – Length of sentence + 4 years

More than 30 months and under 4 years – Length of sentence + 7 years

More than 4 years – Never


What are unspent convictions?

Any convictions that are longer than 4 years will remain unspent.

This means that you’ll still have to disclose them, regardless of how much time has passed since you completed your sentence.


Can the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act help me find work?

Because of the ROA, most employers cannot legally ask candidates about spent convictions.

Additionally, recruiters cannot refuse to employ someone, or dismiss someone, who has a spent conviction. The same also applies to other organisations, such as insurance and mortgage providers.

For most jobs, spent convictions will not be disclosed for a basic criminal record check.

However, there are some exceptions.


What positions are exempt?

Some positions will be exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, due to the nature of the role.

Some examples of exemptions include:

  • Jobs which involve working with children
  • Jobs in the legal system
  • Jobs in healthcare
  • Jobs in Accounting
  • Some transport jobs (such as Taxi Drivers)
  • Jobs with animals (such as Vets, and RSPCA workers)

However, this is by no means an extensive list, so it’s always worth checking rules within your chosen industry before you start applying for vacancies.

For any exempted positions, it may be a legal requirement for the employer to ask questions about convictions – even if they’ve been spent.


Why are these positions exempt?

Certain positions may be exempt because they involve working with children, other vulnerable individuals, or animals.

In addition, certain roles which involve handling legal or financial information may be required by law to check potential employees before they’re hired.


What should I do if an employer has asked about a spent conviction?

If an employer has asked about a conviction which has already been spent, they may be illegally discriminating against you.

However, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Before you take your grievance any further, always seek advice from a professional employment body, such as ACAS.

Visit the ACAS website for more information.


Please note, the information outlined above is intended for general guidance purposes only, and is subject to change.



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