Lord Ramsbotham has introduced a Private Members Bill to shorten disclosure periods.

For more latest news, you can:

  1. see the posts at the bottom of this page
  2. click here for a full list of news posts
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  4. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #roareform


The problem

Unlock has long campaigned for fundamental changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), which is the principle piece of legislation that governs the disclosure of criminal records to employers, educational institutions, insurers and housing providers. Despite reforms to the Act implemented in 2014, there remain significant issues with the way the legislation is both structured and operates in practice. The changes made a huge difference to thousands of people with convictions. However, they didn’t go far enough.

Disclosure periods (currently referred to legally as ‘rehabilitation periods’) remain lengthy and are not evidence-based.

Disclosure periods are incoherent.

The legislation is abused.


What we think needs to change

We believe that the Act is in need of wholesale reform by way of a government review.

In terms of the changes we would like to see, these include:

  1. All convictions capable of becoming spent at some point: Prison sentences over four years should have a disclosure period and indefinite sentences should be subject to a review process.
  2. Reduced disclosure periods: The disclosure periods proposed by Breaking the Circle in 2001 (and accepted by government in 2003) were based on evidence of re-offending and resulted in recommendations of 1 year for community sentences and 2 years for prison sentences.
  3. Disclosure periods being linked to the point of return to the community
  4. Removing anomalies in disclosure periods: Changes introduced in 2014 have resulted in serious anomalies in rehabilitation periods. For instance, motoring offences have a five-year rehabilitation period, prison sentences of up to six months have a one-year rehabilitation period. There are also significant anomalies around court orders and compensation orders.
  5. Introducing individual case assessments: For those sentences that have not yet reached the time-limit required by law to become spent, we would like to see a system established that involves an individual case assessment. This would enable people to demonstrate how they’ve changed their life and why their criminal record is no longer relevant to employers, allowing their convictions to become spent earlier than the period set out in legislation.
  6. Introducing tribunals: Consideration should be given to how criminal records tribunals, administered by members of the judiciary or Parole Board, could offer people without fixed disclosure periods the opportunity to achieve rehabilitated status through a process of evidence submission. This would include those with indeterminate sentences (such as IPPs).
  7. Wiping the slate clean: Provision should be introduced to ‘wipe’ criminal records, particularly those acquired in childhood, after a period of non-offending. This was recommended by the 2002 review.
  8. Creating a distinct criminal records system for children: Currently, child and adult criminal records are treated in almost exactly the same way. We would like to see a separate system introduced to deal with childhood records to mirror the separate youth justice system, and reflect the unique status of children in society. We support the recommendations made by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice.
  9. Not labelling individuals as offenders: The wording of the Act is stigmatising and implies individuals are “offenders” who cannot be rehabilitated until considerable time periods have elapsed. We would like to see this addressed.
  10. Prohibiting employers asking about spent convictions: There is nothing to stop prospective employers asking people about spent convictions. Rather, the onus is on the prospective employee to decide whether to lie. We would like to see it made an offence to ask about spent convictions unless authorised to do so.
  11. Enabling action against employers: It should be possible for individuals to take action against an employer or insurer who takes into account spent convictions when making an employment or insurance decision.
  12. Preventing employers doing illegal standard and enhanced checks: It is an offence to ‘knowingly’ carry out a standard or enhanced check when the role is not eligible for one. However, no employer has ever been prosecuted for doing so. The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) does not see itself as an enforcement body and appears ineffective at stopping these illegal checks. Effective systems should be established for identifying and stopping ineligible checks and action taken against employers that do not take reasonable steps to ensure checks applied for are eligible.
  13. Helping people to be aware of their rights: All people convicted of a criminal offence should be made aware of the Act and offered information and guidance on the long term impact of having a conviction. The information given is poor at present.
  14. Ensuring spent convictions are not available online: After convictions become spent, information is still often readily available online, and search engines/news organisations should operate a presumption that this information is removed once convictions become spent.
  15. Reducing eligibility for standard and enhanced checks: A wide number of employers can access standard and enhanced checks. This should be reviewed in full. Exceptions should be granted on the basis of an individual job role, not the whole employer, industry or profession. Criteria for assessing eligibility must be set down by government. Where an exception can be proved necessary, only relevant spent convictions should be requiring of disclosure.

We are part of a campaign with the Standing Committee for Youth Justice that makes specific recommendations for childhood criminal records. In relation to the ROA, the changes proposed to rehabilitation periods following convictions received as a child are that we would:

  1. Allow Youth Rehabilitation Orders to become spent as soon as the order is finished;
  2. Reduce the rehabilitation periods for custodial sentences under two years (including Detention and Training Orders) to six months;
  3. Reduce the rehabilitation period for custodial sentences between two and four years to two years;
  4. Allow convictions resulting in custodial sentences of more than four years and less than life to become spent after seven years (currently, these convictions can never be spent).


What we’re doing

We are supporting Lord Ramsbotham’s Private Members’ Bill.

We are building on the original campaign that we had to reform the ROA. We will be sharing our plans soon.


Latest news

See the bottom of this page for our latest posts about this issue.

You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #ROAreform (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).


Useful links, resources and publications

Our original campaign – what we achieved

‘Debt to society’ or ‘moral mortgage’? Criminal records and the unintended consequences of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Andrew Henley, 2016)


For more information

  1. Practical self-help information  – We have guidance on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act on our information site
  2. Personal experiences – We have posts relating to reform of the ROA on our online magazine, theRecord
  3. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum


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